Fourteen days into the Session, and things are really heating up. On Wednesday, several of my bills advanced, including a measure to provide Charlottesville more options in their sidewalk funding program, and a bill to address certain problems that small businesses have in Albemarle County in how they report their assets for tax purposes.
House Bill 1617, my bill to expand the DNA database, got its first hearing in the Courts of Justice criminal law sub-committee on Tuesday. Albemarle Sheriff Chip Harding and Gil Harrington testified on behalf of the concept. This bill is likely to have a fiscal impact and we will have to find some monies in the budget to help fund it. But I believe the concept is well accepted by members of the Courts committee, and I believe that some initiative will be passed. Delegates Bell and Obenshain also have bills, but it is not clear which vehicle will ultimately be the one that moves forward. However, the important thing is that we will likely get some change in the DNA database this session which will make it easier to apprehend wrongdoers and exonerate the innocent.
The big disappointment of the day was the failure of the House Finance Committee to report out HB 2181, a bill that would have reformed the coal tax credits in Virginia. Independent of the climate change issue, which I believe is important and one on which we should focus, the economics of the coal tax credit is abysmal. What we have been doing is providing taxpayer subsidies for 25 years to utility companies and coal companies in the form of massive tax credits. The credits provided to these companies total over one-half billion dollars. And what have we gotten for it? Coal tonnage mined is down from 48 million tons per year to 17 million tons per year in the last twenty years. And employment has dropped from over 11,000 in 1988 to only 3,600 in 2014. If we were running a private company and got that kind of return on our investment, we would be fired.
On Wednesday, I took to the floor to argue for a reform of the coal tax credit program. You can see the speech by clicking here, and read my written remarks with some commentary from the Blue Virginia blog by clicking here. The bill would have raised almost $20 million dollars in the first year that could have helped with education, public safety, and critical services. The bill was defeated on a party line vote, and it is clear that the Republicans view any effort to reform these credits as part of the “war on coal.”
A number of my energy bills will be heard next week, including a bill that will facilitate electric vehicles being able to transfer unused energy back to the grid (HB 2073), and a bill that will encourage greater use of solar energies through what is called the Solar RECs (HB 2075).
The Senate has defeated most of the gun safety bills; many have yet to be heard in the House but will probably experience the same fate. I have one of these bills, a measure that would permit voluntary background checks by private sellers at gun shows. This is designed to close the so-called “gun show loop-hole,” which permits private sellers at gun shows from having to get a background check before they transfer a gun to a purchaser. A voluntary check program would permit these private sellers to request the State police to conduct a background check to insure that their purchasers do not have something in their past that prevent them from obtaining a gun. The Virginia State Police would be present at the show — the check could be easily done.
Finally, the budget is continuing to be refined and will appear in the next week. Given our new budget projections, I am working with others to find monies for teacher and state employee raises, and to protect K-12 funding.
Please feel free to call us or write us during session with issues of concern.
It is a pleasure to serve you in the General Assembly.