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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Action Alert: SB583 Patroned by Senator Thomas Garrett Could be Used to Silence and Threaten Prosecution Against Those Who Dare Oppose a Popular Piece of Legislation

 
This post is NOT about a proposed piece of legislation that would affect RSO’s or create more RSO’s. I usually do not stray off topic on this blog but this particular bill is SOOOOOOOOO bad and could possibly be drafted against me (no I’m not paranoid) that everyone needs to know about it and if you oppose it, contact your two State Representatives immediately! 

At first glance SB583 sounds and would seem to be not just logical but a wonderful idea. 

Authorizes the chairman or at least one-third of the total membership of a committee or subcommittee to request any person addressing the committee or subcommittee to take an oath to testify truthfully. Any person who takes the oath and then knowingly makes a false statement to the committee or subcommittee is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. 

In the last 5 years, every statement I have ever made at the G.A. and VSCC meetings is based on facts; I even offer my sources to the committee members routinely. 

Whereas over the same 5 years many exaggerated truths, old data, inflated statistics, unreliable sources and bold faced lies have been made by an array of other Advocates, State Employees and Legislators. And I routinely point out their errors to them and their committees. I’ve learned from experience that most people will say just about anything to get their bill passed, all bets are off. 

I am a proponent of accountability and transparency; it is one of many reasons why I record the audio of all public hearings. 

It seems the “idea” of SB583 is its only good point, once you get into the body of the text you quickly realize it allows for subjective and selective truths, only.  

Perhaps if SB583 stated that ALL witnesses speaking at a G.A. hearing, including the Committee Members, the Bill’s Sponsor, any State employees who make a statement or answer a question posed by the Committee members and then members of the public. Then SB583 would create a fair playing field where everyone is held to the same standard.  

Sadly this is not the case, as currently written SB583 would not be a non-partisan, non-biased policy or process. 

Because of the “flexible application” in SB583 to create a fair environment every Committee hearing in every room of the G.A. building would need to be assigned a neutral referee or judge from the VA FOIA Council or Legislative Services. Perhaps video taping the proceeding as a record after all any Committee member could claim an intentional false statement had been made carrying a misdemeanor criminal charge and a video would be beneficial for both sides.

As written an oath request for speakers addressing the Committee would be left open to either the Chairman of the Committee or at least one-third of the Committee, at their discretion. Well we all know about discretion it can be self serving and easily be abused when there is no oversight.
 

A request for an oath or perhaps “demand” is a better word could easily be welded against those whom intend to speak in opposition of a Bill.  

Since most Legislative Committees weigh heavily towards one Political Party this policy could serve that party to intimidate and silence those who dare oppose the proposal. In its most corrupt form this policy as proposed could be used to punish those who might not hold the opinion of the majority, of advocates who are not “favorites” of the lawmakers, of those in the past who have publicly pointed out errors, non-facts and opinions being paramount during bill debate. And vice versa when there is a bill that the majority opposes anyone who speaks for the bill could be asked to take an oath as retaliation for their stance.  

By not holding everyone who partakes in the public discussion equally accountable, cherry-picking of oath requests will most likely be the norm. 

If someone declines to take an oath, will their testimony be discounted? I would have to believe so. 

What if the three previous witnesses who supported a bill were not asked to take an oath but when the witnesses for the opposition approach the podium they were systematically singled out and asked to submit to an oath?  How is this fair or just? Is it not stacking the deck? Did the shadow of suspicion not just befall those about to testify? Would just cause be offered or simply I question your honesty for no particular reason is justification enough?  

Seems like a power grab, an abuse of power perhaps even a little bit like McCarthyism, to me. An unfair allegation to restrict and besmirch an advocates character and motive followed up with a completely unfair investigation system that is really just a dog-and-pony show for the public. 

Many times the opposition I have to a Bill is based on a rights violation.  

Let’s say that SB583 passes into law as currently written. Then I oppose a bill that would have detrimental effects on those directly impacted and their families. The bill does not proceed through the session, it dies.

Then after session either the patron of the bill that died, the chairman of the committee in which it died or one of the many attorneys on the committee who was in favor of the bill decided to challenge some part of my statement as a non-truth. They file charges against me as many of Virginia’s lawmakers are attorneys and prosecutors so they have the necessary resources at their fingertips. I would then be forced to hire a lawyer to defend myself in court, on my own dime. Lawmakers with the right resources could rack up claims of false testimony against unpopular citizen advocates, just costing them a bit of time. Each session I oppose 4-12 bills and I speak against most of them, even if everything I say during my yearly statements is factual and can be verified, how much time and how much money would I have to invest after every session to prove it all in court? Vindicated, but bankrupt does not serve me well. 

Such a system would dissuade the average citizen from coming to Richmond to participate in our Democratic process by speaking on a piece of legislation. 

But yet, no Virginia Legislator is held to the same standard of verifiable truths at ANY point during session. Not the claims or promises that are made to constituents in their offices. Or what they say openly to their colleagues, to the public or to witnesses during Committee hearings. Not what they say to the media when they are holding a press conference to “sell their bill”. And not when they are giving a speech or presentation on the floor of the chamber. Any exaggeration of the truth, any biased or flawed study and any single example of one heinous crime that is an anomaly is held up as the example in which all future laws should be based on. The smoke screens, the half-truths, the red herrings and the fear-mongering it’s all acceptable when a Legislator does it because they are protected under “political speech”.  

I believe SB583 in its current form to be a cunning attempt to forego the legislative process. 

SB583 eliminates all possibility of a fair and balanced system of legislation debate and input in Virginia. With its passage the opposition would be held to a higher and in some cases an unachievable level. 
 


When discussing proposed legislation not yet law, by its very nature one must speculate and project what the outcome and collateral damage might be. This is neither truth nor lie and is in fact opinion.  

Imagine a system of Justice where the Prosecution can introduce any amount of witnesses with no burden of truthfulness or evidence and only the Defendant was sworn to absolutes and verifiable facts.  The Prosecution would have a 100% conviction rate because the deck is stacked in their favor. With such an environment our justice system would cease to exist, trials would no longer matter. 

That’s what SB583 does; it stacks the deck in favor of the Committee majority. It intimidates anyone who dares step forward in opposition because they stand there under threat of criminal punishment whereas the speakers in favor of the proposal including the Patron has no impending doom, they can say anything they want, true or false it doesn’t matter because they weren’t “asked” to take the oath.  

Now that I see this bill for what it truly is, I believe it borders on a violation of equal protection under the law. 

We all deserve to hear both sides of any argument, changing this is contrary to open government, freedom of expression and a free exchange of ideas and information. The wrong decision is almost always made when you only listen to one side of the story. How does the Patron of SB583, not know this?  

SB583 actually embraces lies by threatening those who dare speak the truth to punishment but can not afford to defend themselves if challenged out of the Democratic process. 

This bill supports those with power, money and legal resources, not the citizens of Virginia who have none of the three but have the right and desire to oppose questionable or flawed legislation. 

Selective truth is no way to create policy.  

The Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, this applies to all or to none, but not to some.  

Please Email or call  your Virginia Delegate and Senator and tell them to vote “NO” on SB583 or amend it to included EVRYONE involved in the Virginia Democratic process. 

Virginia Delegates                                                     Virginia Senators
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Sincerely, 

Mary Davye Devoy