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House microchip bill dies with a whimper in Senate

Rosalind Helderman

Two of the House of Delegates' most high profile bills of the year, both sponsored by Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Fredericksburg) died in a Senate subcommittee this morning.

A subcommittee of the Senate's Commerce and Labor committee killed one bill that would have made it illegal for employers or insurance companies to require that people be implanted with microchips. The subcommittee also killed a bill that was designed to send a message to the federal government by declaring all commerce that takes place exclusively in Virginia could not be regulated by the federal government.

"They didn't do too well--they caught a fever," cracked Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), explaining neither bill received any votes.

Cole had explained said that privacy issues were the chief concern behind his attempt to criminalize the involuntary implantation of microchips. But he also said he shared concerns that the devices could someday be used as the "mark of the beast" described in the Book of Revelation.

Saslaw explained that four senators thought the first bill was a solution in search of a problem and the subcommittee believed the second was unconstitutional. (He followed up with a story about the founder of MGM studios, who used to tell people who complained that his movies in the 1930s had no messages: "If you want a message, call Western Union," he would tell them.)

How seriously did the Senate take these two bills? Saslaw formed a new "miscellanous" subcommittee to hear them, to avoid occupying the time of other senators. And the Senate adopted a new practice Tuesday to let bills that fail to pass in subcommittee die forever, without a subsequent hearing by the full committee.

That's how things have long worked in the House, which must sift through many more bills each session than smaller Senate. Senators have always despised the House practice, since it means bills that are endorsed by their entire Senate chamber are sometimes heard and killed by eight delegates, instead of a full 22 member committee.

After announcing the subcommittee change Monday, Saslaw had said no particular bill drove the move. "When bills come out of here 38 or 39 to nothing and then they can't get a full hearing in committees over there? We just decided enough is enough...I have been advocating this for years. And now, there's a majority of people saying, 'hey, why aren't we retaliating?'"

But on Tuesday, he acknowledged that the two Cole bills were a motivating factor. "You send absurd bills over...." he said.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  February 23, 2010; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate  
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