Like a school of fish in a sea of predators, many of the hundreds of bills filed during every General Assembly session fail to advance to even a floor vote, never mind the governor’s desk.

Every week, we’ll bring you a sampling of the legislation left on the cutting room floor, either failing to report or done in by other genteel euphemisms of the legislature: “gently laid on the table” or “passed by indefinitely.”

Should parents have to opt in to family life education?

Under Virginia’s regulations right now, school divisions can opt out of family life education if they want, and parents can individually opt their children out of the classes if they so choose, too. But Del. David LaRock, R-Loudoun, wants the state to go even further.

He proposed legislation that would entirely prohibit an elementary or secondary school student from participating in family life education classes without a parent’s prior written consent.

“Numerous studies show that at any income level, any background, when you involve parents, the outcomes are significantly improved,” LaRock told the Senate Education and Health committee Thursday. “If they’re not engaged, I think the effort would be well-placed to bring them into the process and cause them to be engaged.”

The bill had squeezed through the House on a 50-48 vote.

Some senators during Thursday’s committee meeting were on board with LaRock’s idea, including Sens. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, and Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield.

Black said that, when his son was in seventh grade, he decided to opt him out of the class, a fact that Black said the teacher announced during a presentation.

“The teacher mocked my son, the entire class mocked my son, and I think this is not unusual,” he said, adding that he strongly supports the bill.

Chase added that her four children went through public schools and she never received any type of notification that they would be going through the program.

“It was done without my permission and therefore I think we need this option,” she said.

But most weren’t convinced, and the bill — which had already failed to report in a Senate subcommittee — was passed by indefinitely.

Opposing: Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Locke, Barker, Petersen, Lewis, Dunnavant, Suetterlein, Peake — 10

Supporting: Newman, Black, Carrico, Cosgrove, Chase — 5

LGBT housing protections and anti-NIMBY zoning fall into black hole

Two bills aimed at blocking housing discrimination failed this week when they were never given a committee hearing in the House of Delegates — a black hole many a piece of legislation get sucked into every year. Both had passed the Senate.

One aimed to make it easier for affordable housing developments to be built over NIMBY objections by explicitly prohibiting local governments from denying permits because of the expected race or income levels of the residents.

It was sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, in the Senate and Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, in the House, who cited a case in Powhatan last year in which the Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal to build 300 apartments after residents worried it would “lay the groundwork for a ghetto.” (The Board of Supervisors contends its concerns were limited to traffic and zoning.)

A second anti-discrimination measure was intended to provide protections to gay, lesbian and transgender residents renting or buying property. It was patroned by McClellan in the Senate and Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield in the House.

“I’m disappointed,” McClellan said. “I think all bills deserve a hearing on the merits and a vote on the merits and you shouldn’t use the subcommittee to bottle things up.”

The chair of the House General Laws committee that opted against hearing the measure, Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, said there just wasn’t time to hear all of the bills that were referred to his committee.

But he also raised concerns with both measures.

The anti-NIMBY legislation, he said, seemed targeted “at particular localities, and those localities might be against certain types of development, but never with discriminatory intent.”

He said he considered the House discrimination bill poorly written, “but it was sort of all or nothing, so as a result, we’re just not going to go there.” He also worried about the scope of the measure. “When we first started seeing these bills, it was just gay, lesbian and transgendered. Now it’s questioning, identifying as — all of these things that I think make the litigation questions more complex.”

‘Speculative natural gas pipelines’

Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, saw his bill aimed at shielding ratepayers from the costs of “speculative natural gas pipelines,” which had passed the House, go down in the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee, where utility interests hold much sway.

“I support the use of natural gas and the construction of the pipelines necessary to transport the fuel,” Ware said.

“What I don’t want to do is to have ratepayers paying for speculative natural gas pipelines. They should pay for what serves them.”

Ware didn’t mention Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which two sitting Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioners have said is not in the public interest and which testimony given to the Virginia State Corporation Commission says could increase bills for  Dominion’s ratepayers by more than $2 billion.  The pipeline would connect to just two Virginia power plants, as a backup source.

“Do you know whether any of the utilities here have built speculative pipelines?” asked Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

Ware, who compared the fight over Dominion’s utility regulatory overhaul last year to the battle against the dark forces of Mordor in “The Lord of the Rings” in remarks on the House floor, said he did not.

Though Ware’s bill managed to unite a Tea Party group, the Virginia Poverty Law Center and the Virginia Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Counsel in support, it went down on a motion to pass by indefinitely.

Opposing — Wagner, Norment, Obenshain, Chafin, Dance, Lucas, McDougle, Black, Sturtevant, Spruill — 10.

Supporting — Saslaw, Newman, Cosgrove —3.

Preventing death penalty for mentally ill, protecting student loan borrowers and making Election Day a school holiday

Other bills that went by the wayside:

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Katie O'Connor
Katie, a Manassas native, has covered health care, commercial real estate, law, agriculture and tourism for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond BizSense and the Northern Virginia Daily. Last year, she was named an Association of Health Care Journalists Regional Health Journalism Fellow, a program to aid journalists in making national health stories local and using data in their reporting. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she was executive editor of The Flat Hat, the college paper, and editor-in-chief of The Gallery, the college’s literary magazine.
Ned Oliver
Ned, a Lexington native, has more than a decade’s worth of experience in journalism, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. Contact him at [email protected]