Meet state Sen. Carter Glass of Lynchburg. No, he’s not currently serving in the General Assembly. He was there more than 100 years ago. And is now infamous for creating the poll tax, an addition to the Virginia Constitution specifically designed to prevent blacks from voting. Fast forward more than a century, and Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw says a modern-day constitutional amendment on voting rights essentially reinstates the poll tax by preventing people who haven’t paid court costs from voting.
"It's kind of hard to deal with this topic without thinking about Carter Glass because he did this to keep the blacks from voting,” said Saslaw. "No other reason. That was it. And he stated that.”
Saslaw was not alone. A handful of Democrats invoked the long-gone senator during a debate on rights restoration. They say Republican-led efforts to prevent former felons from voting has a racial undertone because most former felons are black.
“Don’t invoke what happened in 1902 to try to stir up some emotions on this thing,” responded Republican Leader Tommy Norment.
The nod to Virginia history didn’t work. Senators narrowly approved a constitutional amendment that would remove the ability of the governor to restore voting rights for people who have not yet paid court costs. Lawmakers say they should be able to make that decision, not the governor.
Before the General Assembly session started in January, Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam staged a press conference in Old Town Alexandria to announce a $6 million pilot program that would use untapped federal funds to buy IUDs for low-income women. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe included the funding in his proposed budget.
But then it hit a wall.
House Republicans did not include money for it in their budget, and the Senate’s budget includes $3 million for an implantable contraceptive device but not IUDs. Some of the opposition say IUDs essentially cause abortions.
That’s not how IUDs work, says Northam, a pediatric neurologist.
“I think they don’t understand the science,” said Northam. “They essentially prevent the sperm from ever meeting up with the egg. And so the egg is never fertilized because of the IUD.”
"Some have an abortifacient effect,” said Jeff Caruso with the Virginia Catholic Conference. “What that means is that they would work after fertilization to stop a newly conceived embryo from implanting in the uterus.”
Caruso said the abortifacient effect was only one reason for opposition to Northam’s proposal. He said critics are also concerned that the pilot program might make the contraception available to people under the age of 18. He also said free contraception for low-income people is already available at other locations, so he sees no need to increase availability.