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‘The end is in sight’: ERA moves closer to ratification in Virginia

Resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment swiftly passed the General Assembly Wednesday. The House version passed 59-41 and the Senate bill cleared with a 28-12 vote.

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By Zobia Nayyar

Resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment swiftly passed the General Assembly Wednesday. The House version passed 59-41 and the Senate bill cleared with a 28-12 vote. The next step will be for each resolution to pass the other chamber, sometime in February.

“As the House sponsor of the bill, it is an honor to lead the effort in this historic moment for women,” said Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, in a released statement. “This vote demonstrates how greater female representation in government can significantly improve the lives of women across the country. We are here and will be heard.”

VAratifyERA, a campaign focused on the state’s ratification tweeted shortly after passage of the resolutions: “The end is in sight!”

First lady Pam Northam and daughter Aubrey Northam appeared at the House gallery to witness the moment. They joined a crowd of mostly women who cheered loudly when the measure passed.

The governor and Democratic legislators have championed the ERA as a legislative priority, promising this year the amendment wouldn’t die in the House as it has in past years.

“Today is an absolutely historic day for our Commonwealth and a major milestone in the fight for equality in this nation,” said Attorney General Mark Herring in a statement.  “Women in America deserve to have equality guaranteed in the Constitution and Virginians should be proud that we will be the state that makes it happen.”

Though Virginia passage of the ERA is seen as a symbol of the new Democratic leadership, the effort may be too late. The Department of Justice announced last week that the ERA can no longer be ratified because its deadline expired decades ago.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel agreed that the deadline cannot be revived.

“We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA, and because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the states,” Engel said.

Carroll Foy said in an interview last week that she believes the DOJ legal counsel’s opinion will not stop the ERA’s progress.

“I am more than confident that this is just another effort by people who want to stop progress and who don’t believe in women’s equality,” Carroll Foy said. “This is another one of their concerted efforts to deny us fundamental rights and equal protections. But the time has come; we are unrelenting. We will not be deterred, and we will have our full constitutional equality.”

The amendment seeks to guarantee equal rights in the U.S. Constitution regardless of sex. It passed Congress in 1972 but could not collect the three-fourths state support needed to ratify it. Efforts to ratify the ERA gained momentum in recent years when it passed in Nevada and Illinois.

Five states –Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota — have stated their intent to rescind their ratification, which ERA opponents say could prevent it from being added to the constitution, according to VAratifyERA. The ERA organization said that “Article V of the Constitution authorizes states to ratify amendments but does not give states the power to rescind their ratification.” The organization points out that the 14th, 15th and 19th amendments were added to the Constitution despite some state efforts to rescind ratification.

Herring said that he is “preparing to take any steps necessary to ensure that Virginia is recognized as the 38th ratifying state, that the will of Virginians is carried out, and that the ERA is added to our Constitution, as it should be.”

Female-led groups united at the General Assembly last week, urging representatives not to pass legislation ratifying the ERA. Groups such as The Family Foundation of Virginia, Eagle Forum, Students For Life of America and Concerned Women for America said they oppose ERA ratification because the amendment does not explicitly support women’s equality.

“The ERA does not put women in the Constitution,” said Anne Schlafly Cori, chairman of Eagle Forum, a conservative and pro-family group. “It puts sex in the Constitution, and sex has a lot of different definitions.”

President of the Virginia chapter of the The Family Foundation Victoria Cobb believe women have already achieved equality.

“Today I am different than men and yet equal under the U.S. Constitution, and Virginia Constitution and Virginia laws,” Cobb said.

A statement released last week by the National Archives and Records Administration, the agency that certifies ratification of amendments, indicated that the agency will follow DOJ guidance that the deadline to ratify has passed “unless otherwise directed by a final court order.”

Still, enthusiasm was palpable Wednesday at the State Capitol.

“The people of Virginia spoke last November, voting a record number of women into the House of Delegates and asking us to ratify the ERA,” said Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring in a released statement. “It is inspiring to see the amendment finally be considered, voted on, and passed – long-awaited recognition that women deserve.”

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Bill to strike Lee-Jackson Day, make Election Day state holiday advances in General Assembly

Virginia lawmakers have advanced Senate bills that make voting easier, including not requiring an excuse to vote absentee and recognizing Election Day as a state holiday.

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By Zach Armstrong

Virginia lawmakers have advanced Senate bills that make voting easier, including not requiring an excuse to vote absentee and recognizing Election Day as a state holiday. Other legislation that would extend citizen access to voting — part of the 11-point “Virginia 2020 plan” put forward by Gov. Northam — has yet to clear committees.

Senate Bill 601 designates Election Day as a state holiday to give more citizens the chance to cast their ballot. The bill also would strike from current law Lee-Jackson Day, which celebrates the birthdays of Confederate generals. The legislation, introduced by Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, passed the Senate Tuesday.

“Even on Election Day, people have to go to work, people have to handle childcare, people have to go to class and often it can be hard to make it to the polls,” said Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Herndon. “It just makes sense that those folks should be given the opportunity to come out and vote in a time window that works for them.”

A bill that removes the need for an excuse to cast an absentee ballot passed the Senate Monday. SB 111, introduced by Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, permits any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot in any election in which he is qualified to vote.

Several other bills that facilitate ease of absentee voting are SB 46, removing the requirement that a person applying for an absentee ballot provide a reason to receive the ballot; SB 455, extending the deadline when military and overseas absentee ballots can be received; SB 617, authorizing localities to create voter satellite offices to support absentee voting; and SB 859, making absentee voting easier for people who have been hospitalized.

Legislation in the House includes a bill that would also allow for no excuse absentee voting, automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration. In the Senate, a bill would pre-register teens 16 years old and older to vote and one bill in the House would reduce the period of time registration records must be closed before an election. All House bills are in an Elections subcommittee.

“Restrictive voting provisions almost always disproportionately affects people of color and low-income individuals because those are the groups that move more frequently, work multiple jobs and have less spare time,” said Jenny Glass, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

The House and Senate also introduced bills that would remove requirements that voters present a photo ID when voting. Under the legislation, voters can show voter registration documents, bank statements, paychecks or any government document that shows the name and address of the voter. Neither bill has made it past committee.

Virginians currently must present a photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a U.S. passport, to vote in person. According to a 2012 study by Project Vote, an organization that works to ensure all Americans can vote, approximately 7% of the U.S. population lacks photo ID. This is especially true of  lower-income individuals, those under the age of 20 and ethnic minorities.

Voters can provide their social security number and other information to get a free Virginia Voter Photo Identification Card, but some legislators said that service is unknown to many.

“Before the photo ID requirement voters had to sign the affidavit to say they are who they say they are, and I think that was enough,” said House Majority Leader Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. “I feel the photo ID was a way to suppress the vote because not everyone has one.”

Former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signed SB 1256 into law mandating voters have a form of ID with a photograph. Virginia is one of the 18 states with such voting requirements, according to the National Conference of Legislature.

In 2016, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ID requirement after attorneys for the state Democratic Party challenged the law, arguing it had a disproportionate impact on low income and minority voters.

“People are fed up with our overly restrictive and racist voting policies, and the legislature is finally getting rid of some of the biggest roadblocks to progressive reform,” said Glass. “This has been a long time coming.”

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Republican-backed gun bills fizzle on heels of massive rally

Democrats halted a slew of Republican-backed gun legislation — including bills that would not require concealed carry permits, allow firearms in places of worship, and allow state employees to bring concealed guns to work — during a firearms subcommittee meeting held Tuesday.

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By Hannah Eason

Democrats halted a slew of Republican-backed gun legislation Tuesday, including bills that would not require concealed carry permits, allow firearms in places of worship, and enable state employees to bring concealed guns to work.

One day after 22,000 gun rights advocates flooded the State Capitol in support of Second Amendment rights, 11 gun bills failed to advance out of a Democratic-majority legislative subcommittee.

House Bill 162 would have allowed those injured in established gun free zones to file a civil claim for damages. The bill states that if a locality or the commonwealth creates a gun free zone, it also waives its sovereign immunity in relation to injuries in that zone. Sovereign immunity protects government entities and employees against certain lawsuits.

Jason Nixon addressed the panel of delegates in support of the bill while wearing a Virginia Beach Strong T-shirt. His wife, Katherine Nixon, was killed in the May mass shooting in a Virginia Beach municipal building that left 12 dead and four injured.

“If you tell my wife that she has to go into gun free zones under city policies or state policies, and you can’t protect her, and you harbor her right of protecting herself, is that fair?” Nixon said.

Nixon said his wife expressed safety concerns the night before the shooting — and contemplated bringing a gun in her purse — but decided against it to comply with the law.

“This bill probably should be called the ‘put your money where your mouth is,’” Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, said. “If you are in a gun free zone, you should be able to hold the local government accountable for preventing you from doing anything in self defense.”

During a block vote of HB 162 and HB 1382, which supported similar measures, the bills were tabled in a 6-2 vote. Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, broke party lines to vote alongside Democrats.

HB 161, sponsored by McGuire, would have changed the law to not require a permit for a concealed handgun.

Louisa county resident Myria Rolan supported the bill, saying she had to obtain a concealed carry permits because winter clothing often covers her firearm.

“But the reason I needed it isn’t because I was going to do anything crazy. It’s because I wear a coat or sweatshirt,” Rolan said. “Do you know how easy it is for current clothing to cover your firearm, and now you’re committing a crime just because you are being fashionable or warm?”

Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, sponsored HB 596, which would repeal the law banning dangerous weapons in a place of worship. It was tabled in a 5-3 vote.

Steve Birnbaum, the head of a volunteer security team at his local synagogue, said he supports the bill.

Birnbaum said it took law enforcement 10 minutes to respond during the mass attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He said churches should have the option to protect themselves before officers arrive.

“There are some synagogues that don’t even want paid security, because they don’t like firearms, they don’t always want off-duty officers, they don’t want to pay for security, and that’s their choice,” Birnbaum said. “But there are synagogues that understand that law enforcement are not coming, and that they’re on their own for 10 minutes, if not longer, especially in rural parts of the state.”

One attendee said that church and state were separate, and legislators shouldn’t control whether people bring guns in churches. Current law allows armed security guards in places of worship.

The subcommittee tabled HB 596, HB 373 and HB 1486, all in a 5-3 vote. The bills would have allowed guns in places of worship.

HB 669, patroned by Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, would have allowed state employees with a valid concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun to their workplace.

Other bills tabled Tuesday include :

  • HB 1470 would have allowed a landowner with property in multiple localities to extend the firearm ordinance of the country where the largest parcel was located to anyone hunting on site.

  • HB 1471 would have given property owners the ability to use HB 1470 in their legal defense.

  • HB 1175 would have increased the penalty for use or display of a firearm while committing certain felonies. It would raise the mandatory minimum sentence for first offenses from three years to five years, and second and subsequent offenses from five years to 10 years.

  • HB 1485 said that no locality shall adopt or enforce any workplace rule preventing an employee from carrying a concealed handgun if the employee has a valid concealed handgun permit.

  • HB 976, patroned by Del. Matthew Fariss, R-Campbell, was not heard today and will be consulted by the subcommittee at a later date.

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More than 22,000 protesters take to Capitol Monday to advocate for gun rights, one arrest reported

Chants of “We will not comply,” and “USA, USA,” sounded through the blanket of security as thousands of armed Second Amendment supporters converged on Richmond to protest proposed gun control measures.

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By Chip Lauterbach

Chants of “We will not comply,” and “USA, USA,” sounded through the blanket of security as thousands of armed Second Amendment supporters converged on Richmond to protest proposed gun control measures.

The rally, organized by the gun rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League, raised security concerns in the days leading up to it. Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency and banned firearms from the Capitol grounds from Jan. 17 to Jan. 21.

Over the weekend, Capitol Police erected a fence around the grounds and created one main security checkpoint into the area where speakers would be located. Capitol Police estimated around 22,000 people attended, with 6,000 entering the secured area where weapons were not allowed.

Despite the governor’s ban, many gun rights advocates came armed and opted to stay outside of the State Capitol grounds, flooding streets around the Capitol and legislative offices in the Pocahontas Building.

Capitol Police reported that one arrest was made. A Richmond woman was charged for wearing a mask in public — a felony in Virginia. The armed protesters didn’t attempt to breach the security fence put up around Capitol Square. A red smoke grenade was set off, but no other disturbances were reported. After the event, Northam expressed gratitude that the event wasn’t violent.

“Thousands of people came to Richmond to make their voices heard,” he said in a statement. “Today showed that when people disagree, they can do so peacefully.

Days before the rally, the FBI arrested seven members of a white nationalist group called The Base. At least three were reportedly planning to attend the rally and create a violent disturbance. Northam state that such intel prompted him to declare a state of emergency. Some businesses near the Capitol decided to close during the rally, though many remained open.

Philip Van Cleave, VCDL president, tried to dispel fears of violence by releasing social media statement urging attendees to stay peaceful and to focus on supporting the Second Amendment.

“The issue is not race; it’s not politics or politicians,” said Willis Madden, a member of National African American Gun Association from King and Queen County. “It’s not about who is in the White House or who just got elected, the issue is the Second Amendment.”

Many gun rights advocates expressed concern over SB 16, introduced by Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, which would have prohibited the sale and transport of assault firearms and certain types of firearm magazines.

Saslaw pulled the bill last week, but Del. Mark H. Levine, D-Alexandria, introduced a similar bill in the House, HB 961. Levine’s bill would prohibit the sale and transport of assault firearms, certain firearm magazines, silencers, and trigger activators, as well as outlines penalties.

Amy Parker of Westmoreland County said gun control legislation doesn’t make her feel safe.

“Everything they are trying to ban is going to get rid of most guns that people use for self defense,” said Parker. “It’s my right to not be a victim.”

Other gun bills in the General Assembly include SB 70, which requires a universal background check when people sell firearms; SB 69, which limits handgun purchases to one a month; SB 35, which allows localities to ban firearms in a public space during a permitted event; and SB 240, which would create a process for attorneys and law enforcement to file emergency orders prohibiting a person from purchasing, possessing or transferring a firearm if they pose “a substantial risk of injury to himself or others.” The first three were passed the Senate last week and SB 240 awaits a vote.

Van Cleave spoke against the measures endorsed primarily by Northam and Democratic lawmakers. Van Cleave was joined on stage by several Republican legislators, among them Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield.

“Every other freedom that we have as Americans is based on that Second Amendment,” said Chase, repeating a phrase that she used earlier while addressing advocates waiting in line to lobby lawmakers.

 Chase, who previously wore a pistol on the Senate floor during the 2019 General Assembly session, said in a Capital News Service interview that she was “so encouraged” by the rally turnout. Chase said she will continue to work with gun rights advocates to overturn the proposed legislation: “We’re gonna make it happen.”

Attendees expressed happiness that the massive event was not marred by any major disruptions or violence.

“I’ve been following the bills and listening to all of the news surrounding today, and I wanted to see for myself that those of us in Richmond could come out here and be peaceful,” said Ryan Querry, a psychology student at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Most people say they are surprised that it turned out so peaceful, but this is exactly what I expected.”

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