On Tuesday, every seat in the Virginia General Assembly was on the ballot, but not much changed.
Aside from a few retirements and successful primary challenges, the 2016 General Assembly will look almost exactly like legislature did this past year. The partisan makeup of the Virginia Senate did not change, and only one net seat in the House of Delegates switched. Virginia Republicans will retain their slim majority in the Senate and large majority in the House.
So what does this mean for the immediate future of liberty and equal rights in Virginia?
We still have an uphill battle. Just look at what happened in the most recent session:
- Despite overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Delegates, the Virginia Senate killed legislation that would have required a criminal conviction before an individual’s property can be permanently forfeited to law enforcement.
- A bill quietly sneaked through the General Assembly that expanded the use of administrative subpoenas, allowing prosecutors go on fishing expeditions without warrants.
- At $200, Virginia’s felony larceny threshold is the lowest in the country and has not been updated since 1980, wasting resources and encouraging harsh sentences for petty crimes. It has essentially become an annual tradition for legislation raising the threshold to be more in line with national standards to die in committee in the conservative House of Delegates, and 2015 was no exception.
And that’s just a handful of criminal justice issues.
More broadly, perhaps the biggest problem is the continued reliance on voice votes in committee to kill legislation, preventing Virginians from knowing where their legislators stand. In fact, 76 percent of bills introduced in the most recent session were killed in committee or subcommittee without a recorded vote.
There were, however, some positive developments. Grassroots libertarians helped ensure passage of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, and some votes on civil liberties and criminal justice issues demonstrated real avenues for reform when libertarians, liberals, and conservatives can find common cause.