General Assembly Report column by Del. Ben Cline
If you have visited Richmond before, you may have taken a tour of Virginia’s Capitol building. The stately building, built by Thomas Jefferson in 1788 and renovated last year, is where the House and Senate hold their legislative sessions each day at noon. The building has the air of a museum, with tour groups wandering, cameras flashing, and voices kept to a near-whisper.
Across the street is the General Assembly Building, a giant 10-story structure where the Members and most staff have their offices. Where the Capitol is like a museum, the atmosphere in the GAB resembles a carnival. Members rush from committee to committee to vote on bills while citizens and lobbyists go from office to office to meet with legislators. The traffic and volume of the crowd ebbs and flows like the tide, with wall-to-wall crowds in the mornings thinning to just a few people lingering after the legislative session begins at noon.
This week the daily legislative sessions began to grow longer, as the committees began to report bills to the floor in greater numbers. One of the biggest bills to come to the floor this week was HB 649, a bill to repeal the much-hated “abusive driver fees” that were passed as part of the larger transportation package last year. I opposed these fees last year when the governor amended the bill to limit the fees to Virginia drivers. These fees unfairly penalized Virginians while benefiting out-of-state drivers. Although I was one of only 15 House members to vote against the fees last year, the bill to repeal the fees this year passed the House 95-2. HB 649 is now in the Senate and expected to pass easily. It’s amazing what a difference a year makes!
Another process that began this week is the hearing of budget amendments. The governor presented his proposed budget to the House and Senate last month, and members have proposed hundreds of amendments to increase or decrease funding in certain areas.
One budget amendment that I offered would provide funding for the State Police to hire 10 additional troopers to patrol I-81. Even though some speedy people think there are too many troopers on the roads, our State Police currently does not have the funding to hire the full contingent of troopers they need to adequately patrol the highway. As part of my three-step plan for improving I-81, my amendment would provide $1 million per year for the hiring, training, equipping, and outfitting of 10 additional troopers. This will go a long way toward improving safety and reducing accidents on this dangerous stretch of road.
During the General Assembly session I get to see lots of folks from our area that come to visit. Some come to lobby on specific legislation, but others just come to watch our state government at work. I encourage anyone who is interested in seeing the General Assembly at work to call my office and arrange a visit and a personal tour of Jefferson’s Capitol. My number in Richmond is 804.698.1024, and the session will run weekdays until March 9. If you can, you should take the time to watch your tax dollars at work and democracy in action.
Ben Cline represents the 24th House District in the Virginia General Assembly.