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Say it like you mean it / February 27, 2019
I got a chuckle out of this: Peter Bradshaw, writing for The Guardian, was none too impressed with this year’s winner of the Best Picture Oscar:

The 2019 Oscar prize list was speckled with honourable wins. But best picture for Green Book? … A friend of mine said that by the time this awards season was over, this film should have the word “REALLY?” added to its title. Green Book REALLY? becomes this year’s technical winner of the “best picture” accolade and surely now is added to the list that includes Crash, Chicago and Argo in the What Were They Thinking? categories.

I haven’t seen Green Book, so I’m not one to say if it’s truly the abysmal choice for best picture that critics contend, although with other worthy movies to pick from it’s fair to wonder if Green Book deserved to be nominated in the first place. But what I really like about the paragraph above is the approach it suggests for navigating the absurdities of modern life. Gov. Northam’s medical school yearbook REALLY? A national emergency to build a stupid vanity wall REALLY? Kim Jong Un-Donald Trump bromance REALLY? Let’s set aside politics for a moment and seek higher ground together. Say it loud, everybody: RAIN THIS WEEKEND REALLY?

I could REALLY get used to this. Just think of all the newspaper column inches that would no longer be wasted explaining why something is utterly ridiculous. Then again, enough editorial shortcuts like this and yours truly might just write himself out of a job. REALLY.

Pardon me while I run with this theme the rest of the way:

» The 2019 General Assembly session is in the books and lawmakers are congratulating themselves on getting out of Richmond on time, with various talking points to serve up for the consumption of folks back home. On the Republican side, the loudest line of attack involves a Democratic bill that would have eased Virginia’s restrictions on third trimester abortions. The bill sought to change the requirement that three physicians must sign off on the procedure, proposing instead that one doctor should be sufficient, and strike language that doctors must be able to prove that continued pregnancy “is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” This has become Virginia’s biggest abortion controversy since 2012, when Republicans lawmakers attempted to pass a law mandating vaginal ultrasounds for all women seeking abortions, on the theory that the white male members of the General Assembly know more than doctors about how medicine should be practiced.

The Assembly tightened the rules for third trimester abortions in 2009 despite medical justifications that were dubious at best, leaving the suspicion that the entire point was to make it harder for women to get abortions (still legal under the law of the land.) However, in making the case to restore Virginia’s law to where it stood a decade ago, Springfield Del. Kathy Tran stumbled over her arguments and opened herself up to the accusation that her bill sanctions “live-birth abortion” — a thing that does not exist in the real world (and which has nothing to do with the text of Tran’s bill.) This fake controversy, with no end in sight now that Virginia Republicans confront the challenge of defending their statehouse majorities in the November elections, came into being because a lawmaker articulated her arguments poorly during a committee hearing. REALLY? Have you ever held a conversation with one of our local legislative representatives? The King’s diction it ain’t.

» Speaking of which, Del. Tommy Wright has penned a column this week that reads like a greatest hits compilation from the just-concluded session — if you didn’t know better, you might suspect Wright’s piece was ripped straight off the House Republican caucus P.R. wire (hmm). Wright chairs the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, also known as the place where gun safety legislation goes to die. It’s an important position. REALLY important, in fact — so much so that it’s worth revisiting one of the actions that Wright’s committee took this session that our delegate conveniently neglects to mention in his write-up.

House Bill 1763, introduced by Democratic Del. Rip Sullivan, sought to create a court process whereby a judge can issue “an emergency substantial risk order to prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm.” Sullivan’s legislation is patterned after “red flag” laws that exist in 13 states, from Indiana to Oregon to Rhode Island. Florida, which has a Republican legislature and Republican governor, enacted its own red flag law last year in the aftermath of the Parkland high school shooting. Being fairly new, the effectiveness of these laws remains unclear, although there’s some evidence they’ve helped to prevent gun-related suicides.

Wright’s committee killed Sullivan’s red flag bill a few weeks ago. (Actually, it died in a subcommittee vote.) Every day it seems, we wake up to stories of a demented person somewhere grabbing a gun and mowing down innocent victims. The notion that improving the mental health system, while worthy on its own terms, might stem the bloodshed is laughable. No one really believes this — it’s just a talking point to distract from the real issues involved with evil-intentioned people having easy access to deadly weaponry. Meantime, allowing threatened individuals to petition the courts for protective orders has a long legal pedigree: Judges have been issuing restraining orders and gag orders since forever. Taking the very lazy, very disingenuous view, one could say that such judicial acts infringe on First Amendment protections of freedom of association and freedom of speech. Of course no one says this, because the argument would be idiotic. Yet we’re supposed to believe that Virginia cannot develop a court process to shield persons in legitimate fear of gun violence, because of Constitutional argle bargle. Since when did logic and common sense that applies to the First Amendment goose not make sense for the Second Amendment gander?

I REALLY, REALLY don’t want to have to write a column someday pointing out that Wright and his committee killed a reasonable proposal that could have staved off a future gun massacre in Virginia.


» Finally, Del. James Edmunds of Halifax was successful this session in getting a bill through the Assembly that pertains solely to Halifax County — the measure authorizes a countywide voter referendum on whether to enact a 1-cent sales tax to pay for school facility improvements. (This local tax would be levied on top of the state’s 5.3 cent retail sales tax. Virginia localities are barred from imposing their own sales taxes unless authorized to do so by the General Assembly.) Halifax is talking about using this fresh tax revenue to build a new high school to replace the existing 40-year-old Halifax County High School, which has not held up well over time. Of course, this sequence of events places Halifax well behind Mecklenburg’s timeline for completing its new high school-middle school complex.

There were many people following Edmunds’ bill (me included) who didn’t give it a prayer of passage, because while the ultimate decision would be left up to local voters, Richmond lawmakers were first being asked to at least open the door to a tax increase. Which most legislators, especially on the Republican side, REALLY want nothing to do with. But the bill passed anyway — in part because its impact was limited to one rural county, and also because the General Assembly has objectively failed to act on its own to address the problem of aging, inadequate Virginia school facilities, especially in low-income areas like our own. So Edmunds’ bill made it through the legislative gauntlet, with the governor’s signature expected to follow. Which is REALLY interesting from a Mecklenburg County point of view.

It would be hard to name a Virginia county that has more to gain from a local sales tax than Mecklenburg. The reason is obvious: The revenue flowing into local coffers from the New York-to-Florida crowd pulling off Interstate 85 for a shopping break would probably be enough unto itself to pay for a new high school gym or two. Every sales tax dollar from the outside world is one less property tax dollar that has to be collected from local taxpayers, which ought to give Mecklenburg a rooting interest in the outcome of Halifax’s school referendum. If a local sales tax succeeds in Halifax, Mecklenburg should be next in line at the General Assembly with a request for a sales tax referendum of its own. Really and truly.

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