Yesterday was crossover, the day upon which bills introduced in one chamber of the General Assembly have to be approved and sent to the other, or they are defeated for the year. Our sessions are long and the debates intense, and many of these bills are controversial. Much of recent debate has focused on the Governor’s proposed transportation bill. This plan, which I believe does not provide enough money to solve our problems, would eliminate the gas tax and move funding of transportation to a slightly increased sales tax. The measure passed by a small margin in the House but was sent back to committee in the Senate, leaving its fate in doubt. In the aftermath of the Senate’s decision, the only way for a transportation plan to emerge will be through extensive negotiations among leadership in the House, Senate and the Governor’s office. I voted against the Governor’s transportation bill in the House, but I still have some hope that a robust plan can emerge that can address the needs we have for construction, maintenance, rail and transit. One of the reasons I opposed the Governor’s plan was that it diverted money that typically would be used to pay for education and public safety into the transportation fund. At a time where we are spending less per student now than we were in 2008, we cannot afford to reduce money for education.
At the end of a nearly 12-hour, marathon session this week, House Republicans pushed through a series of resolutions designed to appeal to the most conservative elements of their base. HJ654 places the House on record as opposing Agenda 21, a so-called “radical plan” adopted by the United Nations that purportedly threatens “infringement on the American way of life…” HJ653 asserts states rights under the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution, in the light of perceived “continuing assault.” Another measure, HJ590, authorizes an $18,000 study to see whether Virginia should establish an alternative currency. Finally, HB2340 seeks to prevent the federal government from enforcing gun control laws in Virginia. At this time of year, we always see these resolutions, which have little to do with policy and everything to do with politics.
Of the 12 bills I have proposed this session, six have been passed by the House and are now before the Senate, including bills that will help people with their child support responsibilities, clarify the effective date of elective school board salary changes, allow residential care facilities to admit their former employees, and permit builders on new residential lots in Charlottesville to pay into a sidewalk fund as an alternative to paying to build an unwanted sidewalk in front of their home.
One disappointment was the failure of my proposed “Virginia Vulnerable Adults Protection Act” which was tabled last week. There is much support for the concept embodied in the bill, which was designed to provide another vehicle to return assets to elderly citizens who are financially exploited. I intend to revise the bill for next year.
As you may have read, the Uranium Mining issue is dead for this year, as no bills passed either the House or the Senate. It is difficult to predict whether a new measure will emerge next year.
Finally, today the Speaker of the House ruled that the Senate amendments to HB259 – which would have unconstitutionally redrawn Senate district lines to dramatically favor Republicans (see my statement on this issue) were not germane to the original legislation, thus killing this Republican grab for power in the Senate.
The session concludes on February 23, and there are important issues still before us, such as Medicaid expansion, workplace discrimination and transportation. Stay tuned.
It is a pleasure and honor to represent you in the Virginia House of Delegates. As always, please feel free to contact me to share your thoughts and comments on legislation that will be before us so I may better serve you in Richmond.