Friday, January 24, 2014

The Four Most Powerful Men in Virginia You Never Heard of

These bills were introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates in the current session:

HB 61: would prohibit the sale of rifles, shotguns or assault weapons to out-of-state residents.

HB 535: would require background checks for firearms transfers at gun shows.

HB 809: would prohibit the sale of large capacity magazines (with stated exceptions).

HB 812: would require background checks for all firearms transfers.

HB 823: would permit background checks for firearms transfers at gun shows if one of the parties to the transfer requested one.

None of these bills will become law this session. In fact, none of these bills will ever be voted on by the House of Delegates. Why?

Have you ever gone to the General Assembly website and looked at that tutorial that tells “How a bill becomes a law?” There is a step in there entitled “Committee studies bill.” It says “The committee studies the bill to see if it would make a good law.” The next step is entitled “Bill is reported.” It reads “If the committee agrees the bill would make good law, the committee reports the results to the House or the Senate.”

Well, trusted reader, I need to inform you that the General Assembly has not been entirely truthful in educating the public on how a bill becomes a law, or more to the point, how a bill does NOT become a law. It’s not that the tutorial doesn’t tell the truth. It’s that it doesn’t tell the whole truth. It doesn’t mention that under House rules the majority party in the House of Delegates decides the makeup of the various House standing committees. It doesn’t mention that the standing committees may set up subcommittees to more efficiently deal with their load of bills. It doesn’t mention that one of the House committees—the Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety (MPPS)—contains fifteen Republican members and seven Democratic members. It doesn’t mention that the MPPS is divided into three subcommittees. It also doesn’t mention that Subcommittee #1 contains four Republicans and only one Democrat. And it also doesn’t mention that all firearms bills are routinely referred to Subcommittee #1. And finally, it doesn’t mention that under House and parliamentary rules, the 4 Republican members of MPPS Subcommittee #1 can prevent any legislation from ever reaching the floor of the House of Delegates, and they can do so without ever having a recorded vote. And that, dear reader, is what happened to all of the bills I described above.

But, Maven, what do you mean by without a vote. Surely, the subcommittee must vote. 

Subcommittee #1 took action by voice vote. How does that work? Motion to table, seconded, all in favor say “aye”, all opposed say “nay,” the ayes have it. And what is reported in the official record? “Subcommittee recommends laying on the table by voice vote.” It is not reported how individual members of the subcommittee voted. So, in theory, we can never hold any of those delegates accountable for their vote. Or can we?

We do know who the members of the subcommittee are. And we can infer how they voted (assuming of course that the chair actually counted the ayes and nays). So let me introduce you to the members of MPPS Subcommittee #1. First the Democrat—Del. Roslyn C. Taylor of the 75th District. And the Republicans—Del. Thomas C. Wright, Jr., of the 61st District (chair of the subcommittee); Del. C. Matthew Fariss of the 59th District; Del. C. Todd Gilbert of the 15th District; Del. Michael J. Webert of the 18th District. Although I certainly cannot prove it, I am quite certain that Del. Taylor voted “nay” on the voice votes to put these bills to sleep. Likewise, I am quite certain that Del. Wright, Fariss, Gilbert and Webert all voted to kill these bills.

In the state-wide election this past November the three candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general who favored reasonable gun control legislation were elected. Those who opposed such legislation were defeated. However, that is irrelevant because Wright, Fariss, Gilbert and Webert said NO. Polls show that most Virginians favor reasonable firearms control legislation (like the bills described above). Too bad! Wright, Fariss, Gilbert and Webert said NO. Hundreds of Virginians, including family members of people who were murdered by firearm at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, demonstrate at the Virginia Capitol in favor of responsible gun legislation (like the bills above). Pity! Wright, Fariss, Gilbert and Webert said NO. The Virginia Senate may pass legislation similar to the bills above. But, when they come to the House on crossover day, Wright, Fariss, Gilbert and Webert will again say NO.

But, Maven, isn’t it unfair that four men on one subcommittee can block the will of a majority of the people in Virginia? 

Yes, reader, it is unfair. It is also undemocratic (not to be confused with unDemocratic). And it is “unrepublican.” In a republican form of government, which the Commonwealth is supposed to be, I would expect that more times than not the majority would decide what is the proper policy to be followed. Yet, because of the actions of Wright, Farris, Gilbert and Webert, we will never even know what the majority is because those four gentlemen will not allow a vote in the House on any restrictive firearms legislation. 

So, what can we do? We need to put the spotlight and the heat on Wright, Farris, Gilbert and Webert. We need to publicize their actions every time they effectively kill reasonable firearms bills. We need to lobby them heavily. We need to make sure that everybody in the Commonwealth knows how these four men continuously block the will of the people. We need to work against the political gerrymandering that allowed three of these “no” men to run unopposed in the last election. Let us not forget the names of these four unknowns: Thomas Wright of Victoria; Matt Fariss of Rustburg; Todd Gilbert of Woodstock; and Michael Webert of Marshall



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