Games pols play

Well, will you look at that! Yet another General Assembly session has come and gone, which must mean that it’s time to break out our spring finery. (Although, while the lawmakers have all left town, the Assembly is technically still in a special session, a peculiar set of circumstances that some say presages three more weeks of winter.)

So what happened? Well, a bunch of boring budgetary stuff, which we would recount at length if not for the fact that phrases like “accelerated sales tax” and “hold harmless payments” cause us to immediately doze off. Suffice it to say that the Assembly approved a budget that actually increased spending on schools and health care for the first time in years, while also approving Governor McDonnell’s plan to issue $2.9 billion worth of bonds for road-building. And yet the deficit-obsessed Tea Party barely seemed to notice. Could it possibly be that they only care about government spending when it’s done by Democrats? Or perhaps they were just too distracted by the striped-bass-versus-menhaden “state saltwater fish” debate to notice. (Striped bass won, just in case you were wondering.)

But you can read about our commonwealth’s arcane financial gimmickry anywhere. What about all of the completely idiotic and outrageous legislation proposed (and occasionally adopted) by our august elected representatives? They didn’t let us down by only introducing practical, common-sense regulations this time around, did they?

No sir, they did not. In fact, the Winter 2011 session in some ways set a high water mark for excessively loony laws. Not only did a flurry of offbeat bills actually became law—allowing golf carts on state roads, for instance, or criminalizing both “synthetic marijuana” and mind-altering “bath salts”—but the Assembly also managed to generate a truly impressive array of crackpot ideas that never made it to a vote. Leading the charge (as he often does) was Del. Bob Marshall, who cemented his place at the far right of his very conservative caucus by attempting to ban gays and lesbians from serving in the Virginia National Guard. Then he topped himself by proposing that Virginia start minting its own gold currency in order to prepare for the imminent collapse of the U.S. dollar.

But the true shocker of the session came not from Marshall, but from previously obscure Sen. Ryan McDougle, who completely outmaneuvered Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw to pass an anti-abortion measure Republicans have been pushing unsuccessfully for years.

How’d he do it? Well, first he got the Senate to unanimously approve an uncontroversial bill dealing with infection control in hospitals. Then, after that bill went to the House for a vote, Republicans sneakily attached the controversial amendment, which would regulate abortion clinics as hospitals (and thus force any that couldn’t afford to comply out of business). Since the Senate had already voted on the legislation once, they couldn’t kill it in committee, and so onto the floor it went, where two conservative Dems voted with the elephants to push it over the finish line.

So congratulations, Sen. McDougle! In a session filled with extreme legislation and outright duplicity, you went above and beyond the call of duty to punish your most disenfranchised and vulnerable constituents and shutter women’s health clinics across the commonwealth. If you’re lucky, maybe Bob Marshall will put your face on his shiny new state coins!

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