VIRGINIA – As the 2016 session of the General Assembly in Richmond fades into the rear-view mirror of state-level politics, Governor Terry McAuliffe is exercising his veto power on several bills that have come across his desk over the course of the past several weeks, ranging in topics from education, to gun safety, to actions that could affect Confederate monuments.
Among the bills McAuliffe vetoed, House Bill 1096, which would have prohibited “any state entity from adopting or enforcing any rule, regulation, policy, or administrative action governing the purchase, possession, transfer, ownership, carrying, storage, or transporting of firearms, ammunition, or components or combinations thereof unless expressly authorized by statute,” and House Bill 382 that would have prohibited “state agencies other than the Department of Corrections, Department of Juvenile Justice, and Virginia Port Authority and institutions of higher education from adopting any regulation or workplace rule preventing officers or employees of such agencies from storing a lawfully possessed firearm and ammunition in a locked private motor vehicle at their workplace unless the adoption of the regulation is expressly authorized by statute.”
In the Governor’s view, the two bills “presented an unnecessary reversal of common sense efforts to limit workplace violence or accidental injury due to the presence of firearms in state facilities.”
“All Virginians, including state employees, have the right to feel safe and secure going about their daily lives,” McAuliffe said during his veto of HB 1096. “Regulations have been authorized to promote safety in public buildings, and prevention requires us to address areas of concern before they are realized.”
In October of 2015, McAuliffe signed an executive order “directing actions to keep guns out of dangerous hands by enforcing existing Virginia laws.” Among the actions in the order included the creation of a joint task force to prosecute gun crimes, a tip line for illegal gun activity, and a ban on firearms inside state government buildings.
One of the most notable actions the governor has allowed as part of the executive order is the banning of firearms in state government buildings. According to the Commonwealth, the open carry of firearms “shall be prohibited in offices occupied by executive branch agencies, unless held by law enforcement, authorized security or military personnel authorized to carry firearms in accordance with their duties.”
When asked, Deputy Communications Director Christina Nuckols said that locations such as the state capital and General Assembly building did not fall in that category, as their regulations are dictated by the state legislature while examples of buildings that hold executive branch agencies would be the Department of Taxation offices and the Patrick Henry building in Richmond.
According to the state’s website, offices such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Health, and the Library of Virginia are among the myriad of agencies within the Commonwealth’s executive branch.
In addition, in speaking on HB 382, Governor McAuliffe remarked that he is “Chief Personnel Officer of the state workforce,” adding that he believes “there is a need to establish and enforce workplace violence prevention policies that focus on employee safety and an atmosphere of workplace safety.”
“The current Workplace Violence policy, applicable to state government employees,” McAuliffe explained, “prohibits possession of a weapon not required by the individual’s position while the employee is on state premises or engaged in state business. This policy was established to mitigate the potential for workplace violence or accidental injury.”
In the area of education, McAuliffe vetoed legislation that would have allowed the Virginia Department of Education to shift from the Standards of Learning to the Common Core Standards, which are currently used in 42 of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Only Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Indiana, Nebraska, and South Carolina have not adopted Common Core at a state level.
House Bill 259, introduced by Delegate Dave LaRock of the 33rd District, would have prohibited the VDOE “from replacing the educational objectives known as the Standards of Learning with Common Core State Standards without the prior statutory approval of the General Assembly but permits the Board to continue or create an educational standard or assessment that coincidentally is included in the standards referred to as the Common Core State Standards.”
McAuliffe felt the change was unneeded.
“The Commonwealth led the nation nearly two decades ago in the development of statewide educational standards,” he remarked in his veto statement. “Virginia’s education system is one of the best in the world because of this innovative work,” adding, “our state standards meet or exceed the rigor of the Common Core State Standards, while maintaining our independence.”
In 2010, the VDOE made their position clear on the use of Common Core standards for student assessment, calling the SOLs “clear, rigorous, and understood and trusted by Virginia teachers.”
“Adoption of the Common Core would leave teachers without curriculum frameworks, scope and sequence guides and other materials specifically aligned with the standards students are expected to meet, explained then VDOE President Eleanor Saslaw, in a 2010 statement following newly developed Common Core state standards in reading and mathematics.
“The subtle differences between the SOL and the Common Core do not justify the disruption to instruction, accountability, professional development and teacher preparation that would follow word-for-word adoption of the model national standards,” Saslaw continued.
“Virginia’s institutions and leaders have made it abundantly clear that adopting the Common Core State Standards would be a step backwards,” McAuliffe remarked, adding that he remains opposed to adopting the Common Core and to “ infringing on the Board’s authority by adopting unnecessary legislation which establishes rules upon which we have already agreed.”
Another bill that drew attention in light of the recent debate over whether monuments and statues of Confederate generals and others should be displayed was vetoed by McAuliffe. House Bill 587, introduced by Delegate Charles Poindexter, would have prevented local governments from making any decisions about the erecting of such monuments, including actions that could result in them being taken down.
“There is a legitimate discussion going on in localities across the Commonwealth regarding whether to retain, remove, or alter certain symbols of the Confederacy,” remarked McAuliffe. “These discussions are often difficult and complicated. They are unique to each community’s specific history and the specific monument or memorial being discussed. This bill effectively ends these important conversations.”
According to the Governor, “this legislation would have been a sweeping override of local authority over these monuments and memorials including potential ramifications for interpretive signage to tell the story of some of our darkest moments during the Civil War.”
A full list of the Governor’s vetoes can be found on the Governor’s official website, www.governor.virginia.gov.