Virginia Lawmakers Adjourn Special Legislative Session Without Debate on Guns

Protestors gather outside the Virginia Capitol to urge action on gun control.

Protestors gather outside the Virginia Capitol to urge action on gun control. Steve Helber/AP

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Two dozen governors ask Trump to stick to Obama-era fuel efficiency standards … Oregon legislator must give 12 hours notice before he enters state capitol … Alaska state senate ousts majority leader.

Just two hours after the start of a special legislative session called by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in the wake of the Virginia Beach shooting that killed twelve people in a municipal building, Republican lawmakers voted to adjourn until November. The legislature did not debate any gun control reforms. Democrats objected to the adjournment, but they were overruled by Republicans who hold majorities in both the Senate and House. Before adjourning, Republican Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. pulled a bill he had filed that would have banned firearms from local government buildings (as it stands, state law bans guns only in courthouses). Democrats had filed more sweeping legislation, including bills that would have banned devices that make guns fire faster or hold more bullets, limited handgun purchases to one per month, established universal background checks, and allowed courts to take firearms from people deemed to be threats to public safety. Instead of holding hearings on the proposals, Republican leaders sent them to the Virginia State Crime Commission for study. Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw and other Democrats chastised Republicans for their inaction. “The Republicans in this state are totally controlled—I mean 100 percent—controlled by the National Rifle Association,” he said. The NRA released a statement calling the special session “a complete taxpayer-funded distraction.” Northam joined Democratic lawmakers in the criticism. “I called legislators back to Richmond for this special session so we could take immediate action to address the gun violence emergency that takes more than a thousand Virginians’ lives each year...It is shameful and disappointing that Republicans in the General Assembly refuse to do their jobs...I expected better of them,” he said. Although the vote to adjourn fell along party lines, some Republicans, including state Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. had originally seemed supportive of stronger gun control laws, especially those that fall in a middle ground. “Gun safety and protecting the rights conveyed by the Second Amendment don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I think it’s common sense,” he said. [The Virginian-Pilot; WAVY; The Washington Post]

FUEL EFFICIENCY STANDARDS | Two dozen governors signed a joint letter asking President Trump to halt his plans to relax vehicle mileage standards, which would allow less fuel-efficient cars to stay on the road. Trump’s plan is a rollback of an Obama-era standard that would have doubled the fuel economy requirement of new cars by 2025. Governors from 23 states, including two Republicans and four governors from states that voted for Trump in 2016, stood behind California, whose statewide clean air rules are being challenged by the federal government. “Strong vehicle standards protect our communities from unnecessary air pollution and fuel costs, and they address the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States,” the governors wrote. Last month, 17 automakers also asked Trump to change his approach, saying that a bifurcated market would cause “an extended period of litigation and instability,” given that California and 13 other states have already said they intend to maintain their stricter fuel standards. “We strongly believe the best path to preserve good auto jobs and keep new vehicles affordable for more Americans is a final rule supported by all parties—including California,” the automakers wrote. California officials like Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, said that “the fact that we now have over half the U.S. auto market supporting us indicates that we are going to stick with the standards.” The Trump administration has maintained that the reversal of standards is due to public demand for less fuel-efficient vehicles like pickup trucks and SUVs.  [New York Times; Associated Press]

TWELVE HOURS NOTICE | A disciplinary investigation into an Oregon state senator has grown into a requirement that the lawmaker notify staff 12 hours before going to the state capitol, so that additional security staff can be present. The unusual mandate stems from the recent walkout by Republicans from the capitol in order to avoid voting on a cap-and-trade bill. Senate President Peter Courtney ordered that state troopers round up the missing lawmakers. In response, state Sen. Brian Boquist, a Republican, said to Courtney, “If you send the state police to get me, hell is coming to visit you personally.” Boquist later advised that any state troopers sent to fetch him be “bachelors and come heavily armed.” An outside lawyer hired by the legislature determined that Boquist’s statements “constitute credible threats of violence directed at the senate president and Oregon state police” and said they meet the threshold of workplace harassment. The committee formed specifically to review Senate conduct decided on the 12-hour mandate as an alternative to completely barring Boquist from the capitol. Boquist is now suing the state legislature for records related to his disciplinary investigation. In a statement, he called the investigation “a complete failure of Senate leadership" and concluded that he “look[s] forward to seeing you all in a court of law.” [Willamette Week; The Oregonian]

ALASKA LEGISLATURE | The Alaska legislature convened in two different locations this week, with some legislators in Juneau and others in Wasilla, where the governor had requested them to meet. The Wasilla group did not meet quorum requirements and could not conduct state business. The state Senate in Juneau made their first action to oust majority leader Republican Sen. Mia Costello, who said it was legislators’ “constitutional duty” to be in Wasilla. Leadership from both parties instead elected Democrat Sen. Lyman Hoffman to the position, as in Alaska, each chamber is led by a coalition of both parties, so the majority leader can be from either one. The main issue being debated in this special session is the amount each eligible state resident will receive from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a savings account seeded with oil money. Last year, lawmakers began using the fund to pay for government expenses during a state budget crisis, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy campaigned on paying residents full dividends. Meanwhile, over 750 protestors packed the streets outside the capitol building in Juneau, calling on the legislature to override Dunleavy’s recent budget vetoes, which cut $440 million in state spending (including a big reduction for the state’s university system). “The damage by these cuts is not offset by increased (permanent fund) dividends. We join the call on the Legislature to override,” said Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council. [Associated Press; KTOO]

MISUSE OF CAMPAIGN FUNDS | The mayor of Mount Vernon, New York announced his resignation this week, after taking a plea deal related to misuse of campaign funds in the 2015 election. Mayor Richard Thomas, pled guilty to attempted grand larceny and filing false records, both misdemeanors, in a deal that will result in no jail time but does require him to pay a $13,000 fine. Some of the campaign funds Thomas misused went towards a family vacation in Mexico, in which he spent over $100 at a Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant in the airport, as well as $2,000 on a Chanel purse. “By using campaign funds to line his own pockets, Thomas broke the law, and violated public trust. New Yorkers put their faith in our public servants, and Thomas’ gross violation of that faith constitutes the utmost disloyalty to those he was sworn to serve,” said state Attorney General Letitia James. Democratic mayoral nominee Shawyn Patterson-Howard, who recently beat Tomas in the primary for the 2020 election, said that she was disappointed with the plea deal. “I mean, there’s no jail time that is tied to this and so, you know, he is able to go home at the end of the day to his family,” Patterson-Howard said. [The Journal News; CBS New York]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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