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Herring says he won’t defend same-sex marriage ban

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) said in media interviews Thursday morning that his office will no longer defend Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. The measure was enacted by Virginia voters in 2006.

In an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, Herring said he believes the ban violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and therefore he cannot defend it in court.

Herring said he would take the unusual step of filing a brief in support of plaintiffs who are challenging the ban in federal court.

Republican leaders were quick to condemn the attorney general’s actions. House of Delegates Speaker William Howell (R-Dist. 28) said in a statement that Herring has an obligation to uphold and defend all of the state’s laws.

“I am very concerned about his announcement today and the dangerous precedent it sets with regard to the rule of law,” Howell said.

Supporters of same-sex marriage praised Herring, with the Human Rights Campaign describing his actions as “courageous.”

— Kali Schumitz, Staff Writer

Ethics bill aims to reform FOIA again

Among the flurry of ethics reform bills being proposed throughout the Virginia General Assembly is Senate Bill 212, which would remove Freedom of Information Act exemptions for legislators and their aides.

The new FOIA bill, which is part of an ethics package authored by Fairfax Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Dist. 34), would reverse a bill championed by Del. Tag Greason’s (R–Dist. 32) less than a year after its approval.

The 2013 General Assembly FOIA Exemption Act officially added legislative aides to the exemption list of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, which means the working papers and written correspondence from legislators and their aides are unattainable for public viewing. Petersen said SB212 would increase accountability in the Virginia legislature.

“We need as much transparency as possible, and then people can make up their own minds,” Petersen said. “(FOIA) has an incredible influence on people because it makes you realize, ‘Hey I’m under scrutiny at all times.’”

“The (FOIA) exemption has been broadly interpreted, and it’s now used for everything,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. “Anything that narrows that scope and keeps things in check is a good thing.”

— Quinn Casteel, Capital News Service

Lawmakers introduce anti-human trafficking bills

General Assembly members have introduced multiple anti-human trafficking bills for the current legislative session.

Del. Barbara Comstock (R-Dist. 34), of McLean, and Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Dist. 26), of Harrisonburg, introduced bills HB994 and SB453. This legislation would make human trafficking a stand-alone offense in Virginia. The term “human trafficking” currently is not defined by Virginia law.

Obenshain says this legislation would help Virginia law enforcement officers who struggle to find remedies to human trafficking. Virginia is one of only two states that do not have a comprehensive human trafficking statute, he said.

Del. David Bulova (D-Dist. 37), of Fairfax, introduced HB767, which would allow property used in connection with certain human trafficking crimes to be subject to forfeiture to the state. Bulova said the bill is meant to combat the profit motive for traffickers.

“Law enforcement can take away your assets,” he said. “So that under no circumstances will anybody ever be able to profit from this absolutely terrible crime.”

Centreville Del. Tim Hugo (R-Dist. 40), has introduced two bills on the subject. HB485 would add certain prostitution and abduction offenses as crimes for which attorneys may issue administrative subpoenas to obtain records for criminal investigations.

HB486 would require people currently mandated to report suspected child abuse or neglect to also report suspected trafficking of children.

Hugo said that such legislation has not been passed yet because of lack of awareness of the issue of human trafficking.

“I don’t think there’s any evil … on anybody’s mind,” Hugo said. “It’s just people haven’t thought that some people are that bad that they would try to do this to young children.”

— Kate Miller, Capital News Service