The power behind Virginia's legislative throne


Happy crossover, everybody! What’s crossover, you ask? Well, that would be the magical moment that occurs at the midpoint of every General Assembly session, where both the House and Senate stop working on their own bills and take up all of the proposed bills that have already passed the opposing chamber.

(File photo)

This is, at least in some small way, a cause for celebration, since it means that the torrent of terrible legislation that has polluted this session will cease (at least temporarily) while both sides argue over which existing bills will make it to Governor Bob McDonnell’s desk.

But this explosion of execrable lawmaking does raise an interesting question: Where, exactly, is all of this stuff coming from? Sure, it’s obvious that most of the Republican majority’s extreme anti-immigrant and anti-abortion proposals are at least partly original (obvious because most of these bills—such as Delegate Bob Marshall’s measure conferring “personhood” on an embryo from the moment of conception, which passed the House, or the horrific bill that would require that any woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy submit to a “transvaginal probe” ultrasound—are so poorly written they could only be the work of local lawmakers). But what of the rest?

Well, unless you are extremely sheltered or extremely gullible, it won’t shock you to discover that a surprisingly large percentage of proposed Virginia legislation has been authored outside the Commonwealth.

As recently reported by the “progressive advocacy organization” ProgressVA, more than 50 bills have been submitted (some of them word for word) from “model legislation” created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group founded in 1973 by right-wing activist Paul Weyrich. In fact, SB1—the very first bill introduced in the senate this year—was a voter ID law drawn explicitly from ALEC legislation.

And not only do Virginia Republicans routinely introduce bills authored by the group, but they’ve also spent more than $230,000 in taxpayer funds sending lawmakers to ALEC conferences since 2001.

None of this is too surprising, considering that well over a hundred Assembly mem-bers are affiliated with the group, while House speaker Bill Howell has been on ALEC’s board since 2003, and was the group’s national chairman in 2009. (In fact, as the New York Times pointed out in a recent editorial, Howell has a particularly egregious track record when it comes to pushing ALEC legislation, going so far as to sponsor bills that would benefit specific companies that support ALEC financially.)

So, in case you’re wondering where most of the current Assembly’s ideas come from, here’s your answer: If it’s a punitive, mean-spirited piece of social legislation that probably won’t pass constitutional muster, they thought it up themselves. If it’s a corporate-friendly giveaway or Republican party-boosting measure, it probably came from a taxpayer-subsidized ALEC conference held somewhere far outside Virginia a long time ago.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Ain’t democracy grand?