Is it just us, or is our beloved Commonwealth becoming more and more cantankerous and inhospitable with every passing day? We might be wearing some serious rose-colored glasses here, but it sure seems that the Old Dominion of our halcyon youth at least tried to project a sense of tolerance and inclusiveness. (“Virginia is for lovers,” remember?)
But not these days! In fact, studying the recent activities of our various and sundry elected officials, you’d be hard-pressed to find a group they don’t want to punish. Don’t believe us? Well then, let’s just run down the list.
Scary brown people
Sure, illegal immigration has been a perennial bugaboo for Richmond’s conservative curmudgeons, but lately it seems like they’ve been kicking it up to an entirely different level. Just take a gander at the orgy of illegal-bashing that took place on January 30, when the House of Delegates’ immigration subcommittee approved a whopping 13 bills targeted at undocumented immigrants.
The measures, among other things, would force Virginia’s public universities to write rules denying enrollment to any “alien who is unlawfully present in the United States,” make illegal immigrants ineligible for in-state tuition, compel public contractors to verify the legality of their employees, and empower Virginia’s police to both enforce federal immigration laws and check the immigration status of any arrested person.
It’s those last two provisions—sponsored by Del. Dave Albo, and obviously modeled on Arizona’s similarly intrusive laws—that have drawn the most ire from civil libertarians. But hey, they’ve got the wrong idea! These bills aren’t simply draconian measures targeting people based solely on the color of their skin. No siree! Del. Albo is altruistically motivated by a color-blind interest in public safety, and nothing more. As the man himself told the Arlington-based website ARLnow.com: “In a perfect world, I would like to be able to kick out every single person who’s an illegal alien in Virginia.”
Hey, remember the Equal Rights Amendment? You know, that crazy ’70s effort to constitutionally codify the idea that women are due an “equality of rights under the law”? Well, it was never ratified in Virginia, so Del. Mark Sickles thought it might be a good idea to finally push it over the finish line. (Better 40 years late than never, right?). Unfortunately, most of his fellow lawmakers couldn’t be bothered to show up to the hearing, so the bill died a quiet death. Call us cynical, but we’re pretty sure state Sen. Mark Obenshain’s recent proposal to deny abortion coverage to any woman who purchases health insurance through Virginia’s upcoming, federally mandated “Obamacare” exchange will not meet the same fate. Sorry, ladies!
Always a ripe target for right-wing disapprobation, the recent repeal of the U.S. Armed Forces “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has provoked some of Virginia’s most conservative legislators into paroxysms of homophobic paranoia. Topping this list is Del. Bob Marshall, who wanted the state to ban gays and lesbians from openly serving in the Virginia National Guard. Unfortunately for him, the Commonwealth’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, not exactly a flaming liberal, issued an opinion stating that Virginia could do so only if it was willing to forgo all federal funds. The bill subsequently died in committee. Yes, Del. Marshall, you got punk’d —deal with it.
Finally, it’s the one group that can never catch a break: felons who have done their time and are trying to reintegrate into normal society. Virginia has always made this harder than most states, since it forces convicted felons to go through a lengthy and often futile process to regain the ability to vote, serve on juries or run for public office. (The Assembly has already met its criminal quota, thank you very much.)
It looked for a while as if lawmakers, in an uncharacteristic act of kindness, might actually pass a package of constitutional amendments that would restore prisoners’ basic rights once they’ve served their debt to society. But then legislators looked around, realized that they were about to do something fundamentally decent and just, and immediately killed the entire proposal. But hey, it could be worse—if Sen. Emmett Hanger gets his way, the state will soon replace high-cost civil commitment and treatment programs for sex offenders with a much simpler option: physical castration.
So look at it this way: You might not get to vote, and you might end up incarcerated in a “treatment facility” even after you’ve completed your prison sentence, but at least you get to keep your junk. For now.