Friday, February 9, 2018

ERA, Appropriations, and Librarians

The morning started in the Senate Rules Committee where there were (a ridiculously high) 76 bills on the docket. The VEA had positions on a few of the bills. We supported a couple of study bills including Senator Locke's that would have required a study of the teacher licensure process in Virginia with a focus on identifying any inherent biases that prevent minority teacher candidates from entering the profession. But the issue of the morning of the Equal Rights Amendment. The room was packed with ERA activists, many of whom had fought for years and many who are new to the fight. The VEA proudly supports the ERA amendment, and has for many years. The Chair of the Rules Committee tried to put the bill in a block vote with other bill he intended to kill. Senator Janet Howell moved that the ERA bill be removed from the block and taken up separately.

The Chair of Rules, Senator McDougal, took a voice vote to kill the ERA bill and the crowd would NOT have that. After a back and forth between the crowd and the chair,  he moved on to the next bill. Every activist in the room stood up and they began singing "We Shall Overcome". They sounded wonderful and, with about 100 of them singing along, the committee could not continue any business. Ultimately the Chair agreed to have the members of the Committee vote by raising their hands. The bill died with all of the Democrats and Republicans Jill Vogel and Richard Stuart voting against that motion, Senator Steve Newman not voting,  and all of the other white men, and Republicans, voting to kill the ERA. After some upset in the room, the ERA activists walked out while, once again, singing "We Will Overcome". For me, it was one of the best moments of this session. Women in the Commonwealth have organized and are voting. The election results in November prove that. In 2019 members of the VA Senate will face this powerful electorate and, I am certain, today will be remembered.

This afternoon will be all House Appropriations. All of these bills need to be heard so they can move to the floor before crossover on Tuesday. There are 6 subcommittee meetings back-to-back, and the bills that survive sub will be heard in the full committee after the completion of all the subs. VEA initiated and supported bills are in the 2nd sub and we are hopeful a couple of them will report out and be heard at the end of the marathon, in the full committee. It is going to be a long afternoon. I am hopeful my track record in Appropriations the other day doesn't continue.

Finally, SB261, the bill that provides "flexibility" for school divisions in how they allocate school librarians in middle schools and high schools can't get off the floor of the Senate. They don't have the votes. The patron, Senator Suetterlein, has offered amendments that will only allow for a school divisions to substitute a media specialist or a resource teacher for the second librarian. It is a huge improvement, but still concerning. It is a permissive bill, so no school division must do this, but, if this bill passes, they could if they chose to. We will know soon what the outcome will be.

Monday will be all floor action as they subcommittees and full committees will have mainly wrapped up their work on their own bills. So there won't be much report, but, as I have learned, there is always something to report from the General Assembly. I have been capturing some really amazing quotes spoken by legislators during bill debates. I may share a few of those on Monday. You can't make this stuff up.