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Tuesday, February 12, 2013
RICHMOND — Gov. Bob McDonnell will have the next word on legislation allowing religious and political groups at state colleges to limit eligibility for membership and leadership positions, regardless of campus non-discrimination policies.
The Senate passed a bill Monday that already had made it through the House of Delegates. HB 1617 is designed to ensure that political groups don’t have to accept members from another party and religious groups can limit participation to individuals of the same faith. The legislation would prevent public colleges, to the extent allowed by federal law, from discriminating against political and religious organizations that adopt restrictive membership policies.
“This relates to the ability of Catholic or Jewish or Baptist groups that limit their membership to Catholics or Jewish or Baptist members,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, who sponsored a Senate version of the bill. “It also creates the ability of political organizations to limit their membership or their leadership.”
The bill passed by a vote of 21-18, but not before two Democrats questioned the intent of the legislation during a brief floor debate.
“It purports to prevent the colleges and universities from doing what they ought to be doing, which is enforcing their own anti-discrimination policies,” said Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.
Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said the First Amendment protects the right of any group “to have their beliefs, their constitution, their bylaws.”
But, Ebbin said, “if they’re using university money to discriminate, that’s where I differ.”
“This bill is not about religion,” Ebbin said. “It’s about using university money, and for us to tell universities whether or not they can have a policy, and it begins a slippery slope.”
A McDonnell spokesman said the governor will review the bill when it reaches his desk.
The Senate version of the bill (SB 1074) was passed by the Senate last week and has been sent to the House Education Committee.
— Michael Sluss
Deeds’ redistricting plan again gets no interest
The three-week political tempest stirred up by a partisan redrawing of state Senate district lines appears not to have created any groundswell of support for a less partisan system.
The redistricting plan muscled through by Senate Republicans on Jan. 21, which would have created an electoral map more favorable to the GOP, infuriated Democrats and arguably hampered progress on key legislative initiatives such as transportation funding.
The tension eased last week when Republican House Speaker William Howell bucked his own party and killed the Senate plan with a procedural move.
The furor over the Senate electoral map was a needless distraction from the legislature’s business, Sen. Creigh Deeds told a House subcommittee Monday, and illustrates yet again why Virginia should move to a less partisan method of redistricting.
Deeds, D-Bath County, proposed a constitutional amendment (SJ 303 ) establishing a 13-member commission to redraw legislative district lines after each decennial census. The commission would have six members appointed by each of the two major parties. Those 12 would then select the 13th member or, if they couldn’t agree, the state Supreme Court would do it.
Redistricting is now controlled by the majority party in each chamber of the legislature.
“As long as we draw the lines, there’s a built-in conflict,” Deeds told the panel.
But his pleas fell on deaf ears. Both Deeds’ measure and a similar bill (SB 742) from Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News, were killed on 6-1 votes with no discussion. The Republican-controlled panel killed a similar House measure last month.
Del. Algie Howell, D-Norfolk, was the only member of the subcommittee supporting the concept.
— Bill Sizemore, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot
Senate panel advances 3 school safety bills
A Virginia legislative committee has advanced three bills intended to improve school safety.
The bills were recommended by a task force appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell in response to the December mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. McDonnell submitted the legislation Friday.
One of the bills endorsed today by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee would increase the punishment for straw-man gun transactions. Those are transactions that occur when a person legally buys a gun with the intent to transfer it to someone who is prohibited from purchasing a firearm.
Another bill sent to the Senate floor would increase the penalty for entering a school armed and with intent to commit a felony.
The third measure would provide civil immunity to anyone reporting a campus threat.
— Associated Press
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