July 1, 2013, marked the date on which legislation passed in the previous session took effect, including any changes in the budget. Included in these are the following:
- Various fees and taxes will be reformed as part of the recently enacted bipartisan transportation bill. As part of the bill, the gasoline tax of 17.5 cents per gallon has been replaced with a percentage based tax of 3.5% for gasoline and 6% for diesel (an equivalent of ten to eleven cents per gallon). Some have argued that this will mean that the price at the pump will decline, but since the price of gas is based more on the market than on the tax rates, it is hard to predict. Citizens will see a small increase in sales tax that is now designated for transportation. In Hampton Roads and NoVA, there will be additional taxes and fees, with the revenue designated for transportation initiatives in those regions. The bill also, for the first time, provides a dedicated source of monies for passenger rail. The result of the bill will be greater assistance for road and transit improvements throughout the state, including Albemarle and Charlottesville. One downside is the imposition of larger fees on hybrid vehicles, something which makes little sense to me and which we will likely try to repeal in the next legislative session. This is not a perfect bill, but is nonetheless significant as creating the largest influx of transportation money in two decades.
- Citizens can now be stopped and ticketed for texting while driving. Unlike the seatbelt safety law, it is now a primary offense meaning a police officer or sheriff can stop a driver if they see a driver texting while driving. Fines for first offenses will range from $25 to $125. So stop texting and driving.
- A two percent (2%) teacher pay increase goes into effect on July 1, conditioned on localities providing a local match. A raise is also included for University personnel.
- School divisions will be eligible to apply for school safety grants of up to $100,000.00 to purchase security equipment and technology.
- Businesses will now be able to donate equipment and machinery to community colleges and vocational schools, and be eligible for a grant of up to $5,000.00.
- Persons who financially exploit the elderly or incapacitated will be subject to harsher criminal penalties.
The big news of this month was, of course, the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While this is an extremely significant court decision, it does not overturn Virginia’s constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage, a measure I did not support and favor repealing. Repeal will not be easy so long as the House of Delegates retains its current composition. Some of us are concerned that, in order to ensure they will have benefits derived from marriage, gay partners may now seek to relocate from Virginia into states that either allow gay marriage or recognize it. This would be detrimental to our state, and especially our business climate. To compete in a global economy, Virginia businesses need to recruit and retain talented and productive individuals and couples. Given our presently hostile laws, gay couples may choose to relocate to other states, or not come to Virginia at all. We have a long way to go to ensure that gay rights and partners are protected. I expect to see and support various non-discrimination bills that will be offered in the next General Assembly session, including provisions that will extend state benefits to gay partners.