The 2012 Virginia legislative session is officially halfway over, and media outlets and politicians are reflecting on a Republican-dominated first half where a number of bills focusing on hot-button social issues stole the limelight.
"We're on our way to turning this state into another Mississippi," Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax said, according to the The Richmond Times Dispatch.
Saslaw is referring to passed GOP legislation that loosened-up guns laws in the state, required women to have ultrasounds prior to abortions and tightened voter ID requirements among others.
Republicans are not apologizing. Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, the deputy majority leader in the House, said he's proud of the work conservative lawmakers have done so far.
Via Times Dispatch:
"I don't know that we want to run for a moment from the fact that many members of our caucus do support the sanctity of life, the freedom to keep and bear arms … and do believe very strongly in traditional family values," said Del. C. Todd Gilbert.
The RTD editorial board weighed in on some of the legislation from the first half, including the voter ID bill:
As we noted several days ago, the GOP's alarm over seemingly nonexistent voter-impersonation problems stands in sharp contrast to its lack of concern over other forms of electoral fraud. Black, poor and old people are the least likely to have photo IDs. The ugly point of the bill is obvious.
NBC’s Ryan Nobles has a video summary of some of the major legislation passed so far.
* Two bills in the Maryland legislature would force corrupt politicians to leave office as soon as they are found guilty—whether it be by a verdict or a plea—and require them to give up the pensions they earned while in office committing the crime.
The bills are in response to recent Maryland scandal at both the state and local levels.
* Under a new teacher evaluation process, a significant number of Baltimore teachers received unsatisfactory ratings on their midyear evaluations.
Baltimore, according to the Sun, is one of a handful of districts at the forefront of a national debate on how to root out the worst teachers and reward the most effective. The district is moving toward a system that links teacher ratings and pay to students' academic progress.
The Sun editorial board weighed in on the results of the mid-year evaluations and the new evaluation process:
For the last two years, the city and state have been working toward providing exactly that. Instead of basing evaluations largely on personal observations, staff interviews and classroom visits by principals and administrators, the new system judges teachers' effectiveness by giving significant weight to how much their students' academic performance improves during the year. Growth in student achievement isn't some fuzzy abstract concept or subjective impression. It is real, and it can be quantified in test score results.
* Last week, Mayor Vincent Gray told all employees that they would have to sign a mandatory ethics pledge (yes, this is the same week that a bunch of city employees were busted for taking home both a pay check and unemployment check.)
In perhaps some deep sort of symbolic move, there are ten different statements in the pledge. Loose Lips has a list of Grey’s Ten Commandments:
* Gov. McDonnell delivered the weekly Republican address Saturday—in response to the president’s radio address—and criticized President Obama’s yet-to-be-released budget.
Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, McDonnell accused the president of failing to address the $15 trillion national debt and said his proposed tax increases would stunt job growth.
Watch his address here:
* On Friday, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s congressional redistricting plan, The Washington Post reports. A similar suit in state court is still pending.
A group of Virginia voters filed suit in November claiming that the General Assembly drew the new district lines in 2012, not 2011—the year the state Constitution says they must be drawn.
* McDonnell’s proposal to reorganize the state government by eliminating and merging some state agencies and deregulating several professions passed the state senate Friday.
The Post reports that if the plan passes the House, it will save the state an estimated $2 million a year.