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Democratic Legislation Passes and Fails, and Issues with Redistricting Reform: Political Analysis for Friday, February 14, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between them.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM news director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include several groundbreaking bills passed by Democrats, which measures failed to make it, and struggles with redistricting reform.

Phil Liles:  Good morning. This is VPM News and in studio with me right now is Craig Carper, News Director with VPM News, and Jeff Schapiro, political columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch and good morning to both of you.  Craig, at the midpoint of 2020 legislature many reminders that Democrats are again in charge, and they're responding to pent up demand for policies and programs the Old Republican majority blocked for years.  And as the Democratic presidential campaign heats up, one of the untested candidates is planning to splash in Virginia.

Craig Carper:  That's right.  Good morning, Phil.  Happy Valentine's Day.

Liles:  And to you.

Carper:  And welcome, Jeff.

Jeff Schapiro:  And Happy V-D to both of you.

Carper:  [laughing] At crossover when the House and Senate complete action on their own bills and start on others, Jeff, we're wondering what lawmakers didn't approve.

Schapiro:  And the Democrats are definitely loving on the base this Valentine's Day.  I just looked at their performance in the House and Senate in the past few days.  This past Monday and Tuesday were truly remarkable days at the legislature, lots and lots of groundbreaking bills flying through.  Where do we start?  

  • Decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana
  • Raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour
  • Banning future sales of these military style firearms
  • Driver's licenses and in-state tuition breaks for illegal immigrants
  • Local governments get to do whatever with those Confederate statues
  • Casinos in Richmond and other cities
  • Sports betting
  • Counties would get the same power as cities to tax tobacco, meals, admission taxes, hotel/motel rooms.

Democrats are clearing obstacles to voting, including those mandatory photo ID cards and allowing same day registration.  The governor is likely to sign all of this stuff, and he'll do so in a New York minute.  The Democrats say they're just delivering on the promises they made in last year's election, and then of course in ‘17, when they made that huge gain, particularly in the House.  Republicans are accusing the Democrats of overreach.  They're not really saying what the implications of this pivot will be, but they're warning voters and warning Virginians that they should be advised.  Sunday, a big day, the House and Senate money committees are going to roll out their respective versions of the two-year $135 billion state budget.  It’s a big step in this Kabuki, this fiscal Kabuki.  There are some significant differences of opinion over how to spend some of this money.  One piece of change that has been eyed by both sides is that $700+ million that the Governor would like to put into the environment, a big chunk of it in Chesapeake Bay.  Some legislators would like to see some of that money maybe go to pay raises for public employees.  Let's see what happens on Sunday.

Carper:  And a couple of bills that Republicans did oppose didn't go anywhere, largely because even Democrats wouldn't stand for it.

Schapiro:  And most notably that would be a bill that would do away with the right-to-work law.  Of course, this is Virginia's prohibition in place since 1947 on compulsory union membership as a condition for a job.  Outright abolition died in the House Appropriations Committee.  The committee didn't do anything; it just didn't meet, and so it just withered and died.  Of course, it was all by design.  There were some concerns about the fiscal impact of repeal.

Carper:  Laid gently on the table.

Schapiro:  Laid gently on the table and then a stake driven through it. [laughing] The so-called “fair share” legislation was defeated on the Senate side in the Labor and Commerce Committee.  This is a bill that was pushed by Dick Saslaw, a big proponent of right-to-work by the way, who said that non-union employees in workplaces covered by union-negotiated contracts would pay what is essentially a portion of, if you will, a due, but it would be called some type of allowance, up to about 50% of the actual dues.  By the way, Saslaw put this bill in largely as payback.  He was barely renominated last year.  He attributes his victory to some degree to the support of the Service Employees International Union, a very big and robust, heavily Latin union in Northern Virginia.

Carper:  And after a decade long push, this week ahead will be critical for redistricting reform. It's an idea on which Democrats ran and won, but now they're getting cold feet.

Schapiro:  Yeah, have you ever noticed that power has a way of diminishing the reform impulse.  We're clearly seeing that with the Democrats.  At issue here is this constitutional amendment, which many of them supported last year that in effect would remove most of the map drawing powers of the legislature and turn it over to an independent commission.  Particularly House Democrats and particularly African American Democrats in the House don't like the idea that ultimately if the legislature failed to draw lines, that duty would fall to the Virginia Supreme Court, which they complain is, you know, stacked with conservative Republicans.  That is true, because the court is an adjunct of the legislature, and its justices are very much a product of the Old Republican majority.  But I make two points.  One, we've seen redistricting carried out by courts.  Federal courts didn't do a bad job, particularly for minority Democrats, creating an additional seat for a minority Democrat on the congressional side, and changed the lines at the House side that resulted in the election of additional African American Democrats.  Plus, you know, look where the bodies are and look at the diversity of the electorate.  It's pretty clear no matter who draws the lines, there are going to be Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate for the next decade.

Carper:  Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we will have to catch up about Mike Bloomberg’s visit next week.  We'll see you then.

Schapiro:  Roger that.