This week, the Senate voted on the budget, the most important vote we will cast in the next two years. The 2012-2014 Biennium Budget impacts every policy area and the Senate’s version of the budget made sweeping policy changes. We reinstated funding desperately needed for safety net programs, K-12, higher education, public safety and other critical areas. In addition, I fulfilled commitments that I had made to law enforcement and public employees to make them whole and to protect VRS.
Despite weeks of intense bi-partisan collaboration and an earlier agreement on all sides, the Senate vote for the budget failed for the first time in history. Remarkably, as an objection to just a few committee assignments, twenty Senators either voted “no” or did not vote. Because the Lieutenant Governor cannot break a tie budget vote, all of our good work was lost. There is one last hope. We have a second chance to adopt our measures when we vote on the House budget, which we can amend to include our changes.
Several of my bills passed the House this week, including measures to clarify tax treatment for historic rehabilitation tax credits, to improve the Circuit Court process for permanent protective orders and to amend the Town Charter of Middleburg.
This year, the House and Senate have been criticized in the press for introducing bills on social issues. However, a mere 12 of the 686 bills introduced in the Senate have any impact on social matters. Rather, the big focus has been on the economy. Some of the bills that passed this week include: SB 368 allowing localities to receive derelict buildings to spur commercial development; SB 549 permitting new machinery and tools purchases to be classified as intangible personal property so they are not double taxed; SB 368 to extend the Major Business Facility jobs tax credit; and SB 112 to incentivize technology investment and creation of data centers.
This week, I moved to strike SB 484, the informed consent bill that recently passed in the Senate. I was joined by eleven Senate co-patrons on a bill that had a simple intent–to bring Virginia’s informed consent rules in line with current reproductive technology. The bill offered a woman the opportunity to view the results of an ultrasound in advance of a procedure to terminate a pregnancy and was strictly optional. Women would not be forced to view the results of the ultrasound, only offered an opportunity to do so. My bill was based on language used in 20 other states that have similar informed consent laws.
This was all consistent with the information provided during initial discussions about the measure. Clinics currently perform – and recommend – ultrasounds as a routine part of screening. The procedure is considered to be a safety measure constituting current “best practices.” Planned Parenthood advocates the same ultrasound technology in their clinics and the National Abortion Federation includes the procedure in their standards.
Physicians had explained that ultrasounds reflect the standard of care required to safely perform a procedure. It is the only way to determine gestational age and to screen for serious complications (like ectopic pregnancy), which place the mother at increased risk. Finally, patient advocates have emphasized how critical it is that women have access to information in order to make good decisions about their health. Ironically, that was precisely the Senate’s posture on a mammogram bill that was voted unanimously out of committee just minutes before my bill was heard. The mammogram bill required that women be provided results of certain mammogram tests.
It was never my intent to force a woman to have a vaginal screening against her will, only to ensure that women seeking abortions are fully informed and that current state-of-the-art safety procedures are followed. I struck the bill over the objections of the Governor and others who have worked hard on the bill. But at this point in the process, it was for me a matter of conscience. New information about the ultrasound bill placed a number of facts in conflict. After new feedback from physicians, clinicians, lawyers and constituents, I had to conclude I clearly did not have all of the answers. Also, I learned the Governor was hurrying amendments to the floor and at that point it was time for me to call “time out” on my bill.
A House version of the bill still exists and it is my hope that with amendments, the underlying mission of the bill might be preserved. It is worth mentioning that the difficult work of legislation requires an open mind, a measured reaction and respect for those who disagree. I have great respect for my colleagues and try to engage in conduct that is always kind, even when we vociferously disagree. Some of the public debate on this matter was at times undignified. But I have to acknowledge an unusual act by Delegate David Englin (D-Alexandria) who took to the House floor Friday to extend a public apology to me for misstatements he made recently in the national media. I was very appreciative and in the end it is a good lesson for us all in kindness and decorum.
As always, I take your thoughts and opinions seriously and hope that you will contact our office any time that you have questions or concerns. We have had a number of visitors in the Capitol this session and I urge you to visit if you have time before the session concludes on March 10th. I can be reached during the General Assembly session at 804-698-7527, P.O. Box 397, Richmond, VA 23218 or you can email me at email@example.com. Also, please visit our website at www.senatorjillvogel.com .