The first week of the General Assembly has come to an end. The big news of the week involves the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth address. In that address, he unveiled a new proposal to fund transportation. For the last decade, we have done little to provide an adequate source of revenue to fund investments in our roads, bridges, transit, and rail. The Governor proposed an innovative plan that requires careful examination.
A key piece of this involves repealing the gas tax and substituting a sales tax increase in its place. Virginia would become the first state in the country to repeal the gas tax. This represents a fundamental shift away from a “user fee” approach of funding transportation. A number of us are very concerned about the transfer of the burden of funding transportation from those who use the roads, including a large number of out-of-state drivers, to the general public. This proposal could place further burdens on low income Virginians, many of whom do not even drive. I am also concerned that when the 17.5 cents -a -gallon tax is eliminated, Virginians will not likely see a similar reduction in the price of gas at the pump. This would mean that all of us pay more sales tax and yet continue to pay similar costs at the pump. Gas companies are likely to have a windfall as a result. The Governor also makes certain assumptions about $250 million per year in additional money for transportation coming from the passage of a bill by Congress to tax internet sales, something that has failed to pass for almost 10 years. Finally, there is an effort to transfer monies that would otherwise fund education and public safety to the transportation budget. It is always important to carefully consider all of these initiatives before finally making a decision on whether or not to support them, but there are serious questions that exist about this proposal.
One of the most interesting announcements in the State of the Commonwealth address was the Governor’s proposal for a constitutional amendment that would allow the civil rights of non-violent felons to be automatically restored upon completion of their sentences and payment of restitution and fines. This is a huge break from the Virginia tradition and will be very controversial. I have supported “restoration of rights” for years, and Democrats will likely support the Governor in his proposal. It is not clear, however, that all Republicans will vote for it, and it is likely that this proposal will be killed in a House subcommittee early next week. While the Governor made very clear his view that this “was the right thing to do” and that he believes strongly in redemption, I am not optimistic that this bill will ever get to the House floor for a vote.
None of my bills have yet to be heard. Among the most interesting bills that I have proposed this session is the Vulnerable Adult Protection Act. The bill, if enacted, will create the ability for private individuals to recover monies from those who exploit the elderly and incapacitated. This was modeled after an Arizona statute to address an increasingly serious problem in our society, that is, the exploitation of elderly and incapacitated citizens by those whom they have gained their trust. In our increasingly mobile society, many elderly are separated physically from their family. They come to rely on persons who are not related to them. In some instances, people take advantage of that relationship of trust to extract money from their bank accounts or transfer assets out of their name. This bill will allow private actions to recover some of these monies and protect the elderly in the process.
I have now submitted all of my bills related to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. They involve changing the way the Board of Visitors is appointed and making provisions for the better operation of that body when it meets. We also have before us the reappointment of the Rector and the approval of the Governor’s recommendation for new Board members. The appointment process will begin in the Senate in late January and will arrive in the House soon thereafter. I have indicated my decision not to support the reappointment of the Rector, but the vote on this issue is not yet clear.
Finally, Democrats in the House unveiled some important legislative initiatives at press conferences this week. These include efforts to protect and expand the right to vote and efforts to repeal some of the disturbing reproductive health legislation of last session that interpose government between a women and her doctor. We also are advancing a number of education bills designed to increase funding for teachers in the classroom and resources available to students.
It is a pleasure and honor to represent you in the Virginia House of Delegates. Please contact me to share your thoughts and comments on legislation that will be before us so I may better serve you in Richmond.