Del. Ken Plum: Week of Absurdities

This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

[Note: This column was written before the release of the photos from Gov. Northam’s medical school yearbook.]

The 2019 session of the General Assembly has reached its mid-point, or crossover, when the two houses start to consider bills that have survived the other house. It also represents the final action on many bills giving an indication of what the ultimate legislation for the session is likely to be.

In the back of most legislators’ minds is the fact that when the legislature adjourns sine die (until another day) the election season will begin. The thought of going home to meet their voters motivates many votes. After all, that is the way it should be in a representative democracy. The results, however, create some absurdities.

Republicans appear to be planning to focus once again on abortion. Although Roe v. Wade — decided in 1973 — was supposed to set the rules for abortions, the debate still goes on. This week in a massive media campaign linked to fundraising, the opponents accused Gov. Ralph Northam, who is a pediatrician, and first-term Del. Kathy Tran, a mother of four (the youngest of whom she was nursing during the session last year), of favoring infanticide!

I witnessed the verbal ambush by some of the most skilled lawyers in the House who with some editing of the tape of their cross-examination of her created a false impression of her bill and what it did. Calling the episode absurd is a mild description; I think Gov. Northam came closer to an accurate description when he called it disgusting. (Read more at abortion restrictions bill.)

Thirty-seven states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. It is looking doubtful that Virginia will join that group this year. In floor speeches on the amendment, one of the women opposing the amendment said that she did not need “words on a piece of paper” to get what she wanted.

Bills that would have created an independent redistricting commission including my perennial bill have been defeated in the House. A bill introduced by the Speaker of the House that would create a commission to redistrict the legislature is far from independent in that it still has legislators picking their voters in order to protect incumbents and hold onto the majority. If the bill makes it through the legislature, it will be amended or vetoed by the governor.

It remains difficult for the majority to play fair especially when it holds control by such a slim sliver of power. A two-vote shift in both houses would put Democrats in charge of the legislature.

Major divisions continue to exist between the parties on finalizing the budget. Republicans favor a plan that continues the federal approach of giving tax breaks to those with the highest income. My bill to establish a partially refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) was defeated. About half the states have used an EITC to help raise the income of working families. There is a slight possibility that Gov. Northam could get the EITC in a compromise budget as he is a strong proponent of it.

Several weeks remain for the legislature to work its will. Some good bills are passing that will be favorable to the people of the Commonwealth, and I will discuss these in future columns. With an election looming in the fall, we may still see more absurdities!

File photo

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