Local legislators: Tebow, triggermen among their bills

Every January, the six men representing the gerrymandered chunks of Albemarle and Charlottesville (and Rustburg!) head east on I-64 to participate in Virginia's part-time legislature. For 60 days, they'll strive for a budget and deal with the 2,228 bills (at last count) that the General Assembly's 140 members bring to the table, down from the 2,900 they wrote in 2008.  Mercifully, most bills die in committee, but some become part of Virginia's law.

With both the Senate and House of Delegates firmly in Republican hand, do any bills rise to the wacky level of 2007's attempted ban on droopy drawers or 2008's truck nuts bill?

"I don't think there's anything stranger than usual," says Richmond Sunlight creator Waldo Jaquith. "What's notable is that the stranger legislation has a better chance of becoming law because there are more far-right Republicans. In the past, the Senate acted as a brake to the crazier legislation coming out of the House."

But that was before that body split 20-20, with Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling ready to cast tie-breaking votes.

Delegate David Toscano, who represents Charlottesville as the newly selected House minority leader, is even more dire in his predictions. With Republicans in control, he's watching for "overreach" on social issues and forsees conservative action on hot-button topics like guns, abortion, labor, and voting rights.

"Traditionally, such bills have failed in the Senate," says Toscano, aware that there's not much his severely outnumbered 32 Dems can do up against 68 Republicans.

"Our role as the Democratic caucus is to be the loyal opposition," says Toscano, who appears to be getting high marks. Republican Delegate Steve Landes, who represents a chunk of western Albemarle, calls Toscano's style "a kinder and gentler way of doing business."

"He's a great advocate for his party," says Landes. "He's more collegial than before, and I've always found him someone good to work with."

What they carry

Democratic State Senator Creigh Deeds is the creator of the conservation easement tax credit, a program once lauded for protecting Virginia's rural lands– until Biscuit Run State Park showed how the rich can get bailed out with millions from taxpayers. [See related story.]

One perennial Deeds bill would try to eliminate gerrymandering. Despite all the talk of reform during last year's redistricting, it was pretty much business as usual with district lines drawn to protect incumbents rather than give, say Albemarle, one person to represent its interests. Nonetheless, Deeds is carrying a bipartisan redistricting commission bill. "I still believe it's the right thing to do," he insists.

The other senator representing a slice of eastern Albemarle– thanks to redistricting– is one of the guys whose win gives Republicans control of the Senate. Bryce Reeves, who owns an insurance and financial services business, has three insurance bills, including one that will interest earthquake-rattled constituents in Louisa: If a fire insurance policy excludes quake coverage, it must say so in writing.

Another Reeves bill raises the threshold for grand larceny from $200 to $500. "It's about saving money, not being soft on crime," assures Reeves legislative aide Erica Gouse, who pegs the savings of keeping low-level thieves out of prison at $3.7 million by 2014.

Jobs are the priority on Reeves' agenda, says Gouse, and he was tapped by Governor Bob McDonnell to carry a bill that extends to 2014 tax credits for companies that create jobs.

In the House, family law attorney Toscano has two bills dealing with adoption and one with parental rights. 'It's not unusual for me to have an adoption bill or an energy bill," says Toscano, who also has a Biscuit Run bill. His would swap a park parcel with land from Habitat for Humanity's Southwood development that would give Albemarle its long-desired additional athletic fields.

Steve Landes is touting his bills that spur economic development, particularly one with ag-forestry grants that could be used for Virginia wineries or fresh produce processing. Another bill offers grants to small businesses to create jobs.

Landes, who's on the higher education appropriations committee, says there's a lot of discussion going on about higher ed. "UVA will benefit," he suggests.

Freshman Delegate Matt Fariss from Rustburg, whose 59th District stretches from Campbell County to southern Albemarle, has the fewest bills, and two of them deal with farm equipment: dropping taxes and allowing farm vehicles to be driven 300 miles without registration.

This Republican co-owner of the Lynchburg Livestock Market handily took the district formerly held by Watkins Abbitt, despite Fariss' misdemeanor convictions for illegal hunting, DUI, or the protective order a woman took out against him, and some pesky civil judgments against him. Fariss did not return phone calls from the Hook, and according to his office in Richmond, he had to leave his General Assembly duties to head back to Lynchburg January 16 and again on January 23 to take care of some business.

Former prosecutor Rob Bell, who's running for attorney general, usually carries law and order bills, and this year is no exception. He wants to force anyone still driving after a drunk driving conviction to blow into an ignition interlock to get their car to start.

Another Bell bill redefines "triggerman." Explains Bell: "We don't want to foreclose on the possibility that the person who organized a crime may not be the triggerman." So if you arrange a murder for hire, this bill opens the option for a capital murder charge, even if you didn't pull the trigger.

The harshest of Bell's legislation hits child rapists with a bill that would change the penalty from 25 years to life in prison. "These crimes do terrible damage to a child and have a high recidivism rate," says Bell. "Even if they're quite old, they don't age out as other criminals do. The only place I believe they're safe is in prison."

Bell denies he's going heavy on the law and order due to his AG run. "They're the same sorts of bills and quantity I've done during the long session in the past," he says. Indeed, he's also carrying a so-called "Tebow bill." Named for the home-schooled Heisman Trophy winner, Bell's HB947 would allow home-schooled students an opportunity they're currently denied in most of the state, including Charlottesville and Albemarle: the chance to participate on public school sports teams.

However, the most crucial issue facing the General Assembly, says Bell, is the $19.9 billion unfunded liability of the Virginia Retirement System. "That's greater," he says, "than the general fund expenses for a whole year."

Bell says he's fond of a measure to protect against eminent domain abuse, such as what happened in Kelo v. City of New London, where private property was taken for economic development. And, interestingly, across the aisle (and in the Senate), Deeds is also up on that constitutional amendment. "It's one that really can protect ordinary people and their property," says Deeds. "When I'm 85, I'd still be proud of that."

Maybe bipartisanship isn't dead after all.

22 comments

I have not read the "Tebow Bill," but what a great way for high schools to keep athletes: Take a young person who has no interest in academics, but is a very talented athlete, educate his parent/guardian to choose a faith-based home schooling program for the child, and have him suit up on Fridays. No longer need to worry about those pesky minimum grade requirements.

The bill in any form is a bad idea. Athletics, as I understand them, are to create and reinforce school identity. If the athlete is not enrolled at the school, he/she should not be allowed to play.

I'd like to see our local legislators support this:

HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 140

Establishing a joint subcommittee to study the potential revenue impact on the Commonwealth of legalizing the sale and use of marijuana, with certain restrictions and conditions, and selling it through Virginia's ABC stores.
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http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?121+ful+HJ140

@backwoodssouthernlawyer,

Amen, hallelujah Reverend! They keep bringing this nonsense back year after year. I am afraid that it stands a good chance of passage this time, unfortunately.

The bill is currently before the Students and Early Education Subcommittee of the House Education Committee. Anybody who agrees that it is a stupid idea should contact the subcommittee members IMMEDIATELY:

Dickie Bell (chair)
(804) 698-1020
email: DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

Steve Landes
(804) 698-1025
email: DelSLandes@house.virginia.gov

Chris Stolle
(804) 698-1083
email: DelCStolle@house.virginia.gov

Roxann Robinson
(804) 698-1027
email: delrrobinson@house.virginia.gov

Joseph Yost
(804) 698-1012
email: DelJYost@house.virginia.gov

Kenneth Alexander
(804) 698-1089
email: DelKAlexander@house.virginia.gov

Joe Morrissey
(804) 698-1074
email: DelJMorrissey@house.virginia.gov

Mark Keam
(804) 698-1035
email: DelMKeam@house.virginia.gov

"Athletics, as I understand them, are to create and reinforce school identity."

Yay for tribalism!

Thanks for list, Chuck. Messages sent (though probably not to your liking).

@Nancy,

Agree with you completely. Unfortunately, despite paying lip service to notions of rugged individualism, self-determination and small government, the Party in power will never get behind such a softening of strictures against normative crimes for fear of alienating their puritanical constituency. They are, to put it bluntly, hypocrites.

I believe home schooled children can participate in AAU, local Little Leagues, Pop Warner, etc.

Why the need to play for a public high school team?

Some people call "tribalism" "school spirit."

Many peoppel that home school thier kids do so because they do a better job. They receive no funding and are saving the school system between 16 and 21 k a year depending on the district. They also have to take testing in order to measure achievment like anyone else. It is administered by an independent certified company. They are generally above average in results. So if acedemics is an issue then test them on thier knowledge at THEIR expense for elgibility. If a child comes from another district he/she is elgible if THEY say they have good grades, so whats the difference?

If they live in the district and want to participate in group sports that home schooling cannot by definition offer why should they be denied the chance? I would imagine if they were black gay or a tranny and stayed home because they felt bullied some of the points of view on here might change.

Most home schoolers are not religious nuts they are people who are wiling to make personal sacrifices to educate to the best of their ability. That included having them participate in sports.

"Many peoppel that home school thier kids do so because they do a better job."

If you're among those "peoppel," I'm sure your kids are getting the best education possible.

bill is on the right track, but it's more fundamental than that: public schools exist to _provide_ opportunity for citizens. It's that simple.

"Some people call 'tribalism', 'school spirit.' "

Of course they do.

Public schools currently DO provide opportunity for citizens. But they cannot cater to the every whim of each parent in the precise manner in which that individual parent dictates. It would be economically unfeasible.

What would the child be getting from the "Tebow Rule"?

Intramural sports exist in the community at large. AAU teams, soccer travel leagues, football programs all exist outide the ambit of public schools. What specifically is the child missing?

It would appear to me to be the identity with the school. Are we willing to reduce the school's mission to its athletic programs?

It's not economically unfeasible at all. There is no reason a home-schooled child can't go to public school for art, French, calculus, or even sports.

backdoorsouthernlawyer I thought the "mission" of group sports was to teach team work, inclusiviness, and conduct.

Not segregation.... should the homeschoolers use separate water fountains too?

Cookine Jar, I apologise for my misspelling, I am a product of the city school system where I played football.

Re: Bill Marshall

I was cut during tryouts for several teams. I believe part of the process of playing for a team includes some type of exclusion.

I believe teamwork and conduct are parts of the school experience. I also believe a lot of the accountability coaches expect of a player include conduct in the classroom, treatment of schoolmates, and inclusivenessas demonstrated by the student/athlete's demonstration of those traits in their treatment of others in the school context.

As a practicl matter, home schooled children DO have separate drinking fountains. In my house it would have been the kitchen sink. If they are at school, of course they use the same fountains everyone else does.

I do not believe this is a civil rights issue, and I resent anyone trying to cast it as such. We expect our student athletes to represent the school. My coaches impressed that fact upon me when we travelled to other schools to play them. Likewise, they made it clear to me that participating on teams was a privelege, not a right. AAU teams, pickup games, and other non-school affiliated leagues exist. I do not see how one can argue a child is being denied an opportunity to play sports, when so many other outlets for sports are available.

If the athlete is no longer a student, the student/athlete concept disappears, along with all of the positive effects that team/sports participation can bring.

Finally, "segregation" is an interesting word choice. In most parts of Albemarle, it is directly associated with Virginia's "Massive Resistance" strategy where we excluded African-Ameerican students from attending public schools. The fact of their skin color was enough basis for exclusion. What you are asking for is the right to play sports with the other students, but we do not want to go to school with them. Something far removed from this area's shame in the 50's and 60's.

Ok, then how about this...Thr kids family pays taxes in the district. The kid wants a fair shot at a college scholarship which he cannot get from intramural sports. And if a kid is a part of the team he is a part of the team 100% or he will be cut.

He deserves a tryout as long as he lives in the district and meets the acedemic rrequirements. You are punishing a kid for wanting more for himself than the public system can provide.

You infer that he hasn't "earned" the right to play, yet an illegal immigrant can join with no records whatsoever and play until the first grading session ends and fails all his classes...

Homeschoolers are not snobs or freaks, they are people who want a little better than the public schools can offer and want to join in where the schools are superior (sports teams for instance) They save the system 16-20k a year by home schooling.

You are also making a huge leap assuming that all the black homeschoolers don't want to go to the public school with white kids...

I assume nothing about black home schoolers. You brought up the "separate drinking fountains," suggesting to me an effoert to tie this amendment to a larger civil rights issue I believe to be immaterial to the argument.

What if a child attends STAB, but gets cut from its lacrosse team during tryouts. Can he then tryout for the CHS, AHS, or some other public school with a lacrosse program?

no because stab has its own team. Homeschoolers do not. However if the kid from stab wants to change schools then its on.

I think it comes down to fairness under the law. There is nio reason to be unfair to a homeschooler because they want a better education. They are not snubbing the school anymore than a kid that takes private singing lessons instead of chorus class.

Why be a jerk when there is no reason to be a jerk? (not you personally, the "system"

I would just hate to be the kid who is cut fom the team, when 2-3 home schooled kids make the team, and, given my lack of athletic ability, the appearance of one or two home schooled children would have likely kept me from playing my chosen sports in high school.

A detail some people overlook is the "religious" home school exemption. If a family claims to home school for religious reasons, the local school board has limited autority even to monitor the progress of the student..

Should not the most qualified athlete make the team? Why should everybody get a trophy?

Also... why should the school board have so much "authority" anyway... A kid who is ho,eschooled regardles, of the treasons has to pass the same test to get a negotiable degree and has to take sats just like everyone else.

Life is not fair. Some people make sacrifices to homeschool their kids and the government keeps the 16k it saves them by not having them in school.

Should the whole school have to suffer because a micheal jordan was home schooled and was fordidden from participating in group sports and a mediocre player got the slot.?

Bill Marshall's assertion that the school system saves money when home schoolers stay away is patently false.

Most of a school systems expenditures (transportation, salaries, heat, etc...) remain constant whether or not the odd home schooler attends or not (unless, of course, so many children stay away that teachers can be fired or schools closed). However, the state and federal dollars coming to that system are very much dependent on enrollment numbers. So in a very real way, children who are home schooled or privately schooled end up costing local taxpayers MORE, not less.

I disagree that high school team sports are anyhting other than a privelege.
I am not sure how Michael Jordan fits into the equation. Check out the numerous AAU summer leagues, which are where most big time athletic recruiting occurs.
Team sports necessarily reflect the home school of the team. If school attendance and following that schools attendance andachievement criteria are waived for one student, why aren't they waived for all? If this occurs, our schools have become no better than a professional team, subsidized by the schools.

Maybe I am a Pollyanna, but I beleive the right to play for a schol team is earned by one's enrollment in and attendance of that school. If we eliminate those basic criteria, let the kid who goes to a LAX factory for the academics play in a less competitive LAX program at a public school. Better still, let kids choose which public school they play athletics for. That way, all of our better athletes can choose to play for one school, leaving the other schools among the also rans in district play.

I find it hard to believe this bill has gotten any traction in the legislature. It smacks of pandering to a narrow, yet influential constiuency in the State. Reduced to its simplest form it is "I do not want to go to school with you, but I will play on your sports teams."

That introduces a post "Brown v. Board of Education" type of segregation that I submit has no place in our public education system.