General Assembly Report column by Del. Ben Cline
With the bang of the speaker’s gavel at noon last Wednesday, the 2008 session of the Virginia General Assembly began.
It’s fitting that the bang of a gavel sounds a lot like the firing of a starter’s pistol in a track race. In Virginia, the legislative session runs for only 60 calendar days. That’s not a lot of time for the House and Senate to consider and vote on over 3,000 bills and resolutions. While some say that making laws in the U.S. Congress can often feel like a marathon, making them in the Virginia General Assembly feels more like a sprint.
The first few days are usually spent adjusting to the faster pace of legislative life. The deadline for requesting a bill draft from Legislative Services was last Friday, and the deadline for introducing our bills is this Friday. Already, all 14 committees have started their work considering bills, beginning as early as 7 a.m. and sometimes running well after midnight. We pass some of the bills, make amendments to others, and we also kill a lot of bills. But the committees and subcommittees have a tradition of considering and voting on almost every single one of the 3,000 bills that are introduced each year. That tradition of democracy is something that we as Virginians can be proud of.
We also gathered on Wednesday night in a joint session of the House and Senate to hear the governor give the annual State of the Commonwealth Address. In his address this year, the governor spoke of the need for us to work together on several important issues, including the need to improve our mental health laws following the tragedy at Virginia Tech last year. I share the governor’s support for improving our involuntary-commitment laws, as well as the need for additional funding for mental-health services. We must overcome partisan differences to pass meaningful legislation that prevents future tragedies and provides the help that is so critical to those in need.
The governor also called for the repeal of the so-called “abusive driver fees” that he had defended just a month earlier as part of the transportation bill he signed last year. I am pleased to hear that Gov. Kaine is finally listening to Virginians who have opposed these fees as excessively harsh and unfairly applied. I opposed the governor’s amendment last year that limited these fees to in-state drivers, and I agree that they should be scrapped altogether instead of making cosmetic changes that do nothing more than put lipstick on a pig.
My legislative agenda this session will continue to focus on issues that I have been working on for many years, including my ongoing efforts to improve I-81, encouraging land conservation and protecting the environment, and lowering the tax burden on Virginia families by streamlining state government.
I hope to hear from folks in our part of Virginia about the issues that are of interest to them. While in Richmond, I can be reached by phone at 804.698.1024. My address in Richmond is PO Box 406, Richmond, Va. 23218, and my email address is [email protected]. My unofficial website is www.bencline.com, and the official website of the General Assembly is http://legis.state.va.us.
I hope residents of Rockbridge, Augusta, and Amherst counties will take time to share their views with me as I spend the next 60 days considering legislation that will affect our special part of Virginia.
Ben Cline represents the 24th House District in the Virginia General Assembly.