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Editorial: Reenacting a Dark History?

Turning back the clock in Richmond.

Who could have anticipated that our elected officials would take African-American History month and Women's History month so seriously that they would literally try to turn back the clock?

First in February, African-American History Month, the assembly voted to make it harder to vote, knowing that the bill would make it less likely that some African-Americans in Virginia would vote.

The bill "eliminates the provision that allows a voter to sign a sworn statement that he is the named registered voter he claims to be in lieu of showing identification." There is no evidence that this longstanding provision has been abused.

In an action that reminds many of the poll tax, the General Assembly voted to require specific forms of identification at the polls in order to vote, knowing that this will disproportionately affect minority voters, poor voters and older voters, knowing that 15 percent or more of minority voters and older voters do not have such ID.

In the House of Delegates, the measure passed 69-30, with Northern Virginia delegates Dave Albo, Barbara Comstock, Tim Hugo, Jim LeMunyon and Tom Rust voting in favor; voting against were Robert Brink, David Bulova, David Englin, Eileen Filler-Corn, Charniele Herring, Patrick Hope, Mark Keam, Kay Kory, Alfonso Lopez, Ken Plum, Mark Sickles, Scott Surovell and Vivian Watts.

All Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria senators voted against the bill that forces voters to provide one of a short list of identification in order to vote, but the bill passed 20-to-20. Senators George Barker, Adam Ebbin, Barbara Favola, Mark Herring, Janet Howell, Dave Marsden, Chap Petersen, Toddy Puller and Dick Saslaw voted against.

Now on to Women's History.

Northern Virginia holds a special place in women's struggle for the right to vote.

From the Workhouse Museum in Lorton:

"In 1917, women began demonstrating in front of the White House for the right to vote. They decided they would rather be imprisoned than be quiet. In response to their outspoken protests during World War I, they were sentenced to fines or imprisonment. They chose imprisonment. Some of those arrested were sentenced to the Women's Workhouse at Lorton. The protestors were held under deplorable conditions. As news of the sentences spread, sympathy for the suffragists was aroused. ... Finally the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1919 and for the first time women were allowed to vote in the November 1920 national election."

Women's right to self-determination and equality has not come easily, and the transformation to full equality is not complete.

The Virginia General Assembly nevertheless became the butt of jokes and a source of outrage as it pursued a variety of bills that seek to deny women the right to have control over their own bodies.

We don't need to revisit the many references to "transvaginal ultrasound." The literal invasive parts of this bill were deleted, but still the assembly passed legislation that will require women to have an ultrasound view of their fetus before having an abortion.

A bill that would provide "that unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of the Commonwealth," passed the House of Delegates 66-32. Local delegates Dave Albo, Barbara Comstock, Tim Hugo, Jim LeMunyon voted in favor; and voting against, Robert Brink, David Bulova, David Englin, Eileen Filler-Corn, Charniele Herring, Patrick Hope, Mark Keam, Kay Kory, Alfonso Lopez, Ken Plum, Tom Rust, Jim Scott, Mark Sickles, Scott Surovell, and Vivian Watts.

This bill died in the Senate at least for this year. Northern Virginia senators voting to kill this bill were George Barker, Adam Ebbin, Barbara Favola, Mark Herring, Janet Howell, David Marsden, Chap Petersen, Toddy Puller and Dick Saslaw. No senator from Fairfax, Arlington or Alexandria voted to keep the bill alive.

Outrage over these bills, assaults on women's rights, sparked demonstrations over the weekend.

Apparently the protest that ensued, with hundreds descending on Richmond, was darn scary; scary enough to turn out the riot squad and to prompt police to arrest protesters for sitting on the Capitol steps.

"Our state Capitol is becoming an armed garrison," said state Sen. Janet Howell. "Not since the massive resistance days in the '60s have I seen such a disgraceful display of excessive police presence in my state."

Updated March 8, 2012 to correct Del. Charniele Herring's name.