Ironically, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus moved into the Richmond Coliseum for its annual stand at the same time last week that a few blocks away the General Assembly concluded its annual meeting and members packed up and went home.
Circus promoters need to come up with a new theme each year to keep its patrons returning; this year’s theme was “Extreme.” Reviewers are likely to come up with very different assessments of the General Assembly session. It was not as extreme as some sessions, but as always there were some really good things that happened and some not so good.
Legislative sessions tend to be ponderous — nothing as exciting as a flying trapeze or person being shot out of a cannon. Progress in changing laws is made mostly in small, incremental steps.
This session, I am pleased that small steps were taken to reduce the flow of students going from the classroom to the courtroom. More emphasis will start to be given to providing alternatives for youth who misbehave but who should not be treated like criminals.
Very small steps were made in gun safety by facilitating background checks for those not required to have one to purchase a gun but who volunteer to do so. My bill to require background checks for all purchases at gun shows was defeated. A new law will deny gun ownership for those against whom a permanent protective order has been issued. Persons who receive protection from the court through such an order will find an easier path to getting a concealed weapon permit, an idea I did not support.
School reform continues at a slow pace, but there seems to be a clear recognition that there is too much standardized testing. School systems struggling with their budgets will receive more state aid but still at a level below 2006. Economic development funds are increased which should help the super salesman Governor McAuliffe attract more businesses to the Commonwealth.
For the first time in history the legislature removed a Supreme Court Justice from office. The refusal to confirm Gov. McAuliffe’s appointee had nothing to do with the credentials of the justice who was acknowledged by all to be eminently qualified but had to do with personalities and struggles between the legislative and executive branches.
A one-day discussion of the possible nomination of former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli brought a public outcry. The legislature in the end confirmed a new justice (without my vote) who is as ideologically conservative as Cuccinelli but not a political activist.
The biennial budget brought good news to many programs as the economic recovery has produced more revenue than in the past. Unfortunately, my bill to expand Medicaid coverage was not approved.
The purpose of the legislative session is serious business and not entertainment like the circus. There are times, however, that it may be difficult to tell the difference.
Information about legislative results from this session is at lis.virginia.gov/lis.