February 01, 2007

Virginia Legislation, Siskel & Ebert Style

by PG

From the Virginia ACLU, some bills being reviewed in the General Assembly [ACLU message in bold]:

SB 820 (Devolites Davis) and SB 1310 (Lucas). These bills prohibit discrimination in state (SB 1310) and all public (SB 820) employment on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status, sexual orientation, or status as a special disabled veteran or other veteran covered by the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act of 1974.

Thumbs up. But who cares? A state that recently amended its constitution to keep same-sex couples from marrying is an unlikely candidate for anti-discrimination regarding sexual orientation. In a more optimistic vein, however, this does make some existing federal laws applicable to the state, which helps to get around the usual 11th Amendment sovereignty problem in trying to sue the state for violating federal law.

HB 2221 (Amundson) defines birth control as determined by the Federal Drug Administration, including the morning-after pill. It will protect contraception from being included as abortion procedures.

Thumbs up. Given some of the other bills being introduced (see below), not getting contraception and abortion muddled together is particularly important.

HB 1665 (R.G. Marshall), a bill that would prohibit any person from forcing or coercing a pregnant female to have an abortion. Forces or coerces is defined as any act or attempted act including a threat of physical, emotional, financial, or psychological harm. Abortions should never be coerced, but this bill could infringe on the free speech right to express an opinion on a woman's decision to have an abortion.

Thumbs down. Forcing or coercing a woman's decision on abortion -- whether to have it or not have it -- certainly is wrong, and my understanding is that threatening anyone with physical harm, at least in writing, already is a crime. If the Assembly wants to expand that to oral threats in the case of pregnant women and make it a felony, I'll congratulate them for doing it. But a threat of "emotional, financial or psychological harm" seems insanely inappropriate for the state to interfere with. If I get knocked up and my boyfriend is thinking, "If she keeps this kid, I'm gone," sure, he's a jerk, but it's better for me to know that before I make the decision, than for him to feel obliged to keep quiet about this threat of "emotional, financial or psychological harm" for fear that it will get him in trouble. It's terrible that some women abort because otherwise their partners will leave them, but this bill doesn't prohibit the leaving, just the telling her about it. Real helpful.

HB 1883 (R.G. Marshall) requires abortion clinics that perform 25 or more procedures per year to have same equipment and facilities as ambulatory surgery centers. This bill would create unnecessary and expensive requirements for abortion clinics.

Thumbs down. This bill, or some version thereof, has been kicking around the General Assembly for years as a way to shut down all but one abortion facility.

HB 2123 (R.G. Marshall) requires disclosure of the identity of ova. The bill also prohibits the anonymous donation of gametes in the use of infertility treatments. The bill requires physicians to disclose any possible risk with the procedure. The bill removes the privacy associated with the donation of ova and gametes and subjects donors to intimidation.

Thumb up, thumb down. I'm sort of torn on this one. On the one hand, I can imagine why R.G. Marshall, who thinks that telling your girlfriend you're unwilling to support a baby should be a crime, would want this bill: he's probably the type who'd like to make assisted reproductive techniques illegal, but doesn't have the guts to put that legislation or even useful regulations (which the industry desperately needs) forward. So instead he'll try to dry up the sources of the eggs and sperm that allow people missing one or the other to make a baby.

On the other hand, there are reasonable health concerns that disfavor total anonymity in gamete donation: the resulting person needs to know what his family health history is. Assisted reproduction facilities should be required to keep records of who donated what to whom, and that those records should be able to be opened by the resulting child if s/he can show that it's necessary for health purposes. Theoretically these could include his own decision to reproduce with someone who is a carrier, as some awful genetic diseases occur only when both parents are passing on the recessive gene, so that if the gamete-resulting man turns out to be a carrier as well, he should be cautious in making babies with a fellow carrier, but if he's not, he needn't fear. However, carriers generally can detect their status through blood testing, without reference to the family tree, so I doubt the records would be opened often.

SB 1168 (Stolle), will permit judges to waive the cap on compensation for court appointed attorneys who represent the indigent.

Thumbs up. Virginia judges aren't particularly known for love of defendants, and if they see that an attorney has had to put in an uncommon amount of work, they should give that an attorney extra compensation. In all the hubbub about the Duke lacrosse case, those focused on the wealth and privilege of the defendants usually are too busy assuming that their status must indicate guilt to be able to point out that in one sense, they're quite lucky young men; they have enthusiastic, well-paid attorneys working on their behalf to prove innocence. I doubt that indigent defendants in rape cases get a tenth of the legal assistance that each of these students have, even before going to trial.

HB 1970 (Albo): In addition to a federal offense, it makes it illegal to be an illegal immigrant in Virginia. It also gives all law enforcement officers in Virginia, including sheriffs and conservation officers, the authority to enforce federal immigration laws.
HB 1918 (Cole): Allows state and local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws. Includes everyone from the state police to local sheriffs and conservation officers. The Constitution vests federal government with the authority to oversee immigration. The ACLU of Virginia is concerned that such state and local enforcement in a time of strong anti-immigrant bias would lead to discriminatory treatment of immigrants.

Thumbs down. This just puts more of a burden on Virginia's courts and jails without a clear benefit, and puts state law enforcement in the position of making the judgment call about how to deal with a given immigrant. I know some people view immigration in black-and-white terms -- if you're not 100% legal, you're "an illegal" -- but there's a spectrum ranging from people who enter the country illegally, never having been given permission to come to the U.S. at all; to people on expired study visas; to people who have filed for permanent resident status but whose work visa has run out.

HB 2136 (Miller, J.H.): Permits all law-enforcement officers authority to enforce immigration laws of the United States, and to arrest an individual without a warrant upon receiving confirmation from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the United States Department of Homeland Security that the individual is an alien illegally present in the United States.

Thumb up, thumb down. I'm potentially OK with the arrest as long as the feds guarantee to pick the immigrant up within 24 hours and handle processing her in compliance with federal immigration laws. I don't mind having state officers help the feds out in this area. What worries me is hyperactive -- and yes, potentially racist and xenophobic -- state law enforcement taking up cases that the federal government isn't going to bother with, filling already overcrowded state jails and prisons because the state has no real mechanism for deportation. Without assurance from DHS that they'll come deal with it as an inherent limitation on the number of people arrested, state authorities are likely to arrest every undocumented woman who pressed 2 for Spanish when she called 911 because her husband was abusing her. I don't want people to be afraid of coming into contact with law enforcement for fear that they'll be deported, and it's likely to be detrimental to law enforcement's ability to get tips from illegal immigrants. Who wants to inform on the local drug dealer if it could get you arrested too? The warrantless part is worrying, but as long as it's for an actual crime of entering the U.S. without permission, then it's constitutional by almost anyone's standard.

HB 3096 (Lohr): Fees for English Interpreters -- permits any locality to require non-English speaking defendants in criminal cases to pay for court interpreters if they are convicted.

Thumbs way down. This is an attempt to apply the loser-pays system, which makes some sense for civil trials, to the criminal arena, where it makes no sense whatsoever. A plaintiff who files a case and loses perhaps ought to bear the burden of the cost to minimize frivolous lawsuits, but it's not like the defendant asked to get arrested. If the defendant is afraid he is highly likely to be convicted and fears burdening his family (now that he's in prison) with the cost of paying for an interpreter, he may attempt to hurry the trial to minimize the cost, or plead guilty to avoid using the interpreter at all.

February 1, 2007 05:23 PM | TrackBack
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