Friday, February 4, 2011

Senate Democrats Refuse to Hear ABC Privatization Bills. Senator Obenshain Responds.

The Following Post was written by state Senator Mark Obenshain.  Senator Obenshain represents the twenty-sixth district in the Virginia Senate.  The district includes the city of Harrisonburg and the counties of Warren, Shenandoah, Page, Rappahannock and Rockingham (part).

"Today, the Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services refused to take up for consideration two bills copatroned by Senators Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) and John Watkins (R-Powhatan) on the privatization of Virginia’s ABC stores.

An important component of Governor McDonnell’s agenda, and an issue which has drawn widespread public interest, the question of ABC privatization is not presently scheduled to be considered at all in the Senate of Virginia.

“People on both sides of the issue have strongly-held beliefs about the merits of ABC privatization,” said Obenshain. “I don’t think the people expect us to speak in one voice on the issue, just as they do not speak in one voice. But they do expect us to review it, and they certainly expect us to vote on it.”

“This morning’s meeting was the last one prior to crossover,” explained Obenshain, referring to the day – Wednesday, February 9th – on and after which the Senate may only take up House bills for consideration (and vice versa).

The bills having failed to appear on the docket of the last scheduled meeting of the committee prior to crossover, Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) made a motion to add the bills to the agenda, which Chairman Toddy Puller (D-Fairfax) ruled out of order.

“A motion to add a bill to a committee’s calendar is always in order,” said Obenshain. “The members of the committee can vote not to add the bill, but the motion is absolutely in order.” On an 8-6 party line vote, Democrats on the committee voted to affirm the ruling of the chair, disregarding the rules and procedures under which the Senate is to operate.

Virginia is one of eighteen “control” states, where both retail and wholesale distilled liquor operations are the purview of the states, a vestige of the early post-Prohibition era. Senators Obenshain and Watkins copatroned SB 1272, a bill to divest both retail and wholesale operations, and SB 1417, the Governor’s more modest proposal to divest only the retail component. Neither bill has been placed on the calendar of the Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.

“I am disappointed with the undemocratic decision not to even let a vote be taken on ABC privatization,” said Obenshain. “I think most voters believe that when a bill is introduced, a vote is taken, at least in committee. That’s the civics class understanding, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately, some members find it easier to duck votes on contentious issues, and their leaders refuse to ever let some bills be heard.”

“The chair of a committee should not be able to kill a bill by herself, without a vote, simply by never adding it to the agenda, and then ruling out of order the motions of other members to add it to the agenda” added Obenshain. “Unfortunately, Democrats on the committee affirmed her decision on a party-line vote this morning in the latest in a series of displays of complete disregard for democratic principles.” Recently, Democrats in the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections refused to hear in full committee bills that had previously been heard in subcommittee, in violation of the Rules of the Senate.

“Right now, taxes and fees on liquor sales are set undemocratically, by unelected bureaucrats,” said Obenshain, noting that the Commonwealth collects an effective 89% tax on the sale of distilled spirits. “It’s almost fitting that Democrats chose to prop up this antiquated, undemocratic system by undemocratic means. But is taking a vote too much to ask?”

The Committee’s refusal to take up SB 1417 is particularly notable, given that the bill was introduced at the Governor’s request. “I can’t remember a time when the General Assembly didn’t do the Governor the courtesy of at least giving his legislation a fair hearing,” said Obenshain. “Senate Democrats are breaking new ground here. Their decision is both unwarranted and unprecedented.”

“Of course, the voters understand what just happened,” concluded Obenshain. “A vote against hearing the bill is a vote against ABC privatization – and a vote against the traditions and principles on which this chamber is supposed to operate.”

No comments: