Isn’t that special: The General Assembly reassembles

File photo. File photo.

First the good news, Virginia: Sodomy for everyone!

O.K., not everyone—but if you’re an amorously adventurous sort with a consensual partner of legal age? Go for it! If the members of our General Assembly did little else during the winter session (and, to be honest, they did little else), at least they managed to overturn one of the most absurd statutes still enshrined in Virginia law. We are, of course, referencing the “crimes against nature” section of the Code of Virginia, which deems any person who “carnally knows any male or female person by the anus or by or with the mouth” guilty of a felony.

Other than that, the Assembly’s recent list of accomplishments is slight indeed. In the wake of the tragic suicide of State Senator Creigh Deed’s son Gus, legislators did manage to make some truly substantive, and helpful, changes to the Commonwealth’s mental health system, including extending the amount of time a patient can be held while administrators search for space in nearby psychiatric facilities, and creating an online registry of available beds.

They also cut the number of standardized tests given to students from kindergarten through eighth grade, and delayed implementation of the previous administration’s misguided plan to give schools A-F grades based solely on test scores.

Oh yeah, they also repealed the hated hybrid car tax, legalized hunting on Sundays, criminalized revenge porn, banned the construction of dog-hunting “fox pens” (this is a thing?), instructed Virginia’s textbook printers to add the designation “East Sea” to the Sea of Japan, and made it legal for pet owners to be buried with their animal companions.

But on the really big issues—the budget, Medicaid expansion, and ethics reform—the GA either punted or did next to nothing, forcing Governor Terry McAuliffe to call a special session to try and break the impasse between the Dem-controlled Senate and the Republican-dominated House of Delegates.

On the face of it, it’s hard to see what possible compromise can be reached on the state budget, given that Governor McAuliffe and Senate Democrats are intent on expanding Medicaid (a key provision of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act), while House Republicans are stridently opposed to anything related to “Obamacare.” If nothing else, the March 24 special session will provide great drama, with an intriguingly uncertain outcome.

Of course, there was one thing that the Assembly’s Democrats and Republicans could agree on: Free gifts are awesome! Despite the terrible publicity surrounding former governor Bob McDonnell’s acceptance of over $100,000 worth of gifts and loans from shady businessman Jonnie R. Williams, the so-called “ethics reform” ultimately passed by the Assembly does little to strengthen Virginia’s notoriously lax ethics laws. While it does impose an annual limit of $250 on gifts to public officials, this cap does not apply to travel, meals, entertainment or “other events.” Which means, basically, that almost everything McDonnell did would still be legal under the new law.

Ah, the fabled “Virginia way.” Where expanding access to health care for the poor is an unacceptable intrusion on our collective liberty, but accepting thousands of dollars worth of watches, designer clothes, free jet rides and catered meals is just business as usual.

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s no session special enough to change that.

Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, bi-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.

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