Urge VA Senate General Laws Committee to Support Public Employee Non-Discrimination

The Virginia Senate General Laws Committee is meeting on Monday, and the docket includes SB12, common-sense legislation which prohibits discrimination against LGBT government employees.

In its hiring and firing practices, the government ought to make decisions based solely on one’s ability to do the job. SB12 would simply enshrine into law this fundamental principle.

As an excellent editorial by the Richmond Times-Dispatch put it, “Government has no rights — only powers and obligations. And one of its most important obligations is to guarantee equal treatment under law. There is no rational reason to let the commonwealth do otherwise.”

Virginia has a proud reputation as a business-friendly state and passing legislation protecting LGBT public employees from workplace discrimination would help Virginia develop a reputation as an inclusive state as well.

Please contact members of the committee and urge them to support SB12 and take a stand for equal rights under law.

It’s especially vital libertarians and allies contact the Republicans on the committee. Tell them that as a supporter of limited government, you insist they support equal rights under the law.

It’s Time to Ease Virginia’s Burdensome Ballot Access Requirements

Right Way Forward Virginia promotes a free-market economy and opposes special privileges and subsidies for politically-connected firms and corporations. Competition and innovation in a market economy are the engines of economic growth, job creation, and improvements in the quality of life of the citizenry.

We likewise support competition and innovation in the marketplace of ideas. Burdensome ballot access requirements unfairly privilege large political parties, just as burdensome economic regulations privilege established firms and inhibit the creation and growth of new potential competitors. Such ballot access requirements are the political equivalent of economic rent-seeking. The government should not privilege the powerful at the expense of the powerless, or incumbents at the expense of challengers.

That’s why we support HB82, introduced by Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), which would enable any political party which has achieved at least five percent of the vote for any statewide race in either of the two preceding elections to be recognized as an established political party and avoid burdensome petitioning requirements to gain ballot access.

The current such threshold is ten percent, significantly higher than any of Virginia’s neighboring states and among the highest in the nation. Virginia’s petitioning requirements are also among the most stringent in the country. Indeed, this was recognized by the Virginia General Assembly following the 2012 Republican presidential primary election, in which only two candidates (Mitt Romney and Ron Paul) overcame the 10,000-signature threshold to appear on the ballot. The Virginia General Assembly subsequently reduced the number of valid signatures required to gain access to the ballot in presidential elections, but has yet to also do so for statewide elections.

We encourage libertarians (of whatever party) and allies to contact your elected officials in Richmond and urge them to support HB82.

What Still Needs to Happen to Free Virginia’s Hemp Economy

In the 2015 session of the Virginia General Assembly, Right Way Forward Virginia helped mobilize libertarians and allies in support of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, common-sense legislation to allow industrial hemp cultivation in Virginia. Industrial hemp has thousands of economic applications, including textiles, oil, and building materials.

Unfortunately, more still needs to be done to enable Virginia to build a more dynamic economy and become the leader for industrial hemp cultivation and manufacturing.

At the federal level, Congress must act. Federal law still considers hemp a Schedule I narcotic, even though it is not a drug. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act (S. 134/H.R. 525) is bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY) that would eradicate those barriers and legalize industrial hemp production, enabling Virginia farmers to grow a new cash crop and spurring innovation and job creation.

U.S. Representatives Gerald Connolly (D-VA 11th), Robert Hurt (R-VA 5th), and Bobby Scott (D-VA 3rd) are the only members of Virginia’s Congressional Delegation who have endorsed this legislation.

It’s especially vital Virginians turn up the heat on Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA 1st) and Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA 4th), who last year voted against a bipartisan amendment prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from using funds to interfere with state laws allowing industrial hemp cultivation.

Meanwhile, a new bill (HB699) introduced in the 2016 Virginia General Assembly is designed to enable Virginia farmers and entrepreneurs to be ready to grow hemp for commercial purposes once the federal prohibition ends. Right Way Forward Virginia supports this bill.

Virginia General Assembly Considering Supply-Side Healthcare Reform

While most political debates about healthcare policy tend to focus on adding new regulations and shifting costs around, economists and libertarians often point to ways government can deregulate the sector to increase the supply of healthcare, enable more competition, and potentially lower the costs.

For instance, here in Virginia, economists at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University issued a policy study last year analyzing Virginia’s “Certificate of Need” law that requires healthcare entrepreneurs to get permission from the state before establishing new care facilities or adding capacity at existing facilities. Such a policy artificially limits the number of hospital beds, MRI machines, and other vital devices and services. Mercatus scholars have also recommended Virginia allow nurse practitioners to establish autonomous practices and independently write prescriptions, and to allow telemedicine programs in which patients can be treated remotely using the latest medical technologies. Robert Sarvis made similar proposals a cornerstone of his campaign as the Libertarian Party candidate for governor in 2013.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see the General Assembly consider a number of these regulatory reforms, albeit often in limited form:

  • Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg) has introduced a number of bills (HB59, HB347, HB348, HB349, HB350) addressing Certificate of Need.
  • A bipartisan, bicameral bill (HB581/SB264) would allow some nurse practitioners to practice independent of a “patient care team.”
  • SB19 would establish a telemedicine pilot program.
  • HB313 would enable nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and licensed practical nurses to administer vaccinations to children.
  • We hope these bills help lay the groundwork for further discussion about regulatory reforms to remove barriers to competition in healthcare, increase the supply of healthcare services, and lower costs for patients and families.

UPDATE 1/14: Additional legislation dealing with “Certificate of Need” reform introduced this session includes HB193, HB463, HB621, HB651, HB688, HB689, SB333, and SB398. For more on the case against “Certificate of Need” (and why legislators should avoid narrow carveouts and exemptions), we recommend this excellent column by Robert Sarvis in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last year.

Criminal Justice Reform in the 2016 General Assembly?

The 2016 General Assembly session starts on Wednesday, January 13. Among our top priorities are ensuring that the constitutional rights of all Virginians are vigorously protected and promoting a fair and accountable criminal justice system.

Here are some of the bills related to criminal justice we are monitoring:

Asset Forfeiture Reform – HB48/SB108

SUPPORT

Virginia’s abusive asset forfeiture laws enable police and prosecutors to seize someone’s property without ever even charging them with a crime. In fact, the libertarian Institute for Justice rated Virginia’s laws as among the worst in the country. HB48/SB108 would be an important first step to protect property rights and due process and end asset forfeiture abuse in Virginia by requiring a criminal conviction.

Unfortunately, despite widespread support across party lines for this legislation, Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment killed similar legislation last year. Sign the petition to your state legislators today and tell the General Assembly “No more excuses” in 2016.

Marijuana Decriminalization – SB104

SUPPORT

Marijuana prohibition wastes police resources that could be better spent keeping Virginians safe from violent crimes. Prohibition also perpetuates racial inequality and prevents sick and disabled Virginians from having access to medicine that can ease their pain.

It’s time to get Virginia law in line with the vast majority of Americans who support marijuana decriminalization. Urge your Virginia Delegate and Senator to support marijuana decriminalization by signing our petition.

Increasing Mandatory Minimum Sentences – HB439/HB277

OPPOSE

At a time when national politicians in both major parties are trying to work together to reduce or eliminate mandatory minimum sentences — which contribute to the country’s high incarceration rate and perpetuate racial inequality and poverty — the Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation that would create new or harsher mandatory minimum sentences.

Limiting Trial By Ambush – HB246

SUPPORT

Virginia law enables prosecutors to withhold police reports and witness statements from defendants before trial. HB246 would limit trial by ambush by requiring prosecutors to disclose police reports to the defense. Virginia’s criminal discovery rules are among the least fair in the country, and this legislation would be a vital step in the right direction.

Increasing the Grand Larceny Threshold – HB396/SB23/SB226/SB235/SB177

SUPPORT

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. A number of bills have been introduced this session to increase the threshold to $500 or $1000. Right Way Forward Virginia supports increasing the threshold, preferably at least in line with the majority of states at $1000 or more.

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What General Assembly Elections Results Mean for Liberty & Equal Rights in Virginia

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.

Did Your U.S. Congressman Vote to Protect Virginia Hemp Farmers from Federal Drug Raids?

A new state law allows hemp cultivation in Virginia, but federal law still prevents Virginia’s hemp economy from blossoming.

On June 3, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA 1st District) and Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA 4th District) voted against a bipartisan amendment (H.Amdt. 321) prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from using funds to interfere with state laws allowing industrial hemp cultivation.

If you are one of their constituents, call Rep. Wittman at (202) 225-4261 and Rep. Forbes at (202) 225-6365 and urge them to apologize for voting against protecting Virginia farmers from DEA raids.

Please also sign our petition to Virginia’s Senators and your U.S. Representative urging them to support the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (S. 134/H.R. 525). The Industrial Hemp Farming Act is bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY) that would eradicate the federal barriers to industrial hemp cultivation and enable Virginia farmers to grow a new cash crop with thousands of economic applications.

U.S. Senate Shouldn’t Rush NSA “Reform”

What the political experts deemed unthinkable just weeks ago happened over the weekend.

Three provisions of the so-called “Patriot” Act expired — including Section 215, which the government relied on to justify its bulk data collection of innocent Americans’ communications.

But now U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to ram through the already watered-down “reform” bill known as the USA Freedom Act, and the next vote is imminent.

What’s worse, McConnell wants to gut that legislation even more with a package of amendments favored by the pro-mass surveillance caucus.

And by “filling the amendment tree,” McConnell will prevent any votes on meaningful amendments to better protect civil liberties.

It’s vital grassroots civil libertarians act at once.

Now that the “Patriot” Act provisions have already sunset, and McConnell can’t use a looming deadline to scare waffling Senators into voting with him, there’s no reason to rush through a flawed “reform” bill with little-to-no debate and a closed amendment process.

At the very least, allowing amendments by civil libertarians would force every member of the Senate on the record with roll call votes about more meaningful reforms.

Establishment Republicans and Democrats alike don’t want that to happen. They’re happy to pass a so-called “reform” bill, avoid tough votes, and pretend the problem is solved.

That’s why we need to turn up the heat now.

Please call Virginia’s U.S. Senators IMMEDIATELY and urge them to oppose on all votes the rushed attempt to ram through the USA Freedom Act without an opportunity to vote on pro-liberty amendments.

Call Senator Mark Warner at (202) 224-2023.

Call Senator Tim Kaine at (202) 224-4024.

A vote is just hours away. There’s not a moment to lose.

Please act right away.

2015 General Assembly Wrap Up

Review the status of the bills Right Way Forward Virginia lobbied for and against during the 2015 General Assembly.

Right to Earn an Honest Living

H.B. 1277 – Virginia Industrial Hemp Farming Act

Supported – PASSED AND SIGNED INTO LAW

The Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.B. 1277) is good for farmers, job seekers, and all Virginians who could benefit from the multitude of economic uses of industrial hemp such as textiles, oil, and building materials.

Now signed into law, the bill takes effect in July. The next step to enable Virginia to become a leader in hemp cultivation is for Congress to pass H.R. 525/ S. 134.


Criminal Justice Reform

Asset Forfeiture Reform – H.B. 1287

Supported – KILLED IN SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE

Virginia’s abusive asset forfeiture laws enable police and prosecutors to seize someone’s property without ever even charging them with a crime. In fact, the libertarian Institute for Justice rated Virginia’s laws as among the worst in the country.

H.B. 1287/S.B. 684 would be an important first step to protect individual rights and end asset forfeiture abuse in Virginia by requiring a criminal conviction.

Unfortunately, after H.B. 1287 passed the House of Delegates, Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment sent the bill to the Senate Finance Committee, where it was killed.

Marijuana Decriminalization – S.B. 686

Supported – KILLED IN SENATE COURTS COMMITTEE

Eight percent of all arrests in Virginia in 2013 were marijuana-related. Marijuana prohibition wastes police resources that could be better spent keeping Virginians safe from violent crimes.

It’s time to get Virginia law in line with the vast majority of Americans who support marijuana decriminalization.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee killed the bill.


Equality Under Law

Public Employment Non-Discrimination – S.B. 785

Supported – KILLED IN HOUSE GENERAL LAWS COMMITTEE

S.B. 785 would prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT government employees. The government belongs to all people and as such should not fire or refuse to hire any individual on any basis other than ability to perform one’s job.

After barely passing the Virginia Senate, the bill was killed in the House General Laws Committee..

Freedom to Marry – S.B. 682, S.B. 1211

Supported – KILLED IN HOUSE COURTS COMMITTEE

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to decline review of the 4th Circuit’s ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer, gay and lesbian couples have been free to marry in Virginia.

S.B. 682 would repeal the statutory prohibition on same-sex marriages and civil unions. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee killed this bill.

S.B. 1211 would would provide more certainty for gay and lesbian couples regarding marriage, adoption, and inheritance by revising references to gender-specific terms (wife, husband, father, mother, etc.) in the Code of Virginia. The House Courts of Law Committee killed the bill after it narrowly passed in the Senate.

Special Privileges for Anti-Gay Sentiment – H.B. 1414

Opposed – KILLED IN HOUSE GENERAL LAWS COMMITTEE

Delegate Robert Marshall’s H.B. 1414 would uniquely privilege one particular moral belief (opposition to same-sex marriage) in the law. Read more about this bill and Delegate Marshall’s career-long crusade to limit the rights of LGBT Virginians.

Is VA Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment Trying to Kill Asset Forfeiture Reform?

Earlier this month, the Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved HB 1287, an important first step at reforming Virginia’s abusive asset forfeiture laws. HB 1287 requires a criminal conviction before someone’s property can be forfeited to law enforcement.

The good news is, this week, the Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted to report the bill.

The bad news is, Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment voted against reporting the bill — and then immediately rereferred the bill to the Senate Finance Committee.

Respecting the due process rights of property owners shouldn’t have anything to do with taxes and revenue, but that’s precisely one of the problems with Virginia’s asset forfeiture laws: They encourage law enforcement to police for profit instead of justice.

Requiring a conviction before forfeiture wouldn’t entirely end policing for profit. As long as law enforcement agencies retain the proceeds of forfeiture, rather than send them to the general treasury, the perverse incentive remains for police to prioritize crimes, such as drug crimes, involving large amounts of cash. Pursuing justice and preventing violence ought to be the top priorities for law enforcement, not padding budgets.

That’s why HB 1287 represents only a first step toward real reform, but it’s an important step nonetheless — if the Senate Finance Committee doesn’t kill it first.

Virginians from across the ideological spectrum who agree that Virginia’s asset forfeiture laws need reform should contact the members of the Senate Finance Committee — especially Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment — at once and urge them to support HB 1287. Law enforcement agencies shouldn’t be balancing their books on the backs of innocent property owners.