Creigh Deeds: Session update
The Virginia General Assembly works as close as is possible to the way representative government was intended. Sessions are short, fast-paced and members, by necessity, have to earn their principal income outside of government. Members of the General Assembly come from all walks of life and must balance family and work with legislative service. It is not always easy.
This past week we reached the crossover in the legislative session, and the Senate and House passed amendments to the budget. I am proud the Senate’s proposal begins the process of restoring fiscal health to the Virginia Retirement System by accelerating repayment to the fund. We also increased funding to K-12 and higher education and restored some balance to our provision of core services in Virginia, without a tax increase. The House budget reflects different priorities, and the next two weeks will be spent in large part reconciling those differences.
The House and the Senate passed transportation bills. The differences between the plans passed in the House and Senate are significant, but I can report to you that I could not support either one. The passage of the transportation bill is critically important; it will help us begin to address the backlog of projects and create jobs to jumpstart our economy, but the plan is flawed. The House takes money from education, public safety, and health care to fund transportation. The Senate version rejects that approach, but still relies heavily on debt. Under the version passed by the Senate, the money, about $4 billion, will be spent by 2016. Virginia’s debt service will exceed the five percent cap. Debt service on the bonds will not hit its peak until 2028 and will not be completed until 2039. I fear that future Governors and legislators will have to raise taxes just to make the debt service payments. Furthermore, by 2016 we will be in exactly the same posture we are now, with a backlog of projects and no sustained source of funding for transportation. And the only projects guaranteed to be funded are in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Transportation is a statewide issue.
I can report to you that my bills moved along with a fair amount of success in the first half of the Session:
- SB 890, 900, and 901 relate to the proposed City of Alleghany Highlands and will allow the citizens of Alleghany and Covington to decide whether to create a consolidated city. Those bills have passed the Senate and should be voted on by the full House next week.
- SB 902 will allow retired judges to act as pro bono counsel in civil matters. That bill has passed the Senate and is pending in the House.
- SB 903 and 904 seek to close some gaps in prosecutions with respect to domestic violence and subsequent offenses by felons. These bills were brought to me by prosecutors from Campbell County and Lynchburg and have also passed the Senate.
- SB 905 and SB 1234 were brought to me from the City of Charlottesville by a bike safety committee. I struck SB 905 to try to build consensus within the bicycling and law enforcement communities around the application of reckless driving laws and bicyclists. SB 1234 is pending in a House Transportation Subcommittee.
- SB 906 is a response to dating violence and the tragedies we have witnessed throughout Virginia. This bill updates family life education curriculum and is a product of students in the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. This bill has passed the Senate and is moving through the House.
- SB 1229 creates an incentive for clean energy manufacturing job creation. The bill was incorporated into SB 1360, which has passed the Senate and is awaiting consideration in the House.
- SB 1232 is an effort to restore integrity to the land conservation tax credit program. This bill has passed the Senate and is moving through the House.
- SB 1233 elevates the retirement status of conservation officers who work in state parks to that of other law enforcement officers.
- SB 1426 would require those found guilty of child pornography offenses to pay restitution to the victim.
- SB 1450 requires the Department of Taxation to put fillable tax forms on the internet. This will create a huge convenience for taxpayers and make the filing process more efficient.
- SB 1451 creates transparency for parents whose children have been admitted to behavioral health facilities around Virginia by requiring the state to post information about licensing and investigations.
- SJR 321 is my annual effort to reform the redistricting process. This bill has passed the Senate and is scheduled to be heard in Subcommittee next week.
- SJR 355 is an attempt to create more efficiency in state government by moving to a zero-based budgeting process. This resolution has passed the Senate and is moving through the House.
It continues to be my honor to serve you. If we can be of assistance in the last two weeks of the legislative session, feel free to contact me or my legislative aide, Tracy Eppard, at (804) 698-7525 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.