On Monday, January 7, 2013, I arrive in Richmond for my eighth General Assembly Session, my second as Democratic Leader in the House.
Each General Assembly session takes on a special character and tone and this one will be no different. Last year’s session garnered national headlines as Republicans pushed socially divisive legislation, including a bill to force women to have an invasive ultrasound procedure before terminating a pregnancy, and numerous bills that made it more difficult for Virginia citizens to exercise their right to vote. We are less likely to see similar legislation this session, but until the bills are introduced, it’s an unknown. Below is a list of issues that you are likely to read about in the coming months:
Virginia will be affected by decisions made in Washington, D.C. more acutely than almost any other state, given our reliance on defense contracts and federal spending. We avoided the first fiscal cliff, but Virginia’s dependence on defense spending and federal procurement makes us very vulnerable to budget decisions made in Washington. Americans have clearly indicated their preference for a balanced approach to solving our budget problems – a position I fully support. The actions in Washington will be unfolding as our General Assembly convenes, and much of our budget discussions will be affected by these federal decisions. I fear the debates may provide a rationale for draconian cuts in spending at the state level. I will oppose these cuts because we need to invest more than ever in our educational system and transportation network.
Governor McDonnell has spoken about transportation for the last three years, but, with the exception of a bonding program that simply increases our debt, the situation has only gotten worse. Even the Governor now admits that there is a severe lack of money for maintenance and that we will likely have no money for construction of roads in Virginia within the next several years. To date, his proposed solutions put a band aid on a large wound. A comprehensive transportation bill has been proposed in the Senate, and it will likely get considerable attention this session because it raises revenues. Whether it has a chance of surviving the Republican House, which is controlled by legislators who have taken conservative-libertarian Grover Norquist’s “no tax increase” pledge, is anyone’s guess. To remain competitive in the 21st century, we must invest in our infrastructure, and transportation is at the top of the list. Virginia has fallen from its position as the best state to do business in the nation largely because we have not properly responded to our transportation challenges. We risk falling farther if we do not address our critical needs to improve our infrastructure.
There will be much discussion of educational reform this session, but I believe that until we provide local school divisions more flexibility to innovate and pay teachers what they deserve, our students will be challenged to obtain the education that they need to compete in the years ahead. Again, this will take more resources, and will require legislators to make it a priority in the budget.
There will be a bill introduced in the General Assembly to lift the moratorium on uranium mining and allow for the creation of regulations that would permit it to occur safely with adequate protections for the environment. There is no doubt about the much-needed economic activity this would bring to Pittsylvania County. There are serious concerns, however, about how safely it can be done and whether adequate protections can be put in place to protect our water supplies and our citizens. The prospects for passing such a bill are very difficult to predict.
Expanding the Vote
Last year, Republicans made a number of changes in our voting laws designed to address a so-called problem of fraud that no one had identified. What we were left with at the polls were long lines and efforts to discourage people from voting. This is simply unacceptable. I am supporting bills designed to make voting easier and quicker, including proposals for early voting, extending the voting day, and requiring additional voting machines so that people do not have to wait so long in line.
University of Virginia and the Rector
The General Assembly will decide whether to support the Governor’s recommended reappointment of Rector Helen Dragas to the University Board of Visitors. Given what happened last summer, I will not vote for reappointment. Beyond that, I have introduced several bills to change the appointment process, including one to install a faculty member on the Board.
The Governor’s “State of the Commonwealth” address is on Wednesday, January 9, at 7:00 p.m. As Democratic Leader in the House of Delegates, I will give our response immediately following his speech.
Finally, I am honored to represent you in Richmond and would like your input on these and other issues. I hope you will take a few minutes to complete my pre-session survey available on my website. You may also share your comments with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will be home on weekends to meet with constituents, be with my family, and maintain my law practice. I look forward to hearing from you and appreciate the opportunity to represent you in the General Assembly.