Deeds reports on General Assembly session

  
Column by Sen. Creigh Deeds
www.creighdeeds.com

The General Assembly session is now in full swing. The subcommittees and committees meet around-the-clock, and the halls are packed with lobbyists, legislators, and citizens interested in the process. More often than not, I have several meetings scheduled at the same time. This week has seen some interesting bills come up for discussion, but we are no closer to closing our budget gap and balancing the budget.

This week the governor laid out his proposals for economic development. Most of the ideas are ones that we can all agree on: promoting tourism and the wine and film industries, and putting more money into economic development so that we can recruit more businesses. The total price tag of his economic development plan is around $50 million, and he has proposed some adjustments to the budget to find the money. I will support efforts to bring new jobs to Virginia.

Early this past week, there was an interesting discussion about health care in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor. Many Virginians are upset about the progress, or lack thereof, on federal health care legislation in Washington, D.C. For that reason, a number of bills were introduced in the General Assembly relating to the pending legislation. As any student of federalism knows, state legislatures cannot easily affect legislation before the United States Congress. Nonetheless, bills have been introduced at the state level to try to stall the federal health bills. Bills that were reported out of Committee early this week, without my support, state that no matter what legislation is passed in Washington, D.C., Virginians will not be required to purchase health insurance. For me, the merits of this legislation are not the issue; rather, I voted against the bill because I think it is premature and will have little impact on the national debate. We do not know what form federal health care legislation will take, when it will pass, what it will require, or who it will affect. It seems to me that we are sent to Richmond to solve real problems, not to tilt at windmills.

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee heard a piece of legislation this week to challenge federal authority on another issue. The bill was aimed at a dispute over the placement of an outlying landing field intended to complement the jets currently stationed at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. The bill would have prevented the federal government from condemning land for an outlying landing field in the event that Oceana closes and the jets that are currently stationed there are re-stationed outside of Virginia. Federal law preempts state law, particularly in areas of national defense, and the dispute involves property owners in Southside Virginia who are concerned about importing jet noise to their localities. This legislation, again, did not seem to solve any current problems, rather it simply set up a theoretical constitutional argument in the event that Oceana closes and an outlying landing field is situated in Virginia. From what the Navy has said, the outlying landing field must be within fifty miles of a base. There is not a base in North Carolina, or anywhere else, that is within fifty miles of the potential sites in Virginia. Therefore, the legislation was just an academic exercise. I joined the bi-partisan majority to defeat the bill.

The week was also interesting because the Governor’s major transportation initiative came up this week in the Transportation Committee. Traffic is a major concern in the growth areas of this state. Highways in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads are congested, which threatens the economy. In other parts of the state, inadequate infrastructure impedes economic growth. Interstate 81 is a killing field. The Governor proposed to raise the speed limit from 65 to 70 miles per hour on interstate highways in rural areas. In my view, the argument was not about the merits of raising the speed limit and bringing it in line with North Carolina and West Virginia. For me, the measures reflect the wrong priorities. I voted against the bill because I think it does nothing to slow down trucks on I-81 or to reduce congestion in Virginia. In a year when we need to be about reviving the economy, creating jobs, and opening up economic opportunity for Virginians, this speed limit bill has passed committees in both the House and the Senate and will move forward.

The General Assembly voted on these and many other bills this week, but the work on the budget remains. Many of the visitors to my office come to talk about funding issues; people want programs to be preserved and increased funding for vital services. Just this week I had a number of folks in the office who want the General Assembly to increase funding for children’s health care and pre-K programs. Both are very worthy issues, but in these tough budgetary times, are not likely to be addressed.

If you want to share your views or would like to visit the General Assembly while it is in action, please let us know. You can track legislation at http://leg1.state.va.us and view the floor sessions at http://legis.virginia.gov. We can be reached at P.O. Box 396, Richmond, Virginia 23218, (804) 698-7525 or by email at district25@senate.virginia.gov. I look forward to your input.

 

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