General Assembly Report column by Del. Ben Cline
With just over two weeks to go, we are beginning to see which bills are going to succeed this session, and which are going to fall just short. Out of more than 3,000 bills that are introduced, only about 30 percent of them are enacted into law. That means a lot of bills are left on the cutting-room floor at the end of the day.
The number of bills being killed is especially high this year, since the House and Senate are being led by different parties for the first time in decades. Democrats in the Senate are killing bills passed by the Republican House, and vice versa. Most of the time our differences are based on policy rather than politics – the two chambers just have different ideas of how Virginia should be governed.
For example, the House Finance Committee this week defeated a Senate-passed bill to raise the gasoline tax by five cents over five years. While most legislators agree that the gas tax is the most efficient means of funding road construction and maintenance, there is a debate over whether the current 17.5-cent gas tax is sufficient to meet our transportation needs. I agreed with my colleagues on the House Finance Committee who felt that since revenues from the 17.5-cent tax rate continue to increase each year, we can meet our growing transportation needs by improving efficiency within VDOT rather than by raising the gas tax an extra five cents.
On the Senate side, a government-efficiency bill I successfully passed through the House 99-0 was narrowly defeated in the Senate General Laws Committee. Also known as the “Yellow Pages Test,” HB 1358 would have set a requirement for state agencies to use private businesses for non-professional services like dry cleaning and lawn care instead of hiring additional state employees to perform these services. I argued that the bill would have saved the taxpayers money and helped local small businesses, but the Senate General Laws Committee voted against my bill by a close vote of 8-7. All seven Republicans voted for it, and all eight Democrats voted against it, but I remain hopeful that I can educate my Democratic colleagues on the committee about the benefits of the bill and try again next year.
Other bills are successfully making their way through the House and the Senate with bipartisan support. For example, I am the sponsor of legislation that has passed the House and Senate to crack down on the growing problem of counterfeit goods being sold in Virginia. In recent years, Virginia has become a haven for the production and sale of fake clothing, medical supplies, and even toys from overseas that contain hazardous materials such as toxic levels of lead. HB 1363 would increase penalties for counterfeit goods and enable local prosecutors to bring charges against the makers and sellers of these dangerous consumer goods. This bipartisan bill has been sponsored in the Senate by Democrat leader Dick Saslaw, and final versions of both the House and Senate bills will hopefully pass this week and be sent on to the governor for his signature.
Negotiations on the State budget are also continuing, and I remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached between the House-passed version and the Senate-passed version that funds our core responsibilities such as education, transportation, and law enforcement, while avoiding wasteful spending on unnecessary new programs or ‘pork-barrel’ projects.
I hope to report next week on some of the other bills that we have reached agreement on, and in the meantime, please contact me with your views at 804.698.1024 or at [email protected].
Ben Cline represents the 24th House District in the Virginia General Assembly.