RICHMOND — It’s not often that Virginia lawmakers openly troll one another during floor debate (other than lighthearted silliness), but on Tuesday one such episode exposed a deep philosophical divide in the House of Delegates.
Del. Michael P. Mullin (D-Newport News) was presenting what seemed like a humdrum bill to tweak legal language about pawnshops. Current law requires that anyone pawning an item must present government-issued identification; Mullin’s measure specifies that the ID must be unexpired.
The change would “deter attempts to fence stolen goods,” Mullin said.
As the House speaker began to call for a voice vote on advancing the bill to final reading, he was interrupted by Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah). He had a question for Mullin.
The bill, Gilbert noted, ensures that pawnshop customers have proper identification. “I would ask the gentleman,” he said, in the stilted language of House protocol, “if he likewise believes that the general principle of verification of identity before pawing goods is a good thing.”
Seemingly confused, perhaps sensing a trap, Mullin hesitated, then asked Gilbert to repeat the question. After Gilbert did so, Mullin answered, “Yes.”
Which sprang the trap.
Gilbert wondered if Mullin had spoken with Gov. Ralph Northam (D) about his general belief in proper identification, given Northam’s recent statements about wanting to repeal the state law requiring voters to present photo ID at the polls.
Mullin wasn’t playing along. “If the gentleman has an idea for a bill, perhaps he could bring one himself,” he replied, drawing hoots and chatter from fellow lawmakers.
But Gilbert was dead serious. “We use identification all the time in our civic requirements, in our lives, in our society,” he said. “The one time that we find that it is never appropriate from our friends on the other side of the aisle to have to show an ID is when you do something so essential and fundamental to our democratic process as cast a vote,” he said.
Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax), who is co-sponsor of Northam’s bill to eliminate the voter ID requirement, sprang to his feet. “Reports of in-person attempts at voter fraud are extraordinarily rare — incidents are about .0003 percent,” he said. “The propensity for fraud at a pawnshop is much higher than it is and has proven to be at the voting booth, so I don’t think it’s an apt comparison.”
But with Republicans controlling the legislature, the pawnshop bill has a much better chance of passing. It advanced without opposition. The voter ID measure — House Bill 2565 — is not likely to make it out of the Committee on Privileges and Elections.