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Power shift worries Stanley
House GOP members unconcerned after Dems take control

Monday, February 3, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Recent changes Democrats made to Virginia Senate rules have torpedoed the democratic process, state Sen. Bill Stanley said, but his GOP colleagues in the House of Delegates don’t anticipate problems.

The Democrats took control of the Senate after winning two special elections that created a 20-20 split between Republicans and Democrats. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, will decide tie votes.

Last week, Stanley, R-Glade Hill, maintained that Senate Democrats “tossed out rules that require committee membership to reflect, as nearly as possible, the proportional party makeup of the Senate as a whole” when they “altered each and every one of the standing committees organized in 2012. They changed the way we do business.”

“Achieved by Lt. Gov. Northam’s tie-breaking vote,” the changes ensure that Democrats now chair all “11 committees and have super-majorities on the most prominent ones,” he said.

Stanley was removed from the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, but he remains on three other committees. In a release from Stanley’s office, he also said Democrats “removed all current committee chairs and shuffled some Republican members off of committees to ensure full control by Democrats on all Senate committees,” according to the release.

“Because the Democrats chose power and political gain over doing what is right for the people of the 20th Senatorial District, Southside Virginia now lacks representation on the most important committee in the Senate of Virginia, and that’s a real problem,” he said. It is obvious, he added, that Democrats “don’t hold the same regard for Southside that I do.”

As a result of “the power grab,” the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee now has 10 Democrats and six Republicans. The Finance Committee has 11 Democrats and six Republicans, Stanley said. The GOP retained a majority on the Local Government Committee, but even that “is chaired by a Democrat,” he added.

Stanley said the recent change differs from 2012, when the GOP took control of the Senate with the help of then-Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling because those changes were made after an election. The changes/committee appointments made in 2012 should have remained in effect for at least two more years, as is the general practice, Stanley said, and noted that Senate rules are adopted on four-year cycles to ensure continuity.

Democrats “cut all that in half when they decided to throw out all those rules. They changed course right in the middle of a race,” Stanley said.

In addition, the Democrats created a new “super committee with a new rule that grants a single senator, the chairman of the Rules Committee, the power to prevent a Senate Bill from being approved by the Senate if it has been ‘substantially’ amended by the House.” according to the release from Stanley’s office.

But the changes could end up being the Democrats’ undoing, because a super majority (vote) was needed in the past to approve amendments. Now, a simple majority (vote) is enough to pass amendments, he said.

That means “the rules can be changed at any time,” Stanley said. “That’s why I have said they (Democratic senators) better not miss any committee meetings. Otherwise, we could put in a new set of rules.”

He also is concerned that Virginians may experience a stalemate at the state level “like the ones we have in Washington, D.C., where one chamber is controlled by one party and the other chamber is controlled” by the opposing party.

All in all, “it’s going to make for a very interesting year,” Stanley said. “I hope we can remind ourselves that we have to do the people’s business, not the party’s business. We in Virginia have a very strong heritage of getting things done. We all get along. There’s tension now and then. We fight on the floor,” like siblings.

“But now there’s some edge” because Democrats “chose to power grab,” he added.

Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham, who is in his first House term, said that some lawmakers with longer track records in the General Assembly predict it may be more difficult to get bills through the Senate now. But he said he is hopeful “there will be areas of agreement to help move Virginia forward.”

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said the relationship between senators and delegates is “a two-way street.” He is not concerned that the power flip will impact the passage of bills because the Senate also must get bills through the House.

Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, could not be reached for comment.


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