General Assembly Update (2/8/11)
The 2011 General Assembly Session has arrived at its midway point, and bills that have been passed by both bodies will shortly “cross over” to the other body. There are several major issues that remain unresolved at this stage in the process.
First, the Governor’s transportation plan was passed by the House on Friday. The plan, which would invest about $4 billion into road construction projects, was better than what we have a present, but needs to be substantially improved. Of particular concern is the Governor’s attempt to take surplus monies which could otherwise go for capital projects for schools and higher education and sweep them into the Transportation Trust Fund for road building. There are some things worth supporting in the plan, particularly the creation of a Rail Capital and Operating Fund. This fund could potentially assist the Lynchburg to Washington train, which has been so popular in our area, and which does not have funding after next year. This fund is not yet capitalized but can serve as a vehicle to help passenger rail when monies are not available. I voted against the initial House bill because it lacks reliable, sustainable sources of revenue, but I hope I will be able to support a better variation of this transportation plan before the end of the Session.
The Governor’s proposal to privatize ABC has died with little fanfare. House Republicans were not interested in the plan and did not even consider discussing this bill that would have enacted it. I have been very skeptical of this plan from the beginning, and it remains to be seen whether it will be re-introduced next year.
The Governor’s proposal to have teachers, police, and other state employees contribute 5% of their salaries to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) has been rejected by the Senate, but remains alive in the House. There is considerable discussion about providing an optional 401K-type plan for employees in lieu of VRS. The plan would require a 5% contribution from employees which would then be matched by a 5% contribution from the state. It would be optional. Since this proposal is for a voluntary plan, it is worth a closer review. I am most interested in any views you have on this important issue.
The House and Senate budget bills will be revealed shortly. My hope is that these will not include the Governor’s proposed cuts in funding for Albemarle in the amount of $2.6 million and Charlottesville in the amount of $613,000. This is likely to be a battle that will go to the end of the Session.
This week we also heard impassioned debate on HB 2467, which would extend health insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorder. I have received many emails from families and friends of families struggling to provide for young children with autism. This bill represents a compromise to address concerns relating the potential impact on health insurance premiums and the needs of autistic children to access therapy to increase the likelihood of achieving normal social functioning. I was proud to support it because it will provide real relief to families who deal with this challenge every day.
My bill to improve the protective order statute, which I carried on behalf of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance in the wake of Yeardley Love’s homicide last year, passed in the House, and has moved to the Senate for consideration. It will hopefully provide additional tools for women and law enforcement that could prevent an event like this from happening again.
Finally, my first ever telephone town hall meeting will occur on February 10 at 7:00 p.m. Voters in the 57th district will receive an automated telephone call a short time before the start of the event to invite them to join the forum. Constituents are encouraged to sign up to ensure that you will receive the invitation call. I will have with me Michael Cassidy, an expert on state budgeting from the Commonwealth Institute, a think tank in Richmond which analyzes Virginia budgets. I will also release the results of my 2011 Constituent Survey. Again, please RSVP and sign up.
As always, I am honored to represent the 57th District.
Please feel free to contact my office any time with questions, concerns, or suggestions. My number in Richmond is (804) 698-1057 and you may reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to serving you in the coming weeks.