Creigh Deeds; Session report
The 2012 session of the General Assembly is moving by rapidly. Deadlines for the submission of bills and budget amendments have long passed, and both houses of the Assembly are in full swing. There were both good and bad signs of things to come this past week.
On the hopeful side, Democrats and Republicans worked together in many committees and on the floor of the Senate to find compromise and move a number of bills forward. Some bills I favored, others I did not, but divisions did not often break down along party lines. For example, the Senate advanced a bill allowing hunting on private property on Sundays.
I have hunted my entire life but voted, and spoke, against allowing Sunday hunting. During hunting season, the only day of the week that many outdoor recreational activities can be enjoyed is Sunday, primarily because hunting has been prohibited. Despite an evenly divided Senate and an occasional acrimonious atmosphere, I was able to join with people with whom I agreed, regardless of their political affiliation, to oppose the legislation. People who felt differently, of both parties, stood together to support Sunday hunting.
In large part, legislation has moved forward on a bipartisan basis. And, in a similar vein, much of the work of the committees is being conducted on a fair basis. Any of us might agree or disagree on a particular topic and wish for a different result, but we are working hard to make sure that we can disagree on an agreeable basis and not destroy completely the fabric of the Senate of Virginia.
The other side was also seen this past week. The Constitution of Virginia requires that judges be elected or reelected by a majority of those elected to the Senate of Virginia. In the spirit of compromise, we advised the Republican leadership we were prepared to reelect incumbent judges. Our sitting jurists, who have given up their law practices and whose families depend on the stability of a judicial career, should not be totally subject to the whim of partisan politics. Despite our admonition that we were not prepared to consider new judges at this time, the Republicans insisted on advancing the names of two non-incumbents who were former members of the House of Delegates. Both of these gentlemen are qualified and have good temperaments for the bench. However, when we said we were not prepared to consider candidates for new judicial vacancies at the present, we certainly did not mean we were willing to advance our friends. Making an exception for them would be the worst sort of cronyism. Nevertheless the Republicans insisted and held up judicial reappointments for two days. In fact, for several hours on Tuesday, business came to a grinding halt as both sides stood their ground.
The threat of a stalemate is important because the budget also requires approval by 21 senators. As I see the budget right now, the Governor has underfunded the Standards of Quality in public education. He has mandated local governments spend hundreds of millions of dollars on teacher retirement (for example, this mandate will cost the taxpayers of Bath County an additional $400,000 in the next fiscal year alone). In addition, the social safety net has gaping holes, as I outlined last week. And, general fund dollars used to fund education, higher education, public health, and public safety are diverted to transportation. All of this is unacceptable to this senator. I fear that absent necessary compromises on the budget, we could be headed for gridlock.
This sort of intransigence we saw this past week on judges cannot be repeated on the budget. If it does, it could shut down state government. Virginians deserve better. And we will be working hard over the next few weeks to ensure we can move forward as Virginians.
Some of the bills I introduced have advanced and others are still in committee.
Senate Bill 353, which was introduced to promote tourism in Nelson County and benefit the new distillery, has passed the Senate and is moving to the House of Delegates for consideration.
· Senate Bill 358 was requested by the City of Charlottesville to allow emergency personnel to activate infrared traffic lights. The bill has been continued to 2013.
· Senate Bill 367 to clear up ambiguity in the Virginia Conflict of Interests Act has also passed the Senate. This bill was requested by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.
· Senate Bill 361, which I sponsored at the request of the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, would allow the Rockbridge landfill to remain open for two additional years. The bill has initiated discussions between Rockbridge County and the Department of Environmental Equality, and I am confident that we are going to be able to resolve this matter in a fashion that will produce real savings for the residents of the Rockbridge area.
· Senate Bill 364 was requested by the Charlottesville Police Department to allow them to best utilize its public safety resources and personnel. SB 364 advanced out of the Transportation Committee and will be before the full Senate next week.
· Senate Bill 356, introduced on behalf several constituents in Bath County, would waive the requirement for an inspection of certain onsite alternative sewage systems. Senate Bill 354 is designed to incentivize beekeeping by creating a small tax credit for those who start new beehives. Both bills are still awaiting committee action.
It is my honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. If I can be of service to you, or if you would like to share your thoughts or ask a question, or if you would like to visit Richmond and see the legislature at work, please contact me or Tracy Eppard, my legislative aide, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 698-7525.