‘Shenanigans’ dominate Va. fight over ERA vote in Richmond

The Virginia Statehouse in Richmond, Virginia, is seen in this Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 file photo. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)(AP/Steve Helber)
WASHINGTON — The procedural maneuvers in Virginia’s House of Delegates tied to the Equal Rights Amendment, which one senator called “shenanigans,” are set to come to a head Thursday with votes on the House floor.

On Wednesday, House Republicans hurriedly killed a Republican-backed Senate resolution meant as an alternative to ratifying the federal Equal Rights Amendment without allowing debate, after Democrats attempted to amend it into a ratification vote.

“You just prevented it from getting to the House floor,” said a frustrated Del. David Toscano, a Democrat.

Proposed changes to the House rules due to be voted on Thursday offer another path to an ERA vote, by bringing the Senate-passed resolution ratifying the amendment directly to the House floor.

The alternative Senate resolution killed Wednesday, sponsored by Republican Sen. Amanda Chase, stated that women already have equality under the law, even without ratification of the amendment guaranteeing that federal and state governments cannot deny anyone equality based on their sex.

“There are some serious shenanigans going on down the hall,” she later told her colleagues in the Senate.

Concerns expressed by opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment include a theory that it could be used to support abortion rights, that the amendment is unnecessary, and that the opportunity to ratify the amendment expired decades ago.

Supporters, such as Democratic Del. Elizabeth Guzman, said Virginia can and should be the 38th and final state needed to ratify the amendment in order to truly guarantee equal rights.

“Maybe some are afraid of change. Maybe some don’t see women as equal,” Guzman said.

If the 15th and 19th amendments were needed to guarantee rights, then this one is too, Democratic Del. Hala Ayala added.

She called claims that the amendment had anything to do with abortion “nonsense.”

“The abortion issue is a privacy issue, not an equality issue,” Ayala said.

Even if the ERA were to be ratified by Virginia, it is not certain the amendment would be added to the constitution. Congress set a deadline for ratification that expired decades ago.

Republican Del. Mark Cole warned the lawsuits over the validity could lead to “a large portion of the country” that “will consider the constitution to be tainted” no matter the outcome.

Surrogacy changes

The General Assembly approved significant changes Wednesday to Virginia’s surrogacy and related laws that will legally allow same-sex couples to have children through the process, eliminate gender-specific terms, and simplify the state’s statute to clarify the legally recognized parent or parents of such children.

The bill has been called “Jacob’s Law” for the child of a Northern Virginia gay couple. The parents had to go through a long legal fight to get parental rights for their son, who was born through surrogacy.

The final vote Wednesday was 63-36 in the House of Delegates, with some Republicans joining Democrats to support the bill.

Del. Dave LaRock, a Republican, was among those opposed.

“Passing this bill represents nothing short of a seismic shift in the public policy of this commonwealth,” he said.

In addition to complaints about the actual in vitro fertilization process, he also expressed concerns about the allowance for no genetic connection between a child and parent, and complained that the bill permits non-married or single people to enter into surrogacy contracts.

The Senate had approved the final language Monday 28-12. Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign the bill.

Other action

The General Assembly also gave final approval Wednesday to a number of other bills.

On the roads, while it has been found to not make sense before, the General Assembly is asking for another study of the state purchasing the Dulles Greenway. This time, it includes options for a partial purchase.

The state also plans a study of Interstate 95 corridor improvements from Thornburg to Springfield, including consideration of any method to pay for them.

After women visiting Virginia prisons were told they could not wear tampons, the General Assembly wants to require state prison policies on the matter to include notification of the policy, an opportunity to use a state-issued tampon or menstrual cup if there is a concern, and an option for women who do not want to remove theirs to have a “noncontact visit.”

Another bill would ban collection of data on Virginians’ religion or national origin and from disclosing it to the federal government unless specifically required by law.

In Fairfax County, utility bills could tick up slightly to pay for power line undergrounding in the U.S. Route 1 corridor.

The General Assembly also passed a bill meant to increase the safe reporting of overdoses. It eliminates the requirement to substantially cooperate with police in order to avoid prosecution for drug possession for someone who calls 911 to save someone from an overdose.

That was part of the first 100-0 vote in the House in a while after new Del. Ibraheem Samirah was sworn in Wednesday morning to fill the seat vacated in January by Jennifer Boysko when she moved to the state Senate to fill now-Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton’s seat. Samirah, a Democrat, won Tuesday’s special election in House District 86, according to unofficial results. The State Board of Elections is scheduled to certify the election Friday afternoon.

The session is scheduled to end by Saturday night.

Thursday is the final day for bills to be sent to conference committees to work out differences between the House and Senate. A budget agreement between the two chambers could also be announced Thursday.

Other high-profile bills already in conference include the bills expected to ban handheld cellphone use while driving, as well as competing proposals to change Virginia’s next round of redistricting that must pass for the first time this year if they are to take effect in 2021.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ralph Northam was scheduled to make an initial appearance Thursday at Virginia Union University as part of his “reconciliation” efforts after his admission of once wearing blackface, but he pulled out of the event after the Student Government Association asked him to skip the ceremony honoring those who participated in a key 1960s sit-in.

Northam instead invited the “Richmond 34” to the Executive Mansion on Friday

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