VA General Assembly has adjourned!
This Monday, I returned to Richmond to vote on Governor Bob McDonnell's amendments to the budget that we had passed in April. After 13 hours of debating and voting on over 120 amendments and also voting on 44 judicial nominees, the 2012 session of the Virginia General Assembly finally adjourned, at 2 am!
Those of you who live in the 35th District may have received my end-of-session letter in the mail. If you did not see it, here's the electronic version that summarizes some highlights of this year in Richmond.
As your state representative, I want to share some thoughts on the Virginia General Assembly that wrapped up this month, and describe several bills that I helped pass.
Looking back at this session, I believe most observers will remember it for two aspects that were unusual and certainly not positive. First, the budget was delayed after the legislature was forced into a two-month long special session that resulted from partisan gridlock. Second, some of the conservative social issues debated in Richmond unfortunately drew negative national attention to our state, including ridicule from late night comedians and partisans.
The cause of the delay in passing the budget actually began in January. When the Senate convened, Republicans changed the rules to give the majority party big advantages in moving bills through that body, by increasing committee memberships and using other procedural tactics. Democrats objected unsuccessfully, arguing that the Senate should adopt equal power-sharing rules since the body's membership was split evenly between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans.
As controversial bills came to the Senate floor during session, Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling broke any ties by voting with the 20 Senate Republicans and providing a 21-20 outcome. However, the Lieutenant Governor is not allowed to vote on the budget, which meant that the budget bill could not pass without at least one member voting with the other party, 21-19.
Senate Democrats used this leverage to negotiate a far better budget bill than the version originally introduced by Governor Bob McDonnell. For example, by holding out, the Senate added an extra $212 million for public K-12 and higher education than the Governor's original budget, including $40 million more for cost-of-competing funds for Northern Virginia schools.
On highly partisan social wedge issues, the House of Delegates passed a series of bills dealing with abortions, gays, immigrants, minorities, voting, religion, and guns. You have probably heard about these bills, including the Governor's that required a woman to undergo a medically unnecessary and highly intrusive ultrasound before proceeding with an abortion.
Many of these extreme bills were defeated in the Senate on party-line votes, while others like the ultrasound and repeal of one-gun-sale-per-month prohibition will become law this year.
While the percentage of these controversial bills was small compared to hundreds of mundane bills that passed unanimously, the intensity of emotions and rhetoric surrounding their debate made it seem as if these were the only issues that we in Richmond worked on this year.
I voted against all of these partisan measures because I believe these policies will take us back to a period when some Virginians enjoyed fewer opportunities than they do today.
As a legislator, I believe it is my responsibility to move the Commonwealth forward, not backwards. That is why my legislative agenda focuses on issues of interest to all of us, such as maintaining strong schools and educational opportunities, investing in transportation and other infrastructure, and promoting the economy through pro-growth tax and job creation policies.
Here are some bills that I authored or worked on with others to pass into law this year:
- House Bill 1042: My bill helps ease the transition of military service members and their families who return to Virginia after serving overseas, by doubling the grace period time for renewing their expired driver's licenses, from 90 to 180 days.
- HB 1043: My bill extends the grace period for replacing vehicle registrations and decals, which is already provided to active duty military members serving overseas, to their spouses and dependent children who own those vehicles.
- HB 1123: I worked with Gov. McDonnell to allow the State Treasurer to determine whether a person receiving compensation for wrongful incarceration has been subsequently convicted of a felony thereby becoming ineligible for taxpayer funds.
- HB 216: I was chief co-patron and on conference committee for Delegate Barbara Comstock's bill that uses tax credits to expand the number of high-tech data centers in Virginia that create good-paying jobs and promotes innovative industries.
- HB 806/HB1038: I worked with House Transportation Committee Chair Joe May to pass one of the few bills this year that generates new transportation revenues by assessing additional fees to overweight and oversize vehicles that damage our roads.
- HB 551: I was chief co-patron of Delegate Barbara Comstock's tax credit extension bill to continue the use of teleworking as a cost-effective alternative to commuting.
- HB 408/HB1046: I worked with Delegate Vivian Watts to expand the criteria to allow more elderly and disabled homeowners to qualify for property tax relief.
You can read more about these bills and other legislative issues I work on by visiting my website, www.DelegateKeam.org. Please contact me with any questions or comments you have about any bill that came up during this session or anything else related to our state government.