Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Double Trouble: A Virtual OEI Redux

Years back, when Legislative Services staff members viewed a bill as being at odds with Virginia’s Constitution, they would “gray jacket” the bill.  If a bill was placed in a gray jacket it was pretty much DOA.  Some legislators came to view this as staff-overreach, but it kept Virginia out of trouble.

This practice was eliminated some years back, and too often, in the past few years, unconstitutional bills have wasted public funds and embarrassed the legislative branch.  McDonnel’s Opportunity Education Institution and the Speaker’s transportation plan which passed in 2007 provide recent memorable examples.
In both of these cases, legislators and lobbyists rose to reveal the Constitutional conflicts inherent in the proposed legislation, but a majority of legislators, all of whom swore to uphold the Constitution, voted to pass the bills.  The state then spent taxpayer dollars to defend the bills, and the courts struck them down.

Well, here we go again!  Delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell’s  HB324 was the only bill carried over from the 2014 session, and Bell introduced a virtually (pun intended) identical HB 1361 in the 2015 session.  These are virtual school bills.
If you look at lines 412-414 of the bill, it requires the Department of Education to forward the per-pupil Standards of Quality (SOQ) amount directly to the school.  But the Lottery Fund pays for part of the SOQ. 

The Constitution (Article X, Section 7-A) says that lottery funds are to be distributed to the school divisions for public education.  Sending the per-pupil amount which includes lottery funds to the virtual school violates the Constitution of Virginia, which requires that this funding go to school divisions.
There are numerous other problems with the bill, but one can only ask if we really want to waste tax-payer money by passing yet another measure which is clearly unconstitutional?