Delegate Mark Cole
P. O. Box 41965
Fredericksburg, VA 22404
(540) 786-3402
Delegate@MarkLCole.com

Paid for and authorized by Mark Cole for Delegate

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!

August 31, 2015
SPECIAL SESSION

I had hoped to update you on the progress of the Special Session of the Virginia General Assembly, but unfortunately, there has been no progress.

The General Assembly reconvened on August 17 to address a ruling of the Federal Court that the boundaries of Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District were in violation of federal law. The ruling is still being appealed, but we began the redistricting process as called for by Governor McAuliffe.

Once session started, I chaired a public hearing of the House Privileges & Elections Committee to solicit citizen input on potential changes to the district. While the hearing was in progress, Senate Democrats made an unlawful motion to adjourn session. The vote on the motion was tied, so Lt. Governor Northam cast the tie breaking vote with his fellow Democrats to adjourn session without even trying to accomplish the purpose of the session.

This motion by Senate Democrats is unconstitutional because the Virginia Constitution states: “Neither house shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn to another place, nor for more than three days.” The attempt by Democrat Senators to end session without the concurrence of the House is a plain violation of Virginia’s Constitution. The Senate simply cannot adjourn without the concurrence of the House so the General Assembly technically remains in session. However, Senate Democrats have left the Capitol so the Senate does not have the required quorum to conduct business.

I try not to be overly political in my updates, but this was a pure political move by the Democrats to derail session in the hopes that Federal Judges, most of whom are Democrat appointees, will redraw Congressional districts to benefit them. It is also a sign that Washington style politics have come to Richmond.

JUDICIAL APPOINTMENT
The Constitution of Virginia gives the General Assembly the authority to appoint Judges. The Governor may make interim judicial appointments when the General Assembly is not in session, but those appointees only serve until the General Assembly fills the position.

In the past when vacancies occurred while the General Assembly was not in session, the Governor would contact General Assembly leadership to vet potential appointees to come up with a candidate that all parties could agree on. This was especially true for high judicial positions like the court of appeals and the Virginia Supreme Court.

Recently, one of the Judges on Virginia’s Supreme Court retired. Governor McAuliffe appointed a judge to fill the vacancy without consulting leadership in the House or Senate. The House and Senate leadership decided to appoint someone else.

The Governor angrily reacted to this by accusing the General Assembly of “removing” a sitting Supreme Court Judge and managed to get Senate Democrats to block the appointment. Due to this deadlock, the Virginia Supreme Court may have a vacancy until session is reconvened and an appointment made.

STATE BUDGET SURPLUS
We received some good news regarding Virginia’s state budget. Last year there was a projected budget shortfall of more than $ 2 Billion, which required us to reduce the budget and make withdrawals from the “rainy day” or reserve fund to balance the budget. Tax revenues exceeded projections and Virginia ended the fiscal year on June 30th with a budget surplus of $ 538 million.

Since withdrawals were made from the rainy day fund, Virginia’s Constitution requires that most of the surplus be used to replenish the fund. This is to keep politicians from being able to “lowball” revenue estimates just to spend money in the rainy day fund. When tax revenues come in greater than expected after funds have been withdrawn, the rainy day fund must be paid back first.

In general having a reserve fund makes good fiscal sense for state and local governments. This not only provides funds to deal with emergencies, but allows governments to pay bills without having to resort to short term loans in between tax collections.

July 29, 2015
SALES TAX HOLIDAY

Legislation enacted by the 2015 General Assembly combines Virginia’s three existing sales tax holidays into one three-day holiday beginning the first Friday in August and ending the following Sunday. This year’s sales tax holiday is August 7-9.

That means that during the sales tax holiday period, consumers can purchase qualifying school supplies, clothing, footwear, hurricane and emergency preparedness items, and Energy Star and WaterSense products without paying sales tax. This includes qualifying items purchased online, by mail or over the phone.

In addition to the specific items exempted, retailers may also choose to offer other items “tax-free” by paying the sales tax themselves during the holiday.

Specific information on what items qualify for the exemption can be found at the following web site:
Virginia Sales Tax Holiday

SPECIAL SESSION
The Governor has called a special General Assembly session for August 17th to deal with a legal challenge to Virginia’s Congressional districts.

Every decade, after the national census, Congressional and legislative districts must be redrawn to make sure that all districts are approximately equal in population. The last redistricting was done in 2011. It was a bi-partisan redistricting effort since in 2011 Republicans controlled the House and Democrats controlled the state Senate, and the redistricting plan passed both bodies. It was done in compliance with the US Voting Rights Act and was approved by the US Justice Department, which was headed by Attorney General Eric Holder at the time.

All of this did not stop Democrats from challenging the Congressional Districts in court last year.

The basis of the challenge is the majority minority district. In the past the courts have encouraged the creation of districts that have a majority of voters that are a racial minority to ensure that they have elected representation in Congress. This challenge claims that too many minorities were put into a single district and the district should be redrawn.

States are really in a no win situation here. If majority minority districts are not created, they are accused of diluting minority votes, and if majority minority districts are drawn, they are accused of race packing.

A similar challenge has been filed to the House of Delegates districts. Because of this, House leadership has requested a continuation of the Congressional challenge so that we could have a single session later in the year to deal with both challenges at the same time, to save the expense of having two different sessions. We are awaiting a response from the court to see if we will have to convene on August 17th or not.

VOTER ID
In addition to the challenges to legislative districts, the Democrat Party of Virginia has filed a suit to overturn the Commonwealth's voter ID law. It's a law backed by more than 70% of Americans, supported by every demographic group, and it even enjoys 60% approval among Democrats. An ID is required to do just about anything else and the lack of an ID requirement for voting had undermined voter confidence in the integrity of our electoral process.

Virginia’s Voter ID Law was drafted so it would comply with the legal requirements established by the US Supreme Court and it even had a one year delayed enactment to give everyone an opportunity to obtain an ID. Voter Registrars will provide a photo ID to any registered voter who may not have an ID. The law also allows someone who goes to vote without an ID to cast a provisional ballot and then present ID to the electoral board later to make sure that no one is denied their right to vote.

The law was implemented without incident last November.

This lawsuit is one of several being filed nationally. These politically motivated suits, targeting primarily swing states, are intended to weaken vote integrity. These challenges are funded by donations from billionaire George Soros and I believe are intended to facilitate voter fraud leading up to the 2016 Presidential election.

TRUTH IN SENTENCING
Last month, Governor Terry McAuliffe issued Executive Order #44 creating the Parole Review and Update Commission to “evaluate policy, assess progress and public safety outcomes, and determine whether the intended goals of abolishing parole for felony offenders have been achieved.” This is the first step by the Governor to reinstate parole in the Commonwealth.

In 1994, Virginia abolished parole and adopted “truth in sentencing” to make sure that violent criminals actually serve their full sentences and to effectively deal with repeat offenders. Before this policy was adopted, many criminals were only serving one-third or one-fourth of their actual sentences before being released. Under truth in sentencing, convicted felons are required to serve at least 85% of their sentence before being eligible for release.

This policy has served the Commonwealth well. In fact, Virginia has become a national model for other states. Our crime rate is down and we have one of the lowest rates of recidivism in the nation.

Virginia’s overall crime rate is down 50% since 1994. It is lower now than at any point since the 1960s. There has not been a significant increase in Virginia’s incarceration rate; this is because many crimes were being committed by repeat offenders. We have the second lowest rate of recidivism in the nation.

Considering the success of Truth in Sentencing, I think it would be a mistake to reinstate parole. If sentences for certain crimes are deemed to be excessive and need to be reduced, it should be done through the legislative process with public input and not by a parole board made up of political appointees.

June 30, 2015
NEW LAWS
The Virginia Constitution specifies that newly enacted laws take effect on July 1st of each year. A total of 777 bills were passed by the General Assembly during the 2015 session and signed into law by Governor McAuliffe. Summaries of bills that became law can be found at the following web site:

New Laws 2015

EDUCATION FUNDING
Funding for education is the largest part of the state budget. Below is the recent state education funding for the localities in the 88th District. This only shows state funding; local governments provide significant funds in addition to state funds. Fiscal Year 2016 are budgeted numbers, previous years are actual expenditures.

Fauquier
2013 Total $45,141,090 Per Pupil $4,127
2014 Total $45,684,071 Per Pupil $4,163
2015 Total $45,178,632 Per Pupil $4,115
2016 Total $45,704,609 Per Pupil $4,174

Fredericksburg
2013 Total $10,540,665 Per Pupil $3,358
2014 Total $11,056,420 Per Pupil $3,440
2015 Total $12,970,574 Per Pupil $4,004
2016 Total $13,429,436 Per Pupil $4,070

Spotsylvania
2013 Total $120,788,697 Per Pupil $5,192
2014 Total $120,895,826 Per Pupil $5,191
2015 Total $124,930,808 Per Pupil $5,358
2016 Total $127,299,328 Per Pupil $5,457

Stafford
2013 Total $132,554,916 Per Pupil $4,927
2014 Total $134,653,135 Per Pupil $5,006
2015 Total $138,540,238 Per Pupil $5,093
2016 Total $141,202,460 Per Pupil $5,165

The share of state funding per locality is based on the Local Composite Index (LCI) which is periodically recalculated. It attempts to measure local ability to fund schools. Poorer localities have a lower LCI, which means they receive a greater share of state funding, while wealthier localities have a higher LCI and receive a smaller share of state funding.

May 4, 2015
FINAL VETOES

During the Reconvened Session a few weeks ago the General Assembly rejected several of the Governor’s amendments to legislation it previously passed. Governor McAuliffe vetoed several of these bills last week.

Two bills I sponsored were vetoed by the Governor last week. House Bill 1315, which would allow registrars to review information about those who are ineligible for jury duty due to reasons which would also make them ineligible to vote and remove them from the voter rolls, was vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. I was not surprised by his veto. It seems that this administration has little interest in removing ineligible voters from the voter list. We had received some data from a few localities that were performing these checks on their own and thousands of ineligible voters had been removed from the voter list in recent years.

I was surprised at the other veto, since the bill was not controversial. HB 1296 and its Senate companion Senate Bill 1066, which would simply allow special and general elections to be held concurrently. This legislation was in response to last year’s situation in the 7th Congressional District where the office was vacant and Candidate Dave Brat was listed on the ballot twice: once for a special election to fill the vacant office and again for the general election to serve a two year term. This caused some confusion among voters and also required additional expenditure of taxpayer funds. HB 1296 / SB 1066 would have just had the election listed once on the ballot.

Another bill dealing with the voter list was also vetoed: SB 1350 would have allowed a voter to cancel his registration by notifying the Department of Elections through electronic means, it also would have allowed the State Board of Elections to use commercially available sources to identify voters whose addresses may have changed, and required the general registrars to cancel the registration of any voter for whom the a notice is received that the voter has moved from the Commonwealth. This bill was not controversial and had passed the General Assembly unanimously.

Governor McAuliffe vetoed legislation to protect your privacy, HB 1673 and SB 965 to limit the use of electronic surveillance by law enforcement.

HB 1879 and SB 1161 were vetoed. These bills would have extended the coalfield employment tax credit.

Governor McAuliffe vetoed HB 2322, which would have allowed Virginia insurance companies to offer affordable healthcare plans if the Supreme Court rules against the Affordable Care Act in King v. Burwell. This legislation was a proactive step to make sure Virginians are able to purchase alternative coverage if the Court rules against Obamacare. The veto means that Virginia will be left with few options to deal with the ramifications of this huge case.

April 21, 2015
RECONVENED SESSION

The General Assembly reconvened last week to consider amendments and vetoes by the Governor.

ASSET FORFEITURE
Governor McAuliffe did a flip-flop-flip on asset forfeiture reform. During regular session earlier this year, I sponsored House Bill 1287, which would require a criminal conviction before assets could be forfeited to the government. It passed the House, but was defeated by the Senate Finance committee, partially because the Governor opposed it.

After regular session, the Governor apparently had a change of heart and amended Senate Bill 721 to include the language from HB 1287. When I arrived in Richmond last week for reconvened session, I received word that Governor McAuliffe had another change of heart and was working to defeat his own amendment to SB 721!

Unfortunately, the Senate complied with his wishes and defeated SB 721, so we are back to square one on asset forfeiture reform. I plan to keep pushing this issue in the future.

VETOES
All of the Governor’s 17 vetoes were sustained by the General Assembly. Two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate are required to override a veto. The House did vote to override several vetoes, however the Senate failed to override, so all vetoes were sustained. Some of the notable bills vetoed include:

HB 1626 known as the “Tebow Bill,” would give local school boards the authority to allow home-schooled students to play sports at their local public school.

HB 1752 and SB 724, would prohibit the Board of Education from replacing the educational objectives of Virginia’s Standards of Learning with the federal Common Core standards without prior approval from the General Assembly.

SB 1059 would require the Attorney General to make a public determination regarding the need for special counsel in cases where the Attorney General may have a conflict of interest. This legislation was submitted in response to Attorney General Herring’s refusal to defend Virginia law in court or to appoint special counsel to do so.

HB 1318 requires absentee voters to submit a copy of their photo ID with the ballot. It would close a loophole in our current voter ID law.

HB 1608 and HB 2395 would have prevented the setting of wage floors or requiring contractors to use “prevailing” wages in government contracts.

AMENDMENTS
The General Assembly accepted many of Governor McAuliffe’s proposed amendments to about 50 bills. Some of the amendments are just technical changes or corrections to legislation, while others were more substantial.

We rejected Governor McAuliffe’s amendments to my HB 1315, which would allow voter registrars to review information about those who are ineligible for jury duty due to reasons which would also make them ineligible to vote and remove them from the voter rolls. The Governor’s amendments gutted the bill and would require the General Assembly to pass it again next year before it would be effective. Since the House rejected his amendments, the bill will go back to the Governor and he may allow it to become law or veto it.

The House also rejected most of Governor McAuliffe’s amendments to weaken privacy protection legislation. HB 1673 and SB 965 limited the use of electronic surveillance by law enforcement. HB 2125 and SB 1301 would require law enforcement and regulatory agencies to get a warrant from a court before they could use a drone, except in certain emergency circumstances. These bills will go back to the Governor for his action.

April 3, 2015
RECONVENED SESSION

The regular General Assembly session adjourned a little over a month ago. Since then, all legislation that passed during session was sent to Governor McAuliffe for his review and action. He can sign, veto, or propose amendments to legislation. The General Assembly will reconvene on April 15th to consider amendments and vetoes the Governor has made.

STATE BUDGET
For the first time since 1998, the Governor signed the state budget without making any amendments. This means that the budget as passed by the General Assembly will take effect on 1 July.

The budget sets aside $129.5 million for rainy-day fund deposit in 2017, which will bring the balance back to $429 million. It eliminates $33 million in debt and $11.7 million in fee increases proposed by Governor McAuliffe.

The budget makes deposits into the Virginia Retirement System and the Teacher Retirement Fund, reducing unfunded liabilities which should save future taxpayer dollars. It includes funds for a 1.5% teacher pay raise and funding for teacher professional development. In an effort to reduce the pressure to increase college tuition, an additional $42 million for higher education is included.

The budget includes $132.9 million is included to strengthen Virginia’s healthcare safety net. This will provide targeted services to about 22,000 seriously mentally-ill patients, doubles operational funding for free clinics to over $6 million per year, funds behavioral health community services, and increases funding for children’s psychiatry and crisis services.

ASSET FORFEITURE
Asset forfeiture reform has been brought back from the dead! The language from my House Bill 1287, which would require a conviction before assets can be forfeited to the government, has been added to Senate Bill 721 via an amendment by the Governor.

Senator Marsden, the sponsor of SB 721, and I had discussed amending his bill to include the language during session, but we could not get it done. Senator Marsden then went to the Governor and got him to reverse course (the administration opposed HB 1287 during session) and add the language. I want to thank Senator Marsden and the Governor for their efforts to protect property rights!

Now the Senate and House must approve the amendment before it will become law. I am confident that we can get House approval, I am not so sure about the Senate, since they have already defeated HB 1287. I encourage everyone to contact their state Senator asking them to support the amendment to SB 721.

VETOES
Governor McAuliffe vetoed 17 bills, an unusually high number. Bills vetoed include:

SB 948 would ban certain out-of-state police agencies from obtaining information on Virginia’s concealed handgun permit holders. This bill was submitted because of reports that some states were targeting Virginia concealed permit holders for roadside stops and searches.

HB 1626 known as the “Tebow Bill,” would give local school boards the authority to allow home-schooled students to play sports at their local public school.

HB 1752 and SB 724, would prohibit the Board of Education from replacing the educational objectives of Virginia’s Standards of Learning with the federal Common Core standards without prior approval from the General Assembly.

SB 1059 would require the Attorney General to make a public determination regarding the need for special counsel in cases where the Attorney General may have a conflict of interest. This legislation was submitted in response to Attorney General Herring’s refusal to defend Virginia law in court or to appoint special counsel to do so.

HB 1318 requires absentee voters to submit a copy of their photo ID with the ballot. It would close a loophole in our current voter ID law.

HB 1608 and HB 2395 would have prevented the setting of wage floors or requiring contractors to use “prevailing” wages in government contracts.

AMENDMENTS
Governor McAuliffe also made amendments to about 50 bills. Some of the amendments are just technical changes or corrections to legislation, while others are more substantial. If the General Assembly votes to accept the amendments, then the bill becomes law. If the amendments are rejected, the bill goes back to the Governor and he can sign or veto the bill.

My HB 1315, which would allow registrars to review information about those who are ineligible for jury duty due to reasons which would also make them ineligible to vote and remove them from the voter rolls, was basically gutted by the Governor’s amendments. I plan to ask the House to reject his amendments.

The Governor’s amendments also significantly weaken legislation to would protect privacy. HB 1673 and SB 965 limit the use of electronic surveillance by law enforcement. HB 2125 and SB 1301 would require law enforcement and regulatory agencies to get a warrant from a court before they could use a drone, except in certain emergency circumstances.

March 2, 2015
SESSION ADJOURNS

What a difference a year makes. Last year, the General Assembly was deadlocked; with Democrats in control of the Senate and a Republican majority in the House, there was a lengthy budget standoff that ultimately dragged on until mid-June.

This year, with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate the General Assembly adjourned one day ahead of schedule late last Friday. About 800 bills, out of nearly 3000 that were introduced, were passed and sent to the Governor for his review and action. The Governor has the option to sign, veto, or make amendments to the bill. We will reconvene on April 15th to consider amendments and vetoes the Governor may make.

STATE BUDGET
The General Assembly passed amendments to the state budget that will now go to Governor McAuliffe for his consideration. Tax revenues increased in the last few months, hopefully signaling an improvement in the economy. While the budget was not reduced as much as was initially planned, it spends $1 Billion less in the general fund than last year’s originally-adopted budget. As required by the state Constitution, the budget is balanced and also puts money back into the state’s reserve or “rainy-day” fund.

The budget sets aside $129.5 million for rainy-day fund deposit in 2017, which will bring the balance back to $429 million. It eliminates $33 million in debt and $11.7 million in fee increases proposed by Governor McAuliffe.

The budget makes deposits into the Virginia Retirement System and the Teacher Retirement Fund, reducing unfunded liabilities which should save future taxpayer dollars. It includes funds for a 1.5% teacher pay raise and funding for teacher professional development. In an effort to reduce the pressure to increase college tuition, an additional $42 million for higher education is included.

The budget removes Governor McAuliffe’s language to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Instead of expanding a failed system, $132.9 million is included to strengthen Virginia’s healthcare safety net. This will provide targeted services to about 22,000 seriously mentally-ill patients, doubles operational funding for free clinics to over $6 million per year, funds behavioral health community services, and increases funding for children’s psychiatry and crisis services.

While this is covered by separate legislation, it does deal with the budget; I co-sponsored legislation to build Veterans’ Care Centers in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads (House Bill 1276 and House Bill 1275). The Virginia Department of Veterans’ Services already operates two Veterans’ Care Centers in Richmond and Roanoke. These centers provide nursing home type care for disabled veterans. The demand for these services has been increasing, not only for older World War II and Korean War veterans, but also for other veterans that have serious disabilities. We have all heard the horror stories about the problems with the Federal Veterans’ Administration; hopefully these centers will relieve some of the strain and help disabled vets get the services they have earned.

TRANSPORTATION
The General Assembly passed legislation this year to increase oversight of public private partnership transportation agreements, such as the recently completed I95 Express Lanes. These agreements allow us to leverage the private sector to make major upgrades to our transportation system, but we still have a responsibility to protect taxpayers’ investments in these projects.

The General Assembly passed HB 1887, which I co-sponsored, to reform how we distribute transportation funding. Under this bill, more transportation money will be sent to localities rather than being spent by bureaucrats in Richmond.

Legislation was also passed to require transit projects be evaluated under the same metrics as all other transportation spending. This is needed to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on the projects that will have the greatest impact in reducing traffic congestion.

Unfortunately, a proposed amendment to the state Constitution (Senate Joint Resolution 217) to protect transportation funds from being raided and spent on other programs was defeated in the Senate. In the past, this amendment has passed the House numerous times, only to be defeated by the Senate.

OTHER LEGISLATION
The General Assembly tackled several other pressing issues, including ethics reform and campus sexual assault. Below is a brief summary of some legislation passed this session:

As chairman of the House committee that deals with election law, I sponsored legislation to update and clarify the duties of Registrars and local Electoral Boards (HB 1433). I also sponsored HB 1315 which would clean up the voter rolls by allowing Registrars to have access to lists of persons who were not eligible for jury duty because they were not citizens or local residents.

In an effort to make Virginia more attractive to businesses and protect Virginia’s status as a right-to-work state, an amendment to Virginia’s Constitution (House Joint Resolution 490) was passed to put right-to-work protections in the state Constitution. Amending the state Constitution is a three step process: the proposed amendment must pass the General Assembly twice and then be approved by the voters in a referendum.

The House and Senate passed legislation (HB 1662 and SB 1025) to allow new ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in Virginia, a signal that Virginia welcomes innovative new companies like these. We also passed legislation (HB 1360 and SB 763) to make it easier for start-up companies to participate in crowdfunding, which helps entrepreneurs raise private funds they may need to start and grow.

Legislation to reform Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control agency was passed. HB 1776 reforms ABC to make it operate more like a business and less like a government agency. While this falls short of full scale privatization, it is a step in the right direction.

We continue to reform and improve our public schools. Our goal is to give every child a path to succeed in the classroom. We passed legislation to expedite re-take tests, give more flexibility to schools, and require them to submit less paperwork to Richmond (HB1490, HB 1615, and SB 874). HB 1676 permits local school boards to enter into agreements for dual enrollment with colleges and educational institutions that offer a career and technical education curriculum.

The General Assembly passed legislation to establish a more affordable, online degree program for Virginia students and require colleges to be more transparent about costs and graduation outcomes.

We passed legislation (HB 1930 and SB 712) to aid victims of sexual assault and protect students on college campuses. The legislation requires colleges to work with third-party organizations to provide support to victims of sexual assault. It also requires colleges to have “review teams” to assess allegations of sexual assault. This review team will either send the allegation to law enforcement or the Commonwealth’s Attorney for review.

Legislation passed to create a standalone statute on sex trafficking (HB 1964 and SB 1188), making it easier for law enforcement to prosecute perpetrators of this heinous crime.

SB 845 will provide immunity for volunteer First Responders en route to an emergency. I believe we need to do what we can to protect our First Responders who make such a sacrifice to help others and to encourage participation by volunteers.

The House and Senate passed legislation (HB 2070 and SB 1424) to strengthen ethics laws, enacting a $100 gift cap, requiring official travel to be pre-approved by an independent ethics council and requiring all disclosure reports to be filed online. The budget also funds for an ethics advisory council to advise and oversee officials on ethics rules. Last year, Governor McAuliffe signed legislation establishing the ethics council, but vetoed funding for it, so it could not actually be implemented. He then appointed his own ethics advisory commission which seemed to focus more on a political agenda, like redistricting, rather than ethics.

In light of the recent exposure of ease dropping on electronic communications by the Federal government, privacy has become a major concern. I co-sponsored some legislation to protect privacy rights. HB 1408 requires a warrant be issued before a law enforcement officer can use a device to intercept electronic communications or collect real-time location data. HB 1308 increases the penalties for the unauthorized interception or disclosure of electronic communications.

February 18, 2015
ASSET FORFEITURE

My House Bill (HB) 1287, which would require a criminal conviction before property used in connection with a crime could be forfeited and taken by the government, was defeated by the Senate Finance Committee this week. They want to study the issue further before making a decision to limit forfeitures.

While most Commonwealth’s Attorneys and Sheriffs use the program responsibly, the issue is clear to me, I think it is fundamentally un-American for the government to be able to take your property when you have not been convicted of a crime. I will continue to push this issue in the future.

REDISTRICTING
Every 10 years, after the US census is completed, political district lines must be redrawn to make sure that districts are roughly equal in population. The General Assembly has the responsibility of approving the lines for congressional and legislative districts, while local governments are responsible for approving local districts and precinct boundaries.

Even though the next redistricting will not be done until 2021, numerous proposals have been put forward to change how districts are drawn. Usually, the proposals involve creating an independent or bi-partisan commission of some sort to draw the lines in order to try to take the politics out of the process. But those proposals require politicians to make the appointments to the independent commission, so I am not sure that they really take the politics out of the process. All they do is elevate the politics to a deferent, less transparent level; who gets appointed to the commission, who makes the appointments, etc… But on the surface, they sound good.

Of course the goal is to eliminate or reduce gerrymandering, drawing districts to favor one political party or candidate over another. Looking back on recent history, I am not sure how effective gerrymandering has actually been. Republicans took control of the General Assembly during the 1990s in districts that were drawn by Democrats. During the last decade, Democrats took control of the state Senate and gained seats in the House in districts that were drawn by Republicans. In 2011, the last redistricting was in fact, bi-partisan as Democrats controlled the Senate while Republicans controlled the House.

No matter who draws the lines, they will find it difficult to draw competitive districts in most of the state. Rural and suburban areas tend to be more conservative, so they usually favor Republicans, while urban and metropolitan areas are more liberal and tend to elect Democrats. With rare exceptions, this is true not only in Virginia, but throughout the country. Voters in each area tend to favor conservatives or liberals based on their own beliefs and views regardless of who draws district lines.

The next redistricting is six years away, so there is plenty of time to consider various ideas and proposals. I will certainly favor any improvements to the process that improve fairness and transparency.

EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Those of you my age or older will remember the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from the 1970s, for the rest this may be a history lesson.

The ERA was a proposed amendment to the US Constitution to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. What makes this amendment unique is that Congress placed a deadline on ratification of the amendment when it was submitted to the states. I believe this was intended to force the states to ratify the amendment quickly. To my knowledge, this is the only amendment on which Congress placed a deadline for ratification.

The original deadline was 1979 which was extended by Congress to 1982. When the second deadline passed, Congress declined to extend it again.

The amendment appeared to be heading towards ratification, when concerns were raised about potential unintended consequences of the language. Those concerns included infringement on religious rights and impact on public facilities. These concerns not only caused more states to refuse to ratify the amendment, but lead five states to rescind their ratification.

In 1994, the Attorney General issued a formal opinion stating that because the Equal Rights Amendment was not ratified within the original or the extended time limit established by Congress for its ratification, it is no longer before the states for ratification.

In recent years some have raised a novel legal theory, called the "Three-State Theory", suggesting that three more states could validly ratify the now null and void ERA and that then Congress could by fiat revive the proposed amendment. Of course this theory ignores the fact that five states rescinded their ratification.

After consulting with council, I could not find any of this theory sustainable as a matter of law. When it comes to amending the greatest source of secular law in the history of the world, the US Constitution, we should demand legal precision and not rest on questionable legal theories or opinions.

This is not just my opinion alone. The House has declined to ratify the ERA on the grounds that it has expired numerous times in the past, including in 2014 when the House Elections subcommittee tabled Senate Joint Resolution 78 and 2013 when similar measures were defeated by the House Rules Committee.

I certainly support equal rights for all, but the ratification period for the current ERA expired decades ago and the proposed amendment can no longer be lawfully considered by the Virginia General Assembly.

In order for the General Assembly to be able to consider the ERA, the US Congress needs to resubmit the amendment to the states for ratification.

February 9, 2015
CROSSOVER

Crossover is this week and things have been especially busy in Richmond. Crossover is the point when each legislative body must complete work on its own legislation and send it over to the other body for consideration. So the House of Delegates must finish its work on all House Bills and the Senate must do the same for their legislation.

STATE BUDGET
Delegates Committee on Appropriations presented its proposed amendments to the 2014-2016 biennial state budget Sunday. The House budget proposal sets aside $99.5 million for a future rainy-day fund deposit, eliminates $10.2 million in fees and $42.5 million in debt proposed by Governor McAuliffe, and provides funding for pay raises for state police, state employees, teachers and state-supported local employees. It pays cash for all capital projects and includes no new debt.

The House budget factors for a modest revenue adjustment of $408 million over the remainder of the biennium, as a result of a steadying economy and stronger withholding.

The House proposal rejects Governor McAuliffe’s effort to expand Medicaid and instead makes a $125 million investment to strengthen the healthcare safety net by providing care for seriously mentally-ill patients, doubling operational funding for Virginia’s free clinics and improving access to community behavioral health services by creating two new PACT (Programs of Assertive Community Treatment) teams and five new crisis intervention drop-off centers. PACT teams provide coordinated, comprehensive outpatient treatment to patients with serious mental illnesses. Drop-off centers provide crisis-intervention services and are a holding place for individuals under emergency custody orders.

The House budget includes a $153.5 million compensation package that provides state funding for a 1.5% state employee and state police pay raise and a 2% pay raise for state-supported local employees. The House budget also provides a compression adjustment for senior employees and $4 million in funding to rollback cuts to state police overtime.

Funding is also included for the state’s share of a 1.5% teacher pay raise and a $190 million deposit into the teacher retirement fund. The $190 million deposit included in the House budget is $40 million more than proposed by Governor McAuliffe.

The House will vote on the proposal this week. It will then go to the Senate for their consideration.

ASSET FORFEITURE
My House Bill (HB) 1287, which would require a criminal conviction before property used in connection with a crime could be forfeited and taken by the government, passed the House and will now go to the Senate. Earlier this session, the Senate defeated a similar measure in order to study the issue. I encourage you to contact your State Senator and ask them to support HB 1287.

Asset forfeiture was implemented years ago with the intent of taking the profit out of crime. It allows law enforcement to seize property that was used in the commission of a crime or that may have been purchased with money from a crime, and then sell that property and use the money to supplement its budget.

While most Commonwealth’s Attorneys and Sheriffs use the program responsibly, there have been cases of abuse and requiring a conviction makes it less likely that an innocent person could lose their property. I just think it is fundamentally un-American for the government to be able to take your property when you have not been convicted of a crime.

TRANSPORTATION FUNDING
House passed legislation to reform transportation funding. HB 1887 changes how Virginia allocates its transportation dollars in order to increase transparency and send more money to localities.

The bill simplifies the old, complicated funding formula into three simple pots of funding: Now, 40 percent of funding will be spent to fix bridges and pavements, 30 percent will be sent to local districts for local projects, and 30 percent will be spent on key statewide needs.

This new formula will send more funding to localities than the old system. Basically, it takes money currently controlled by political appointees in Richmond, and distributes it to the local transportation districts, where it is more likely to be spent on projects that will relieve traffic congestion.

There is nothing in this bill that raises taxes or creates new tolls.

By simplifying the system and reducing the number of funding pots from 10 to 3, we will increase transparency and make it easier to follow the money.

January 21, 2015
LEGISLATION

Session is moving along very quickly. I wanted to take this opportunity to report to you some of the legislation I am sponsoring this session.

House Bill (HB) 1287 has gotten a fair amount of attention. It would require a criminal conviction before property used in connection with commission of a crime could be forfeited. Currently, no conviction is required before property can be seized and forfeited.

Asset forfeiture was implemented years ago with the intent of taking the profit out of crime. It allows law enforcement to seize property that was used in the commission of a crime or that may have been purchased with money from a crime, and then sell that property and use the money to supplement its budget.

While most Commonwealth’s Attorneys and Sheriffs use the program responsibly, there have been cases of abuse and not requiring a conviction makes it more likely that an innocent person could lose their property.

I call House Joint Resolution (HJ) 500 the “pass a budget or you’re fired act.” Last year we had the longest budget standoff in Virginia history and came very close to having the first state government shutdown in Virginia history. This proposed amendment to the state Constitution is to deal with this situation in the future.

If adopted, this Constitutional amendment would require that 30 days before the current budget would expire, if no new budget has been adopted, the House and Senate will form a single body to vote on a budget. If they still cannot agree to a budget by the time the current budget expires, then the entire General Assembly will be fired, and special elections called. Hopefully this would give enough motivation to the General Assembly to avoid a protracted budget standoff and government shutdown.

HB 1579 would do away with the requirement that cars and other vehicles be re-registered every year. There is no good reason for you to have to re-register your car every year (or every two years). Once a car has been registered, it is in the DMV database and should only need to be re-registered if it is sold or moved to another address.

I expect this bill will face an uphill battle in the General Assembly. While I think most legislators would agree with the premise of the bill, the problem will be the revenue generated by the registration “fee”. This bill would have a big revenue impact on the state budget. The registration fee is really a statewide car tax disguised as a fee. If not passed this year, this bill should at least start the discussion about eventually eliminating the annual registration requirement.

HJ 505 would establish a study group to reform Virginia's state and local taxes. Our state and local tax code is complex and archaic. It is based on a structure that was set-up more than a hundred years ago and needs to be simplified and updated. Much of our income tax code is based on the Federal IRS code, which everyone complains about as being too complex and unfair. I think we would be much better off to move towards a flat or fair tax.

HB 1309 is another bill that has received a fair amount of press coverage. It would allow local school boards to arm of school security officers with non-lethal weapons such as tasers and pepper spray. It would not require them to be armed, but would give the local school board the option to arm them. In light of recent school shootings, I feel we need to beef-up our security at schools.

Some schools have School Resource Officers (SRO), which are fully armed law enforcement officers. Other schools do not have an SRO but do have School Security Officers (SSO), which are civilians hired by the school to assist with school security: making sure doors are locked, monitoring halls, and checking parking lots. However, SSO’s are unarmed so they would be of limited help in the event of an armed intruder in a school. In the past I have sponsored legislation to put an SRO in every school, however, it did not pass which is why I am sponsoring this legislation.

HB 1328 is an attempt to determine the fiscal impact illegal immigration on our schools. This bill would require local school districts to report the number of students that are not lawfully present in the US and report that number to the Department of Education. The Department of Education will then request payment for the costs for educating these students from the Federal government.

The Federal government requires state and local governments to provide an education to all children, regardless of their immigration status, so I think it is fair to ask them to pay for students who are in the country illegally. Most of them are here because Washington has failed to do its job to secure the border and enforce immigration law.

I am also co-sponsoring several bills, including:

HB 1302 allows expedited retakes for Standards of Learning tests when a student fails the test.
HB 1308 strengthens privacy protections for electronic communications.
HB 1318 closes a loophole in our current voter ID law, by requiring a photo ID for absentee ballot applications.
HB 1362 would require a run-off election in the event that no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote for a statewide office.
HB 1750 expands access to investigational drugs for terminally ill patents.
HB 2111 allows a person who is required to carry certain hunting, trapping, or fishing licenses or a hunter education certificate to meet the requirement by carrying an electronic copy of the relevant license or certificate.

January 15, 2015
2015 GENERAL ASSEMBLY CONVENES

The 2015 General Assembly session opened on Wednesday, January 14 and got off to a brisk start. Delegates old and new are working hard to get a lot done in a short, 46 day session. I look forward to a productive session working for you in Richmond this year.

House leadership opened up the first day of session by welcoming five new members and going over some legislative priorities for this session, including reforming K-12 education, making higher education more affordable, holding the assembly to the highest ethical standards, and adopting a responsible budget that funds the core functions of government without raising taxes.

STATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
Governor Terry McAuliffe delivered the annual State of the Commonwealth address to the Joint Assembly of the House of Delegates and Senate. Unfortunately, he chose to focus much of his speech promoting issues like the expansion of Medicaid included in Obamacare. I have heard from so many of my constituents that this is the wrong approach. The Governor went on to propose new spending without suggest a way to pay for them.

In contrast, Delegate Margaret Ransone and Senator Jeff McWaters delivered the Republican response, laying out a legislative agenda that would prepare Virginia for long-term growth. It includes measures to:

• Improve our public schools by supporting our teachers and better measuring student success;
• Make Virginia’s colleges and universities more affordable by placing limits on unreasonable student fees;
• Ensure Virginia’s college campuses are safe places for our students;
• Jumpstart the creation of new long-term care centers for Virginia’s large – and growing – population of veterans; and
• Further strengthen the new ethics and transparency reforms we approved last session.