Richmond Report: Eighth Week
Years ago, when I worked as a Congressional staff, my boss used to say that nothing motivates lawmakers to take action like the smell of jet fumes…
He meant that Members of Congress who live in Washington, DC, during session become so homesick after a few weeks away from their families that they become more and more willing to cut deals, the closer and closer they move toward adjournment date.
Well, the same is true in Richmond (although none of us take jet planes to Richmond!). As the Virginia legislature wraps up the second to last week of the 2014 regular session, all of the remaining bills are moving through the process quickly and debates on them are becoming shorter.
Part of the routine at the end of session is to reconcile similar bills that passed both the House and Senate.
Under the Constitution, each bill must pass both chambers in identical forms before they can be presented to the Governor. This means that if there is even the slightest difference between two versions of the same bill, the two bills much be "conferenced."
One of my bills, HB 829, was put into conference this week, and I was named by the Speaker to be the lead conferee for the House. House Bill 829 would make it a new crime in Virginia for anyone who uses software or device to manipulate the cash register or point of sales to cheat on sales taxes.
If this bill becomes law, Virginia would become the 18th state in the nation to outlaw the use of these "zappers" or "phantom-ware," and we could prevent millions of dollars of revenue to the state from being lost each year to criminals.
At the beginning of session, Senator Dick Saslaw and I introduced identical bills to address this problem. However, through the House and Senate legislative processes, the two bills became drastically different both in the language and in the criminal penalties.
Therefore, over the next few days, we have to reconcile the differences between the two bills in order to send one version to the Governor.
In addition to being a conferee on my own bill, I've been named to serve on another conference this week, and will likely be added to a third conference next week.
As someone who has studied and worked with legislative processes for most of my professional career, I value these experiences of getting into the nitty-gritties of lawmaking.
Next week, I will report to you on the progress of these negotiations as well as other notable accomplishments of this legislative session.
In the meantime, I want to make sure you knew about one major accomplishment of this session. This week, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed the bills that would repeal the $64 annual surcharge tax for owners of hybrid vehicles.
You might recall that this dreaded new tax was included in the comprehensive transportation funding bill that became law last year. As I explained in detail last year, no one liked this hybrid tax, but it was part of a take-it-or-leave-it package that raises over $1 billion per year in new revenues to fight traffic congestion.
I supported the bill last year but vowed to work with my colleagues to repeal it this year. I was glad to vote for the repeal during this session, and also glad that the Governor has now signed it into law.