While initially limited to the Privileges and Elections Committee, the Rules violation spread to the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, the Chairman of which refused to hear several proposals that would end or curtail Virginia’s state-run monopoly on liquor sales.
Frustrated by the unprecedented development, the Republican senators exercised our rights by employing a parliamentary remedy known as a discharge. When a bill has been assigned to a committee and that committee refuses to act on it, members can ask for a vote to bring the bill directly before the Senate, effective discharging the committee of its responsibility. The Democrat majority held together, defeating our motion on a party-line vote of 22-to-18.
A few moments after the discharge vote, two Democrat senators broke with their caucus to support a Republican initiative. A bill that would change Virginia’s budget cycle, making it more consistent with the four-year terms of governors, received a 20-to-20 vote. In the Senate, the Lt. Governor has the ability to break ties. Lt. Governor Bolling did just that, voting to approve the measure, which is strongly supported by Governor McDonnell.
The Senate and the House both approved their respective versions of amendments to the 2010-2012 Biennial Budget. As I noted this week, both proposals differ from the Governor’s and one another’s. But since this is the second year of the budget and we are only amending an existing budget, the differences should not be so stark as to prevent reaching a compromise by the scheduled adjournment at the end of February.
Both the Senate and the House turned out similar proposals on higher education funding, which is not entirely surprising since both approved the Governor’s initiative to increase the number of Virginians who can attend our state-supported colleges and universities. There are similarities in other areas as well. Also, because of increased revenues, we were able to restore most of the funding to both our public education system, as well as to our local Sheriffs’ Departments that had to be cut from last year’s budget.
And, we were able to fund our hospitals through state-reimbursed Medicaid funding. As you may know, the Health Care industry is one of our largest employers in the 19th Senate District; a cut in this funding would have cost us many jobs at our hospitals in Campbell, Franklin and Pittsylvania Counties, as well as in the City of Danville. It was important in the Senate proposal that we not lose any more jobs in this industry which would further hurt our local economy and the people who work in the healthcare field who care for us and our loved ones in our time of need.
There is one very big difference between the two proposals put forth by the House and Senate on requiring Virginia’s state employees to contribute to their own retirement. The House included this proposal by Governor McDonnell while the Senate did not. Expect it to be one of the larger stumbling blocks in reaching a decision by February 26.
Several of my bills were approved by the Crossover deadline and are headed to the House of Delegates for their consideration. In fact, my bill regarding the Consumer and Agricultural Commission passed the House of Delegates with overwhelming support, and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor. Four other bills that I patroned and were passed in the Senate are under consideration by members of the House right now; they are:
(1) A bill to modify the Governor’s Economic Opportunity Fund that will help our localities bring new industry to our area;
(2) A bill that would give a three-year tax break to those companies that relocate into our rural area and make a significant financial investment that bring jobs into our district;
(3) A bill that will benefit electricity rate payers like you and me by giving the Attorney General more time to consider, scrutinize and/or challenge any rate increase requests made by the electric utility companies; and
(4) A bill that will make the state government provide a cost-benefit analysis to our local governments regarding unfunded mandates that must include a justification of why the mandate should or should not be eliminated. This will lessen the burden and reduce the number of mandates placed upon our local governments that usually result in our property taxes increasing.
Finally, I was a co-patron of the Governor’s Transportation Plan, which passed the Senate with overwhelming bi-partisan support. This plan is an investment in not only re-building our rural infrastructure, but also is a solid investment in our future and our children’s economic future. We desperately need to fix our roads in order to bring new industries and job growth to Virginia. The Governor is seeking to invest $4 billion into transportation over the next 3 years. The plan will get long delayed projects underway and help create new jobs at the most ideal time to build roads in modern Virginia history. For every $100 million spent on highway construction, it is estimated that 3,000 jobs will be created or supported. This plan could mean 120,000 new jobs, in one of the toughest job markets in generations. Interest rates are at historic lows and bids for construction projects have never been better, coming in at 20-30% below estimates. The plan will save the state significant money in years ahead by securing good prices today; I believe that this is smart project management. This plan wisely accelerates the sale of already approved bonds to take advantage of historically good deals for road building and puts our citizens back to work.
This week I met with many groups to include people representing Realtors, Hospitals,
4-H Clubs, Habitat for Humanity, and School Divisions, who made their way to Virginia’s Capitol. Danville visitors included Donna Redd, Neal & Madeline Morris, Michael Scearce, Nikki Harris, Diron Clements, Sallie Abreu, Nick Fowler, Dee Dunaway, Takessa Walker, Linda Baldwin, Carolyn Albright, Gaynelle Crowder, Candy Lewis, Judy King, Roger Freeze, Ramsey & Becky Yeatts, Sarah Welch, Julie Hughes, Melissa Breaux, Joe Hines, Steve Daniels, Dr. Sue Davis, Jimmy & Becky Bolton, Rev. George Wilson, Dr. Edward Polhamus, Dr. Philip Campbell, Millie Dunston, Dr. Malcom Huckabee, Renee Hughes, Joe Campbell, Rebecca Dey, Chandler Tyrrell, David Jones, Robert Q. Jones; Pittsylvania County folks who stopped by were Phillip & Deborah Lovelace, William Wilson, James Wilson, Ruby Wilson, Elza & Nell Cook, and Stacey Wright; Franklin County visitors included Dr. Charles Lackey, William D. Jacobsen, Adam Lynch, Thomas Turner, Mary Dykstra, Paul Dotson, Billy & Betty Kingery, Julie Kingery, Bitsie Davis, Martha Boush, Sonya Dickenson, and Roger Elmore; Monnie Steele of Campbell County also stopped by.