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Column: Reversing Bad Fortune

The Virginia General Assembly is not having a very good year. After making the national evening news shows and late-night comedy programs for weeks about which ultrasound to require of women, the Assembly joined many other states in passing voter suppression bills that might affect the outcome of the presidential election. The Governor signed the ultrasound bill but could help the state save face by vetoing the voting bills. A veto of these bills might also distract attention from his transportation plan that has been reduced to selling naming rights to highways and bridges. Certainly one’s name would get lots of exposure to slow moving traffic in the worst congestion in the nation. The Assembly at least in the short run averted tragedy by defeating amendments to the hundreds of years old common law "castle doctrine" that allows one to use the force necessary to protect oneself to a broadened law as exists in Florida that allows force to be used for anyone getting in your way and that led to the unfortunate Trayvon Martin incident.

As if all that was not bad enough, the State Integrity Investigation organization gave Virginia an F on its corruption risk report card, making it 47th worst among the states. It did not say the state was corrupt; it pointed out the lack of laws to prevent or detect corruption. "The Old Dominion is one of nine states with no statewide ethics commission, one of four states with no campaign finance limits and one of only two states (South Carolina is the other) where the part-time legislators handpick the judges before whom many of them practice law."

Virginia disclosure laws are strong. Campaign contributions over $100 must be reported as well as campaign expenditures. Reports for challengers and incumbents are available for public inspection at the Virginia Public Access Project at www.vpap.org. All gifts, economic interests, and income must be reported annually by incumbent office holders. They are publicly available at www.vpap.org. None of these reports are regularly audited as they should be, but their accuracy could be publicly challenged.

Changes to bring about reforms in the state are given an unfriendly reception by legislators who run in districts made safe by the redistricting process. As one who has introduced bills to provide for merit selection of judges, the independent redistricting commission, recorded votes in all committees, and expansion of reporting requirements, I have concluded that in order for the Commonwealth to reverse its fortunes it needs a state constitutional revision that would address these issues that legislators have refused to reform. It also would provide for a two-term governor more interested in serving the state than running for the next national election.