Delegate Mark Cole
It is my honor to represent the citizens of the 88th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. The House of Delegates is one half of the Virginia General Assembly, the other half being the Virginia Senate. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns about legislation or issues before the General Assembly. If you would like to visit the Capitol in Richmond, please call my office so that we may set-up a tour and assist with your visit. I look forward to hearing from you!
April 6, 2017
On April 5th, the General Assembly reconvened to deal with legislation that was amended or vetoed by the Governor. Governor McAuliffe has vetoed a record number of bills during his tenure. He vetoed 40 bills this year and offered amendments to 83 other bills.
One of the reasons that Governor McAuliffe has vetoed so many bills is that he generally has made very little effort to work with members of the legislature. I have served with four different Governors, and McAuliffe has been the least engaged when it comes to working with the legislature. As a consequence, he has not been successful in getting any major legislative initiatives passed and seems to be satisfied sitting back and vetoing legislation instead of trying to find common ground.
I was disappointed, but not surprised, by the nature of the vetoes. The Governor vetoed legislation to empower parents to make their own educational decisions, protect our communities, and ensure the integrity of our voter registration database.
In fact, the Governor vetoed several bills that passed the House with bipartisan, veto-proof majorities. Unfortunately, many Democrats place partisan politics above good policy, changing their positions and voting to sustain the Governor's vetoes. Here is a summary of some of the vetoes:
prohibited state and local jails from releasing criminal aliens that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement want to detain for deportation.
would ban “sanctuary cities” for illegal aliens in Virginia.
would require local electoral boards to investigate the list of registered voters whenever the number of registered voters in a county or city exceeds the population of persons age 18 years or older.
HB 1428 / SB 872
closed a loophole in our voter ID law by requiring a voter submitting an application for an absentee ballot to show or submit a copy of their ID.
required verification of social security numbers on voter application forms. This would have greatly reduced the number of false or illegal voter registrations.
would require the Department of Elections to provide registrars a list of Virginia voters who are also registered to vote in another state.
required schools give notice when sexually explicit instructional materials are used in class and provide alternative materials if parents or students object.
established Virginia Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts.
HB 2025 / SB 1324
protected religious groups and organizations with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction about traditional marriage from government discrimination.
would have restricted taxpayer funding of abortions.
HB 1852 / SB 1299
authorized a person who is not prohibited from possessing a firearm and is protected by a protective order to carry a concealed handgun for 45 days after the protective order was issued.
reinstated pre-Affordable Care Act health insurance provisions effective after it is repealed by Congress. Now, if Congress ever gets its act together and repeals the ACA, Virginians will have to deal with conflicting state and federal health insurance laws unless the General Assembly is called back into special session to deal with the changes.
would have required resettlement agencies that provide refugee or other immigrant resettlement services in the Commonwealth to annually report to the Department of Social Services.
required agencies to develop regulations in the least burdensome and intrusive manner possible and provides guiding principles for the development, adoption, and repeal of regulations. It also required each agency to review of all regulations for which the agency is responsible.
Governor McAuliffe recommended amendments to many bills passed by the General Assembly, including the state budget. Most of the amendments were minor changes, clarifications, or technical corrections which were accepted by the legislature. Some made substantial changes or gutted the legislation and those were rejected. I would not be surprised if some of those bills do not end up being vetoed.
The Governor offered 27 amendments to the state budget; 15 were accepted. One of the amendments which was rejected would have expanded Medicaid. Medicaid is a joint Federal and state welfare program to provide government health insurance to the poor. Expanding the program was a key feature of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) which is currently being considered for repeal in Washington.
For the most part, the expanding it would cover working age adults; there is existing coverage programs for the disabled, children, and seniors. Most states that expanded Medicaid have seen costs exceed projections leading to budget shortfalls that require cuts to other programs and/or tax increases. In short, Virginia just does not have the funds to expand the program.
Instead, the General Assembly took proactive measures to monitor federal action on health care. A subcommittee will be working this year to review changing federal policies to ensure that Virginia can adapt to any changes, offer recommendations to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
WINTER WEATHER INFORMATION
March 13, 2017
As you may know, we are expecting snow and I wanted to share with you where you may find some useful information or help if you need it.
Here are phone numbers for reporting power outages, and downed power lines:
- Dominion: (1-866-366-4357) https://www.dom.com/outage-center/report-and-check-outages
- REC: (1- 800-552-3904) https://www.myrec.coop/wss1/index.cfm?event=RptOutage
- NOVEC: (1-888-335-0500) https://www.novec.com/My_Account/report-outage.cfm?tgtURL=/My_Account/report-outage.cfm
Check on road conditions: www.511virginia.org
Check progress of road snow plows: http://www.vdotplows.org/
- For mobile phones: http://www.vdotplows.org/mobile/index.html
Winter weather tips: http://www.vaemergency.gov/prepare-recover/threat/winter-weather/
The Ready Virginia Mobile App: http://www.vaemergency.gov/prepare-recover/ready-virginia-mobile-app/
Here are some other Emergency Information Links:
- Virginia Department of Emergency Management http://www.vaemergency.gov/
- General Emergency Planning Tips: http://www.vaemergency.gov/prepare-recover/make-emergency-plan/
- Tips for an Emergency Kit: http://www.vaemergency.gov/prepare-recover/emergency-supply-kit/
If we do get a significant amount of snow, it may be best to just stay in until the storm passes and VDOT has a chance to clear the roads. If you do go out, dress warm and be careful! Of course if you have a potentially life threatening emergency, dial 911.
February 28, 2017
The 2017 General Assembly adjourned Saturday. This session, we heard thousands of pieces of legislation as well as amendments the state budget to close a $ 1.2 Billion shortfall. We convene again in April to deal with the Governor’s amendments and vetoes of legislation.
Below is a summary of some legislation that passed and has been sent to the Governor for his review and action. He can sign, veto, or amend legislation. Any amendments must be accepted by the General Assembly before it becomes law. Most legislation passed and signed by the Governor will not be effective until 1 July.
Jobs and Economic Development
Clarifies that a small business franchisee is a separate business from its big business franchisor, protecting it from excessive burdens that may be required of big businesses.
Saves taxpayer funds by prohibiting local governing bodies from requiring a wage floor above what is otherwise required by state or federal law.
HB 1943 / SB 1431
Requires a revised economic impact analysis of proposed regulations.
Reforms Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority to ensure the Commonwealth has an efficient economic development organization.
HJ 545 / SJ 295
Proposed amendments to Virginia’s Constitution to permit legislative review of administrative rules and regulations before they go into effect.
HB 1400 / SB 1240
Establishes the Virginia Virtual School to allow students to take K-12 coursework online that is not offered locally.
Gives local school boards the authority to allow homeschool students to participate in public school athletic programs.
Establishes optional Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts for individuals to receive funds to use for alternative education options for students in special circumstances.
Requires schools to notify parents when including sexually explicit material in instructional materials and offer an alternative if requested.
Prohibits public institutions of higher education from abridging the freedom of speech.
HB 1662 / SB 1534
Establishes a policy for granting undergraduate general education course credit to any entering freshman student who completed a dual enrollment course.
Publishes graduation rates and salary data for graduates of Virginia colleges and universities.
Establishes the Online Virginia Network for the delivery of each online course, degree program, and credential program offered by a public institution of higher education.
HB 1428 / SB 872
Requires voters to submit a copy of a photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot by mail.
Prohibits any individual or group conducting a voter registration drive from compensating on the basis of the number of completed voter registration applications.
Develops a description of the duties and responsibilities of the local electoral boards to ensure efficiency of local elections.
Requires the Department of Elections to provide a list of registered voters who are registered in another state.
Requires the local electoral boards to investigate the list of registered voters whenever the number of registered voters exceeds the population of persons age 18 years or older.
Requires electronic pollbooks to contain the photographs of registered voters that are contained in a voter's Department of Motor Vehicles record.
Makes it illegal to pay someone to register to vote.
HB 2053 / SB 800
Establishes a new innovative healthcare delivery model between patients and doctors.
Reinstates pre-Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions for health coverage. The measure will become effective if federal legislation is repealed by Congress.
HB 1426 / SB 1221
Develops a comprehensive model for the use of alternative, non-law enforcement transportation for individuals who may be suffering from mental illness involved in the emergency custody or involuntary admission process.
Opioid Prevention and Treatment
HB 1453 / SB 848
Allows a person who is authorized by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to train individuals on the administration of naloxone for use in opioid overdose reversal.
Provides that a pharmacist may dispense naloxone in the absence of a patient-specific prescription.
Develops a model addiction recovery program that may be administered by sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, jail officers, administrators, or superintendents in any local or regional jail to combat the ongoing heroin and opioid addiction crisis.
Directs the Boards of Dentistry and Medicine to adopt regulations for the prescribing of opioids and products containing buprenorphine.
Authorizes local school boards to allow a school security officer to carry a firearm in the performance of his duties if he is a former law-enforcement officer who left in good standing.
HB 1404 / SB 1054
Makes maliciously activating a fire alarm illegal and allows Fire Departments to recoup costs incurred from the call from the offender.
Clarifies that sheriff’s departments may consider rank and experience in compensating part-time deputies.
Prohibits releasing an incarcerated alien when a lawful detainer order has been received from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Allows localities to apply for grants and loans from the Dam Safety, Flood Prevention and Protection Assistance Fund to repair substandard dams that may be a hazard to the public.
Authorizes an individual protected by a court issued protective order to carry a concealed handgun for 45 days after the protective order was issued.
Provides that no locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
Establishes the requirements for deferred or installment payment agreements that a court must offer a defendant who is unable to pay court-ordered fines and costs.
Makes it illegal for any person to knowingly provide support to an individual or organization whose primary objective is to commit an act of terrorism.
Requires the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) to formally adopt stress testing and additional reporting policies.
Requires a crosscheck of lottery records when individuals apply for public assistance.
Requires the Department of Social Services to monitor all requests for replacement of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards issued to food stamp program recipients.
Clarifies and corrects the statutory requirements for the membership and terms of several boards appointed by the Governor.
HB 2436 / SB 1307
Requires the Commonwealth Data Point website administered by the Auditor of Public Accounts to include information for major categories of spending for each state agency and institution, including each independent agency.
HB 1422 / SB 839
Prohibits fraudulent or improper or dishonest conduct while engaged in a transaction that was initiated (i) during a declared state of emergency or (ii) to repair damage resulting from the event that prompted the declaration of a state of emergency.
Allows members of the military who are transferred or deployed to cancel certain service contracts that are no longer needed. The bill is a state version of the Federal Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act.
Provides that no person shall be required to participate in the solemnization of any marriage or subject to any penalty by the Commonwealth that may violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Prohibits sharing of information regarding Virginia concealed handgun permits with law enforcement in states that do not recognize a Virginia concealed handgun permit.
Proposed amendment to Virginia Constitution to protect Transportation Trust Funds from being used for other programs.
One of the most important tasks of the General Assembly is crafting the state budget. The General Assembly passed a conservative, responsible, and structurally-balanced budget that invests in the core functions of government while protecting taxpayer resources.
Here are the highlights of the amended 2016-2018 state budget:
• The budget does not contain any tax or fee increases on hardworking Virginians.
• Investing over $18 million in new funding for K-12; also gives local school divisions flexibility to spend the money where they determine they have a need.
• $ 32 million for a 2 percent teacher pay raise, with no local match required, effective February 2018.
• 3 percent salary increase for state employees.
• Provides over $ 20 million in new funding for higher education to hold down tuition costs for Virginia families.
• Makes strategic investments in economic development, while adding additional oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
• $ 32.2 million to strengthen the delivery of mental health services through the expansion of the GAP program, same day arrest, and supportive housing.
The budget reduces debt by about $61 million and includes no tax increases, eliminates all of the Governor’s new fee increases. It does not include Medicaid expansion; instead, it strengthens the state’s healthcare safety net.
The budget complements the legislative efforts to prevent and combat domestic violence. It includes $1.5 million to expand domestic violence prevention, treatment and counseling programs and services for women and children.
The budget provides critical funding for public safety. It provides $ 14.6 million in funds to raise the salaries of Virginia State Police. $ 7.3 million is given to provide a compression adjustment for employees in sheriffs’ offices and regional jails. $ 1.2 million to restore funding for a special operations division for State Police.
February 22, 2017
We are in the final week of session. Committees have completed their work on legislation and we are busy dealing with legislation on the floor of the House. House and Senate negotiators are finalizing a compromise budget to send to the Governor.
The Virginia General Assembly is organized into a committee system, like most other legislatures. Each committee is assigned an area of the law to deal with. I serve on the House Education Committee which deals with educational legislation, the Finance Committee which deals with taxes and revenue, and as Chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee which deals with campaign and constitutional issues.
Since the General Assembly is a part-time legislature that must deal with thousands of bills and resolutions in a matter of weeks, it is necessary to divide the workload among the committees. Each committee is then divided into sub-committees. In the House, the Speaker sends legislation to committees and then each committee chairman assigns legislation to the sub-committees. Most of the work on legislation is actually done at the sub-committee level.
The sub-committees hold public hearings, debates, and may amend, pass or defeat legislation. If legislation passes sub-committee, it then goes to the full committee for another hearing and vote. Legislation that passes committee then goes to the full House for debate and vote. Legislation that passes the House then goes to the Senate, where it will go through a similar process and vice versa. All bills that pass the House and Senate then go to the Governor for his action.
All committee and sub-committee meetings are public and all votes are conducted in public.
Even though redistricting will not be done until 2021, it has been in the news recently, primarily because of a special interest group that has been pushing for redistricting reform. Their stated goal is to form an independent commission to draw district lines and take the politics out of the process. I am not sure how a commission made up of political appointees, appointed by politicians is supposed to take the politics out of the process. All it really does is elevate the politics to a less transparent and less accountable level. Additionally, when you read the details of the legislation, it would put twice as many Democrats on the commission as Republicans which leads me to question the real motives of the group.
All the redistricting bills were sent to the Privileges and Elections Committee which I chair. They were all heard and defeated in sub-committee in accordance with the rules. The hearings were conducted in public and the votes were recorded. An additional hearing on some of the legislation was held at the full committee level, something that is rarely done, and it was defeated a second time. After the meeting, the leader of the House Democrats came over to me and thanked me for conducting a very fair hearing.
Drawing district boundaries has become quite complex over the years due to numerous court rulings which add to what must be considered. Currently, there are court cases pending that may again change what has to be considered during redistricting. Since the next redistricting will not occur until 2021, there is no need to adopt legislation now; we have time to await court rulings and continue to consider new proposals. I will certainly support any process that is transparent and fair.
The House has passed several bills to make voter fraud more difficult. Some claim that such fraud is a myth, but a simple search of the internet gives multiple examples of voter fraud in Virginia. Below please find links to some articles. What there is really no evidence of, is voter suppression or disenfranchisement. For years I have asked for examples of a citizen, who was qualified to vote, being denied their right to vote because of any laws passed to make voter fraud more difficult. No one has provided me with single example.
February 14, 2017
Last week was the halfway point of the 2017 session, known as “crossover”. This is when the House must complete work on all House Bills and the Senate does the same for Senate legislation. We then send the bills over to the other body for their consideration. I believe we are making good progress on important issues. Whether it is the need to strengthen our education system to maintain our global competitiveness or continue to enact conservative reforms that make government smaller and more efficient.
In December of last year, Governor McAuliffe announced his introduced budget. The driving force behind adjustments to the 2016-2018 biennial budget is the over $1 Billion shortfall that was announced last fall. Since the Governor’s presentation, the House Appropriations Committee conducted 5 public hearings across the state to receive input from people on the priorities they would like to see addressed.
Last week, the House voted on its budget proposal. The budget reflects the tough choices and priority setting necessary to present a balanced budget. All discretionary spending was reviewed and we held fast to conservative budgeting while investing in the core functions of government. The House budget proposal not only cuts spending and unnecessary programs, but reduces debt by $ 70 million while eliminating several fee increases.
State Employees and State Troopers
: Our budget invests resources to make a compensation package for state employees and law enforcement a reality. All told, the cost of the raise for state employees and college faculty, and restoring the pay raise for state supported employees was $ 88.7 million. Funding is also included to provide our Deputy Sheriffs with compression pay adjustments. Finally, an additional $ 15 million is included to address the starting salaries and compression of our State Troopers and Capitol Police Officers.
: Last year the House re-established the policy of sending back a portion of the Lottery proceeds to our school divisions on a per-pupil basis without a required local match. This year the House budget would send $ 218.7 million, in Lottery Profits directly back to our school divisions. The schools get much needed flexibility in allocating these dollars where they think it is best served, be it a pay raise for their teachers or funding their share of the required VRS contribution.
: Access and affordability in higher education has been a top priority of the House for years. Last session we made a significant additional investment in higher education. However, because of the shortfall cuts of nearly $ 80 million were announced by the Governor. The House budget restores $ 21.0 million to Higher Education.
Health and Human Resources
: The House, working collaboratively with the Senate and the Governor, have made significant investments in the area of mental health. The House will provide a $ 28.5 million increase in mental health services, to include expanding the GAP program to cover more individuals living in poverty. Our budget recommendations will add an additional 144 disability waiver slots to meet the needs of Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens.
Our economy has been struggling in recent years. The lack well paying, full time jobs was a contributor to our budget shortfall. The House defeated efforts to increase fees and other burdens on businesses, which would have made economic growth even more difficult. Additionally, legislation was passed to prohibit local governments from imposing additional wage requirements on employers as well as legislation to prevent small business owners from being forced to unionize.
Virginia is fortunate to have one of the best education systems in the world – thanks in large part to our great teachers and local leaders who have made it their life’s work to educate our children. The House of Delegates has sought to provide these educators with the tools, resources and flexibility they need to provide our children with a world-class education. That includes reducing burdensome licensure and continuing education requirements. As such, the House passed legislation to waive certain licensure requirements for a teacher with an endorsement in career and technical education.
We are also taking action to control college costs. Making college more affordable not just with more money, but with specific actions to keep costs down. The House has passed legislation to set standard acceptance of dual enrollment credits taken in high school, allowing students to earn college credits at a lower cost.
February 4, 2017
As we approach the halfway point of session, the Capital has seen record numbers of visitors. Daily attendance by the public has consistently been over 4,500 people a day. I have been visited by many friends and neighbors from back home as well as organizations such as the American Legion, 4-H students, disAbility Resource Center, and others who had their annual day on the hill.
Education is a foundation for a strong, competitive workforce. Our caucus has several education initiatives that address all levels of learning in Virginia.
The House is committed to maintaining Virginia’s strong K-12 system and working to give all children the opportunities in education they deserve by enacting reforms in public education, promoting choice and flexibility, and encouraging early childhood education.
Students in the Commonwealth deserve a quality education, regardless of their circumstances or neighborhood. That’s why I am co-sponsoring HB1400
which establishes Virginia Virtual schools so students aren’t bound to brick and mortar buildings for their education. Instead of being limited to classes offered at the local school, they will be able take classes offered all over Virginia.
I am also co-sponsoring HB1605
that creates Education Savings Accounts. ESAs will empower parents to choose what is right for their child’s education by allowing families with special needs students to receive direct access to the state funding for that student. That funding is deposited into an Education Savings Account, where it can be used for private school tuition, homeschool, online classes, course materials, or other educational purposes.
While the House of Delegates does not believe a statewide mandated pre-school program is the best approach, we are exploring better ways to encourage early childhood education. Our focus is on improving access to private providers. Delegate Jimmie Massie is helping on this front with HB1963
that makes families with at-risk 4 year old’s unserved by Head Start eligible for tax credits to enroll in a pre-k program.
Every day we hear from the Commonwealth’s citizens that higher education access and affordability is a real problem. Our caucus has several other ideas that ease the costs associated with postsecondary schools.
Dual enrollment credits provide a great opportunity for students to begin working on their degree credits while still in high school. Tag Greason is carrying HB1662
to establish a uniform policy for granting undergraduate course credit to entering freshman students so students can properly prepare their course schedules to maximize their benefits.
Virginia has a 40-year-old financial aid model. It is time to modernize that model by incentivizing students to complete their degrees on time. Kirk Cox is carrying HB2427
that will motivate and reward students to successfully finish their degree on time by increasing aid money as they progress through their academic career. He is also carrying HB2262
that creates the Online Virginia Network aimed at providing a new pathway for students to complete a college degree by establishing an online consortium of classes from various state universities. It will be a one-stop shop for scheduling, registering, and taking online classes. Higher education institutions in Virginia have focused primarily on enhancing enrollment, retention, and graduation rates in pursuit of preparing a highly skilled workforce for the Virginia economy. The same emphasis needs to be directed toward identifying those individuals with some college credit, but who have not attained a degree.
We are required to redraw district lines every 10 years, after the national census, in order to balance the populations of each district. The next redistricting will occur in 2021.
Redistricting has been in the news recently, primarily because of a special interest group that has been pushing for redistricting reform. Their goal is to form an “independent” commission to draw district lines in order to take the politics out of the process. Though I am not sure how a commission made up of political appointees, appointed by politicians is supposed to take the politics out of the process. All it really does is elevate the politics to a less transparent and less accountable level.
Drawing district boundaries has become quite complex over the years due to numerous court rulings which add to what must be considered. Currently, there are court cases pending that may again change what has to be considered during redistricting. Since the next redistricting will not occur until 2021, there is no need to adopt legislation or changes to the process now; we have time to await court rulings and continue to consider new proposals. I will certainly support any process that is transparent and fair.
January 24, 2017
I wanted to share with you information about some of the legislation being considered by the General Assembly. Since I am Chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, I am sponsoring several bills dealing with elections.
My House Bill (HB) 1537
is similar to the Federal Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, to allow service members who are transferred or deployed to cancel some service contracts, which they can no longer use.
would change how we allocate Electoral Votes in Presidential elections. Currently, we have a winner take all allocation; what this bill would do is change it to be awarded based on the results of each Congressional District, with the overall winner of the state receiving the 2 statewide Electors. I have heard from many rural voters who feel their vote for President does not matter because more populated areas like Northern Virginia overwhelm their votes. I believe this change would increase voter turnout and interest from candidates in Virginia.
would prevent third-party voter registration groups from paying people on a per application basis. This legislation was requested by Voter Registrars in order to reduce the financial incentive to submit fraudulent voter registration forms. Last year there were several cases of fake voter registrations being submitted, most by employees of third-party registration groups who paid on a per application basis.
would require new voters to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote. This legislation is in response to many non-citizens being found on the voter rolls in the Commonwealth. I believe many are being registered inadvertently when they apply for a driver’s license. This would keep that from happening.
would authorize local School Boards to allow School Security Officers, who were former law enforcement officers, to carry a firearm while on duty at school. Currently, only active law enforcement officers are legally allowed to carry a gun on school property. This bill would give local School Boards another option to improve school security and protect children.
I did want to mention a couple of other bills that have received a lot of negative publicity by those who oppose them: HB 1473
the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would restrict abortions after the child has matured enough to feel pain, which is 20 weeks; and HB 1612
Physical Privacy Act, which would require state government and public school facilities, including restrooms, dressing rooms and showers that are designated for use by MEN or WOMEN to be used only by those who are physically men or women. It would not affect facilities that are unisex or undesignated. The opponents of those bills were successful in marginalizing them and characterizing them as extremist. Roanoke College recently conducted a statewide poll on these two bills and found that more Virginians support them than oppose them. 53 percent favors a state law that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and 43 percent supporting requiring individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth gender while 39 percent oppose.
At the start of session, Governor McAuliffe stated that one of his goals for this session was to repeal Virginia’s voter photo ID law. I am pleased to report that we defeated that legislation last week.
Our photo ID law was adopted several years ago, and was recently upheld in Federal court. The law is a reasonable provision to reduce voter fraud and enjoys overwhelming public support. If a voter does not have a photo ID, they can receive one free of charge from their Voter Registrar. Also, if someone forgets their ID on Election Day, they may still cast a provisional ballot and show their ID later.
January 12, 2017
GENERAL ASSEMBLY SESSION BEGINS
The 2017 General Assembly session has officially begun! This year will be a short session (46 days) as our primary responsibility is to make adjustments to our biennial budget. However, we are still putting forth a breadth of legislative proposals aimed at creating jobs, improving healthcare costs, transportation, and creating more educational opportunities. There is a lot before us this year, but we will be focused on doing the work of the people!
The House was officially gaveled into session on Wednesday, January 11th at 12 noon. A new transparency measure was announced on the first day: the video archiving of each day’s session. The new archive, available from the Virginia General Assembly website (http://virginia-house.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3 ) , will allow the public to view the floor proceedings of the House during the 2017 session on demand. The House also has created a search feature that will allow viewers to search by bill or by member.
The House is committed to building on our previous advances in improved transparency (i.e 2 day waiting period before voting on budget and prohibiting committee meetings held at member desks on the chamber floor). We take public access to the legislative proceedings seriously.
STATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
Later that evening, Governor McAuliffe delivered the annual State of the Commonwealth Address. As this is McAuliffe’s final year in office, a great deal of his speech was a review of his time as Governor.
Republican Delegate Ron Villanueva (Virginia Beach) and Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (Henrico) delivered the Republican perspective on the State of the Commonwealth (http://us3.campaign-archive2.com/?u=a8970db37d2569f1a2b65e59d&id=279757dd63&e=21141571ad ). They reminded us that with last November’s elections, there are big changes coming to our nation’s Capitol. Some of these changes, like rebuilding our national defense and including coal in a comprehensive approach to energy independence, will greatly benefit Virginia.
In August of last year, Governor McAuliffe announced over a $1 billion shortfall. The shortfall is a result of a lagging economy that generated less tax revenue than expected. Unfortunately, the “New Virginia” economy Governor McAuliffe is always championing has been steadily replacing high paying full time jobs with lower paying part time jobs. Virginia’s economy has lost more than 4,000 jobs, weekly wages are down, and part-time employees are up by more than 20,000 since 2015.
However, unlike Washington, Virginia’s constitution requires a balanced budget. Last month Governor McAuliffe unveiled his proposed budget to the General Assembly. The Governor’s budget proposal is just the first step in a long process. It is now time for the House to develop our budget. Our goal is to craft a responsible, conservative budget that strategically invests in the core functions of government while protecting precious taxpayer resources. We will invest in key priorities, but we must do so in a fiscally prudent manner.
Transportation continues to be a high priority, especially for our area. In recent years the General Assembly, spearheaded by the House of Delegates, had significantly increased transportation funding to try to address traffic issues. Here is a brief summary of some of our efforts to improve transportation.
In 2005, we increased transportation funding by more than $ 1.4 Billion, the largest increase in nearly 20 years, including $ 850 million in funding to reduce congestion on major thoroughfares like I-95. The following year, in 2006, an additional $ 568 million was directed to transportation.
During the 2007 session, the General Assembly financed largest transportation investment in two decades by providing nearly $ 500 million in ongoing, new transportation funding and authorizing $ 3 Billion in transportation bonds. In 2008 we restored $180 million in transportation funding that former Governor Kaine had diverted to other programs.
Soon after coming into office in 2010, Governor McDonnell ordered a performance audit of VDOT that revealed $1.4 billion in previously authorized funds that were not being spent on needed highway maintenance and new construction. These dollars were collected and redirected to long overdue transportation projects.
In 2011, we passed legislation to authorize nearly $4 billion in bond funding for transportation that jumpstarted over 900 projects around Virginia.
In 2013, the General Assembly passed a variety of fee and tax increases to raise over $ 1.3 Billion additional funds annually for transportation. Also, other fees and tax increases were imposed on Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise funds for critical regional projects.
Last year we increased transportation funding by nearly $ 1 Billion. Total funding for transportation is $13.4 Billion over the biennium. We also passed my House Bill 97
which directs the Department of Transportation to conduct an evaluation with the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to address traffic congestion on the Interstate 95 in our area, with a goal towards reducing congestion on I95.
Our transportation problems are not just due to a lack of funding. A big part of the problem is all the bureaucratic hurdles that must be cleared before a road project can start. Not only do road projects have to go through VDOT in Richmond for approval, but Washington also gets involved in most projects. Major projects must be reviewed and approved by several Federal agencies such as the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Highway Department. It can take years or even decades for a project to get all the approvals needed to proceed.