Senate Republicans are hopping mad over Democrat Janet Howell’s high-handed ruling – in violation of Senate rules -- barring a series of bills important to the GOP and their various constituencies from getting a full committee hearing.  But it’s not the first time the Senate’s majority party has abandoned its rule book in the pursuit of political expediency.

In the 2010 General Assembly session, Sen. Mark Obenshain noted that Senate Democrats – in mid-session – had decided to allow subcommittees to kill legislation. As Obenshain wrote at the time, the way they made the change would have made a petty dictator blush:  “…the Democratic leadership of the Senate of Virginia decided that bills could die in subcommittee. The Rules of the Senate had not been amended, and no new interpretation was advanced: it's just the way things are going to be.”

Why the sudden change?  Democratic leaders were still smarting over the sudden passage of a series of health care freedom bills – measures that gave Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli the legal basis to challenge Obamacare in federal court. They weren’t about to let such a thing happen again. Obenshain wrote: “

“…when a special subcommittee in Senate Courts of Justice, created for the express purpose of bottling up bills (mostly gun bills) the committee's chairman doesn't like, met and killed bill after bill.

They killed a dozen bills in that meeting, denying the full committee the opportunity to vote on them, as has always been the Senate's policy (subcommittees make recommendations, but, until now, never had the power to kill a bill).”

It wasn’t just gun bills that were quietly axed. An ethics bill that would have barred legislators or their law partners from serving as commissioners of accounts was also defeated in a subcommittee. Why? Because passage of such a bill, let alone a full committee hearing, would have potentially embarrassed Republican Sen. Tommy Norment, who holds one of the more lucrative commissioner of accounts sinecures in the state.  

While all of this reeks to high heaven, it pales in comparison to the Senate’s old habits, as Democrat Chuck Colgan reminded his colleagues of on the Senate floor yesterday.  Budgets used to be hammered out at hunting lodges, unpopular bills were sent to their doom in phantom subcommittees, meeting were closed even to other members. Good times. Colgan was silent about last year’s trampling of the rules.  Why is he chiding his Democratic colleagues this year?

He’s not seeking re-election.