Ah, January in the capitol, when Virginia’s legislators swarm in from all corners of the commonwealth for the annual General Assembly session, bringing along the petty grudges and crackpot bills they’ve managed to generate over the previous year.
And every year we sit in anticipation, just waiting for the next intemperate floor speech or ill-considered legislative proposal that will, once again, make Virginia into a national laughingstock. (The high-water mark for this sort of thing was, of course, 2012’s forced transvaginal ultrasound debacle, which earned our humble Assembly months of mocking comedy-show coverage.)
But even before Virginia’s senators and delegates could push through the swarm of lobbyists and find their seats, the session was already mired in controversy. On the Senate side, reporters discovered that their customary perch on the chamber floor had been removed by Majority Leader Tommy Norment, and that they were now banished to the upper gallery. When asked about this and other rule changes, Norment—who has apparently never heard the old adage “never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel”—smiled slyly and said, “What new rules?”
Meanwhile, over in the House of Delegates, the Republican majority had to take the unusual step of closing out a months-long special session before gaveling in the winter session. The purpose of the fake session was to keep Governor Terry McAuliffe from using his recess appointment powers to keep Justice Jane Roush on the Supreme Court (he did it anyway). Republicans, who claim they have no problem with Roush herself, are almost certainly going to replace her simply because they object to the way she was appointed.
And then, with all of these unseemly preliminaries out of the way, it was on to the big show! The first order of business for us, of course, was to scan the reams of submitted legislation to figure out which bill or bills would become notorious as the year’s stupidest piece of proposed law.
There were, as always, many contenders (barring sex offenders from owning Kids First license plates, criminalizing referee-punching, limiting the crime of “brandishment” only to those who point a firearm at someone with “the intent to induce fear”), but this year’s idiotic idea award has a clear winner: Spotsylvania Republican Delegate Mark Cole, who introduced a bill mandating a fine for schools that allow any student to use a bathroom or locker room that does not match his or her “correct anatomical sex.” Besides the reprehensible homophobia and bullying of transgender students inherent in this proposal, the real-world effect of such a law would require that school officials inspect the genitalia of any child who wanted to use the bathroom—not exactly the family values scenario we imagine Delegate Cole was going for.
Not to be outdone, Cole’s fellow delegate Rick Morris used his valuable floor time on opening day to give a speech for the ages. He began by incongruously praising the Black Lives Matter movement (Morris is a well-known religious conservative). But then he quickly clarified that he didn’t mean the movement “that calls for the killing and injuring of our law enforcement and the destruction of our cities. …I rise for the original Black Lives movement.”
What followed was a long-winded, rambling diatribe that equated America’s “national sin” of slavery to abortion, repeatedly invoked the stalwart Republican “a-bo-lutionists” who apparently single-handedly ended slavery, and helpfully explained that “if you are okay with the harvesting of the body parts and tissue of those murdered children then your soul is walking with Satan.”
And yes, in case you were wondering, there was a hearty round of applause as Delegate Morris returned to his seat. And so it begins.
Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.