Some Good Bills That Did Not Make Big News

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The 2020 General Assembly (remember that? — it seems so long ago! — was historic in many ways. There was an avalanche of legislation and committees and subcommittees met from the break of dawn into the evenings (so much for those traditional receptions hosted by various interest groups). Subjects such as the minimum wage, energy legislation, gas taxes, redistricting, and the budget grabbed most of the headlines. A lot of other legislation was considered that did not get a lot of public attention.

Before the memory of the session complete fades, I want to highlight five examples of good legislation that was enacted “under the radar” of big headlines. Undoubtedly, there were many other worthy bills, but these caught my attention, partly because some of them dealt with subjects previously discussed on this blog. Here they are:

Balance billing—SB 172 (Favola, Fairfax).  This legislation says that patients cannot be stuck with big bills when they go to the emergency room or need surgery and the hospital or a doctor participating in the surgery does not belong to the network of the patient’s insurer. It sets up a process for protecting all involved—the patient, insurer, and provider. According to the Daily Press, this bill was the result of two years of negotiations among health care providers, insurers, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, and the State Corporation Commission. It is an example of the legislative process at its best. At the latest report, Congress was still trying to figure out how to tackle this issue.

Guardianship—SB 1072 (Mason, Williamsburg).  This bill prohibits a court from appointing as guardian or conservator for a person an attorney who has been hired by the party asking for the appointment. The prohibition also applies to any attorney within the law firm of the attorney representing the party asking for the appointment. The legislation resulted from a series of articles in the Richmond Times-Dispatch revealing that, when the VCU Health System went to court asking that a guardian be appointed for one of its patients, the court almost always appointed VCU’s lawyer as the patient’s guardian. (See discussion of this issue in Bacon’s Rebellion here.)

Petition of actual innocenceHB 974 (Herring, Alexandria) and SB 511 (Edwards, Roanoke)—Virginia has one of the shortest windows (21 days) in the nation in which a convicted person can ask for a retrial based on newly discovered evidence. The Commonwealth does have a procedure wherein a convicted person can petition the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals for a writ of actual innocence.  procedure is available for newly discovered evidence if the petitioner entered a plea of not guilty at trial; however, any type of plea is allowed for any petitioner who was sentenced to death or an offense subject to a life sentence. A petition based on newly discovered nonbiological evidence can be submitted only once.  The enacted bill would (i) eliminate the requirement for a plea of not guilty at trial (ii) eliminate the limitation on the number of petitions based on nonbiological evidence, and (iii) lower the standard to be used by the appeals courts from “clear and convincing evidence” to “a preponderance of the evidence.”  The legislation should make it easier for wrongfully convicted persons to obtain a writ of actual innocence. Critics of the current law assert that the standards are unreasonably strict.

MenhadenHB 1448 (Plum, Fairfax) and SB 791 (Lewis, Accomack)—Currently, the General  Assembly, through the Code of Virginia, regulates the fishing of menhaden. This is the only fish species for which the General Assembly has reserved to itself the regulation of catches. This bill would transfer the authority to regulate the fishing of menhaden to the Virginia Marine Resources Committee. See discussion of this issue in Bacon’s Rebellion here, here, and here.)

Cell phonesHB 874 (Bourne, Richmond) and SB 160 (Surovell,  Fairfax)—Effective January 1, 2021, this bill will make it illegal for anyone, except emergency personnel, driving a moving motor vehicle to use a cell phone.

(All the patrons of the listed bills were Democrats. In some cases, Republicans sponsored identical of largely similar legislation. In such situations, the bills sponsored by Republicans are shown in the Legislative Information System as “incorporated” in the bill sponsored by the Democrat. It is a longstanding practice of the General Assembly, in the case of duplicate bills, to incorporate the bills into one bill, with preference going to the member of the majority party.)

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13 responses to “Some Good Bills That Did Not Make Big News

  1. Dick says: “All the patrons of the listed bills were Democrats.”

    This is how Banana Republics are ruled.

    • If you had read the rest of the comment, you would have learned that in previous years, for duplicate bills, the ones with Democrat sponsors would have been incorporated into the one with Republican sponsors, with the result that the final bill passed would be credited to the Republican. It is one of the perks of being in the majority.

      • Dick – I did read the rest of your comment. And concluded that most likely today, and most times, it is a distinction without a difference. Particularly so given obvious cut throat and baldfaced lying nature of the political scene today. Talking about pervasive and systemic corruption and dishonestly that has grown rampant, putting us in seemingly perpetual state of impeachment, and prosecution for political acts called crimes instead.

    • A legislature that never allows an opposition party to sponsor or co-sponsor a passed bill is by definition a Banana Republic. Typically this happens when all branches of government are controlled by one party rule, particularly over long periods. This has often been the case in America. It is again becoming increasingly common in America. It’s in these states where government is increasingly corrupt and failing. One party rule far more quickly corrupts typically, no matter whether it be run by Republicans or Democrats. Maryland was example in latter 20th century.

  2. Dick, Thanks for the reminder that something good came out of the 2020 session.

  3. As the late Speaker A.L. Philpott told a fund raising crowd in about 1987, “Don’t vote for a Republican. Republicans can’t pass a bill. If a Republican puts in a good bill, we kill it and put it in again with a Democrat’s name on it.” Might have the quote off a bit……It was captured by a local radio reporter from the Danville station who sent me a copy on tape at RPV. High tech for the day…

    Bill stealing is an old and bipartisan game, but the non-partisan tradition when incorporating similar bills is to use the one with the lowest number, meaning the first one introduced, and sometimes it works that way. The practice of marking the bills as incorporated is more polite than just killing them.

    If they want people obeying that cell phone bill in a month they’d better start a public information campaign. The balance billing approach? Let’s see if it actually works. Lots of big, powerful interests don’t want it to.

  4. The removal of limits on filing petitions for actual innocence will turn out to be a significant waste of court resources hearing frivolous claims. Get a public defender to file annually; every six months. It’s not unreasonable to allow more than one attempt, but there should be some requirement to show why the subsequent claim was not raised the first time.

    Allowing people who pled guilty or no contest to file does not seem unreasonable, although this should go to credibility. No opinion on the change from “clear and convincing” to “preponderance.”

    • I have wondered about the possibility of frequent filing of petitions once the limit of one was done away with. I suppose the courts will adopt either a rule or practice that requires the filer to show why the present claim is substantively different from a previous one that was denied.

      • As written, this is an open invitation to file petition after petition, which, in turn, will spark a backlash about being soft on crime. At the same time, there may cases where it’s reasonable to file an additional petition. But, as you suggest, some additional showing should be required. Also, any lawyer filing a frivolous petition should be disciplined.

  5. I have questions about SB172. I’ll have to go through it in more detail. Sen Favola is my state senator and I find much of what she does heavily slanted in favor of special interests. We’ll see on this one.

    Hooray for the menhaden decision. I’m not sure that the readers of BaconsRebellion could have taken another column about a single species of fish!

    Of the 8 patrons of these bills 4 are from NoVa. Overweight representation on good bills. Glad to see it. Now if we could just get underweight representation on bad bills.

  6. This is a very helpful posting. Informs on important stuff some of us don’t have other practical ways of knowing about.

    The cell phone bill is going to be tricky. Apparently voice activated calling is ok as is putting it in your pocket or on the seat. it appears to be limited to holding it while driving.

    Probably some restrictions are a good idea but this is such an important part of virtually everyone’s life today, it’s not going to be stopped and probably shouldn’t be if proper safety protocols are used.

    Thanks

  7. I dunno, letting the wrongly convicted outta prison. Youse guys is getting soft on crime.

    • There is these concepts of burden of proof and burden of persuasion. Filing a petition or complaint in either criminal or civil matters doesn’t mean anything absent proof.

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