From Tidewater Libertarian Party General Counsel Steve Merrill:
Ten Modest Legislative Proposals
Those who believe in far greater personal and economic freedom for Virginians are sometimes criticized as unrealistic. It is said by many our nation cannot go back to the simplicities of the times of Thomas Jefferson or even to the times of Teddy Roosevelt. It is considered impossible to go in reverse down the 20th Century road to greater and greater government control over our lives. According to the self-proclaimed realists, if every citizen became suddenly free from the majority of the laws that bind us chaos would rule. People could not be prepared for such a transformation.
The Tidewater Libertarian Party wishes to show the fallacy in this. Greater freedom can come in doses just like our former freedom was eroded law by law. A combination of new laws expanding the citizens’ freedom in Virginia that may not be large steps individually would have a larger effect together over time.
For the 2009 session of the Virginia General Assembly the following legislative bills are offered as a way to reverse course from arbitrary government in a smooth way.
1. Allow parents and students to select the public school they wish to attend. (Amending Title 22.1, Education) There never has been a good reason students should be forced to attend one school when there are other public schools within reasonable driving distance. This reform would over time make public schools more competitive with little to no impact on annual funding overall.
2. Establish an Office of the Budget Hawk made up of a commission and field investigators none of who are full-time State employees other than the Commission Chairman and his or her immediate staff. The office would be devoted to reducing the scope and expenditures of the State and local governments through oversight and innovative solutions. The Budget Hawk would have authority to probe all aspects of State and local spending and make recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly for reductions/reforms. (Title 2.2, Administration of Government.)
This proposal allows the private sector to keep an eye on all aspects of public spending at little cost to the taxpayer while looking for large budget savings. Many, many freedom lovers would offer their services pro bono to such an unusual government enterprise.
3. Abolish the State income tax in phases while increasing the State sales tax to make up for lost revenue. (Title 58.1, Taxation.)
With only a single rate for Virginia income tax and sales tax there is little reason in social policy to have two tax systems in place. It is better public policy to discourage consumption through taxation than to discourage work and investment through taxation. The dignity of Virginians would benefit when they no longer have to report to the State their annual incomes.
4. Pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting the use by the State of technical devices to monitor the behavior or determine the biological makeup of citizens other than probationers.
Not much of this takes place now, but advancing technology does present a considerable threat to freedom. It is best to outlaw the idea before it can take hold.
5. Allow the ownership of prisons to shift to the private sector while safeguarding the safety, dignity and civil liberties of prisoners.
It must be the State that sends someone to prison, but it does not have to be the State carrying out the sentence. With appropriate limits in place, private prisons have been a success in other States. Over time, the State’s spending on prisons would be reduced by one-third or more while prison workers learned valuable skills they are not learning today in Virginia.
6. Change the threshold for election to statewide office to be a majority of the votes cast. This would sometimes require a second round election between the top two candidates. (Title 24.2, Elections.)
This reform ensures the Governor. Lt. Governor, Attorney General and US Senators are supported by a majority of voters every time while encouraging a larger field of candidates in the first round of the election.
7. Pass an amendment to the Virginia Constitution forbidding the use of eminent domain as a mechanism for economic development by the State and localities.
This is the unfinished business from the landmark reform in Virginia of eminent domain laws in 2007. The protection of land ownership may very well fade in Richmond when hard times arrive. The constitutional amendment failed by two votes in the Senate in 2007.
8. Enact a Resolution informing the President and the Congress that the Commonwealth of Virginia remains sovereign in its powers and in its obligations to Washington, D.C. warning that more encroachment of State authority at the federal level will be resisted.
The devil will be in the details for this generally popular proposal.
9. Establish a judicial selection commission empowered to nominate the candidates for judgeships and providing for a popular vote for the retention of a judge for another term. Legislators would select from three or more candidates nominated by the commission.
Fifteen states have found this method of selecting judges to be superior to selection solely on a political basis (like Virginia) or holding contested elections for judges (like eighteen States). A commission could employ testing of intellect and character that would ensure only people cut out for the job become nominated for selection. Facing a Yes or No vote from the public is a better way to police the performance of judges already serving than to leave reappointment entirely up to one or two local legislators.
10. Protect the privacy of homes and businesses by restricting the use of forced entries by law enforcement executing search warrants. Something like this (Chapter 19.2):
The execution of a search warrant on an occupied dwelling by forced entry shall be employed by law-enforcement only after the occupants are provided adequate opportunity to voluntarily open the premises for inspection. If the dwelling appears unoccupied the least intrusive reasonable method for forced entry shall the used.
A judge or magistrate issuing a search warrant may make exceptions to this rule thereby authorizing a no-knock forced entry by law-enforcement into an occupied dwelling in cases where (i) there is clear and convincing evidence of the presence of a large quantity of easily disposed of contraband in the occupied dwelling, (ii) there is substantial evidence that people within the dwelling are presently in peril of serious harm, or (iii) there is substantial evidence that an armed suspect subject to an arrest warrant is present in the occupied dwelling. The special circumstances must be supported by the requesting officer in his affidavit and entered into the search warrant by the judge or magistrate.
A search warrant served contrary to these rules shall be invalid and all evidence thus obtained shall be excluded from use at trial.
If these measures were enacted, in whole or part, Virginia could begin to enjoy greater personal and economic freedom without courting radical change. Each of these proposals relate to a long held public value of Virginians dating back to the Commonwealth’s founding that remains vital today.
After all, most good things in life develop over a period of time.