Delegate Mark Cole with former Speaker Bill Howell
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!
The General Assembly session began on January 9th and is scheduled to run through February 23rd. This is the short session and is scheduled to run for 45 days. 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the Virginia General Assembly. They first convened in 1619 as the House of Burgesses and have been meeting regularly ever since. If you would like to come down for a visit during session, please let me know and I would be happy to schedule a tour.
February 9, 2019
Last week was "hump day" at the General Assembly, also known as Crossover. That is the day that the House must complete all work on House legislation and send those that passed to the state Senate for their consideration. The Senate does the same with their legislation and sends it over to the House.
This week the House passed amendments to the two-year budget in order to eliminate all spending based on the higher taxes proposed by Governor Northam. Also included is additional investments in public education, school safety, and higher education. During the budget debate, we saw a fundamental difference between House Republicans and House Democrats: Democrats preferred to raise taxes and spend excess revenues in order to increase the size of government and welfare programs, while Republicans asserted that money should be returned to the taxpayers.
Following are budget highlights that may be of interest to you:
Healthcare savings: the budget identifies $120 million in healthcare savings, strengthens taxpayer protections in the Medicaid forecasting process, eliminates unfunded liabilities and saves $729 million in state spending in coming years.
K-12 education: the budget provides $155 million in increased funding, includes funding for a 5% teacher pay raise, and returns 45% of lottery money to local schools with no strings attached.
School safety: the budget includes a record investment of nearly $19 million. The budget doubles the funding for School Security Grant funding to $12 million and increases the award cap to $200,000 per grant application, increases funding for School Resource Officers by $3 million, and provides funding for school safety training at Virginia schools ($1.3 million).
Higher Education: our budget prioritizes higher education affordability by including $45 million to incentivize colleges and universities to hold tuition flat at 2019 levels.
The House budget proposal represents a commonsense approach to funding priorities. While I do not agree with every item included in the budget, I think the funding levels are reasonable, especially when considering that we had to remove funds based on the tax increase that the Governor proposed spending.
On Friday, we agreed to a nearly $1 billion tax relief package, the second largest tax cut in Virginia history!
The legislation will provide $420 million in tax refunds to Virginia taxpayers in October of 2019, increase the standard deduction by fifty percent beginning in tax year 2019, maintain the current rules for state and local taxes (SALT), and include key business tax provisions for Virginia's largest job creators. This is a simple and direct tax cut package that will guarantee at least $976 million in tax relief for hardworking Virginians.
Below is the status of some of the legislation I sponsored or co-sponsored that have passed the House and been sent to the Senate for their consideration.
Interstate 95 Corridor Improvement Plan; tasks the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to develop a strategic plan to improve I-95 between Thornburg and the Springfield Interchange. Currently, the CTB and VDOT have no plans to make significant improvements along the entire corridor. They only have plans to make spot improvements at certain interchanges.
Constitutional amendment that authorizes the General Assembly to make technical adjustments to districts to reduce the number of split precincts. Split precincts cause confusion among voters and elections officials, as well as increasing the costs of conducting elections.
Constitutional amendment that requires the establishment of state and local independent redistricting commissions to draw districts during the next redistricting in 2021.
Allows localities to establish a grant fund to help fix stormwater management systems that are failing and impacting neighborhoods.
Prohibits personal use of campaign funds. This has passed the House before but has yet to make it through the Senate.
Reforms the State Board of Elections and the Department of Elections to reduce partisan political influence.
Would make enrolling in school easier for military families relocating to the Commonwealth.
Allows private or religious schools to hire former law enforcement officers as armed security officers. This is something that public schools have been able to do for the last few years.
Requires the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety to develop a case management tool for use by public elementary and secondary school threat assessment teams to help identify potential threats to school safety and areas school security can be improved.
Requires that the sheriff, jail superintendent, or other official in charge of a local correctional facility or a regional jail in which an alien is incarcerated to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the release of the alien as soon as the release date is known.
Automatically expunges conviction records of someone who was given an absolute pardon because they were found to be innocent. Currently, someone who has been found to have been wrongfully convicted of a crime they did not commit must hire a lawyer and petition the court to expunge their record.
Repeals the unintended state income tax increase caused by the Federal income tax cuts (see the summary on tax relief above).
Allows HOAs to send notices by e-mail instead of physical mail, reducing the costs for notification.
February 3, 2019
Abortion has been a hot topic in the news this past week. You may have seen or read of the testimony where Virginia Democrats proposed legislation which would remove long standing restrictions on late term abortions. "The Repeal Act," would allow an abortion in the third trimester, including up to the moment of birth and even when a mother is already in labor.
Even worse, however, was Governor Ralph Northam's statement in support of The Repeal Act, which advocated for letting babies die after they were born alive. Governor Northam said "if a mother is in labor, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and mother."
This is a stunning and open acknowledgement that the policies being proposed by Democrats would allow the killing/abortion of viable, full-term babies up to the moment of birth. The governor, in his own words, admitted that he would let a newborn baby die on a hospital table if that was what was desired.
These comments, and these policies, are reprehensible and outside of the mainstream, even among pro-choice voters. Unfortunately, they appear to represent the honest position of Democrats in Virginia. It is distressing to see how far the Democrat Party has sunk.
One of the unintended consequences of the Federal tax cuts was an inadvertent increase in Virginia taxes for some taxpayers. Current Virginia law is that if you do not itemize on your Federal tax return, you cannot itemize on your Virginia return. One of the primary features of the Federal tax cuts was a significant increase in the standard deduction, which means many people that used to itemize their Federal returns, will no longer do so. Unless we increase Virginia's standard deduction and/or allow itemization, some taxpayers will see an increase in their state taxes.
Last week we advanced HB 2529
which will allow taxpayers to itemize their state taxes regardless of how they file their federal return, increase the state standard deduction across the board, and maintain the important state and local tax deductions.
Governor Northam opposes our tax cut plan and has already proposed spending the additional revenue on expanding a welfare program. This week we will move forward with proposed changes to the state budget, which removes spending based on the tax increase.
January 29, 2019
Transportation continues to be a high priority, especially for our area. This year I am sponsoring two resolutions (House Joint Resolutions 580 and 581
) to direct the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) and VDOT to develop a strategic plan to improve I-95 from our area north to the Beltway. Currently the CTB and VDOT have no long-term plan to make improvements, which I find unacceptable. I know that making significant improvements in the corridor is expensive and takes years to get done, but VDOT should have a plan in place so that they can begin working on it and at least start addressing the problem.
In recent years the General Assembly, spearheaded by the House of Delegates, has significantly increased transportation funding to try to address traffic issues, not just on I-95, but throughout the state. 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.
In 2016 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 directed 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 I-95.
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.
January 21, 2019
CURRENT LAWS ON EQUAL RIGHTS
There has been discussion in the country and in Virginia about equal rights for women and men in recent years. This has included some misinformation coming out on the subject; so much so that I think it may be worthwhile to share the current state of law regarding equal rights.
Women and men have equal protection under the US and Virginia Constitutions. Courts have ruled that both women and men have full claim to equal rights through the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; this is why VMI was ordered to begin admitting women more than 20 years ago. Virginia's Constitution also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
Additionally, legislators have worked to address equal rights on both the state and national level, there are at least 50 laws in the Virginia Code and more than 125 Federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, including employment and equal pay protections. Equal pay has been Federal law since 1963 and in Virginia code since 1974. Any employers who are discriminating on pay between women and men for the same work, are breaking both Federal and State law.
EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Congress submitted the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the US Constitution in 1972 with a seven-year deadline for ratification by the states. The amendment appeared to be moving quickly towards adoption with 35 states ratifying it when concerns were raised about potential unintended consequences, including the loss of religious liberties and privacy rights.
The ERA language was very broad and allowed no exceptions. The way it was written could prohibit separate facilities for women and men in public buildings as well as separate programs and teams for girls and boys in public schools. This could not just impact restrooms, but dormitories and showers at public universities, prisons and jails, the military, programs and scholarships designed to help women and girls, etc... Also, the ERA language gives Congress the authority to implement it. So, our rights could be at the mercy of the changing political whims of Congress. Once these concerns were raised, not only did no new states ratify the amendment, but 5 states rescinded their previous ratification.
Virginia's anti-discrimination amendment includes language that fixes a lot of these problems by simply saying that separation of the sexes shall not be considered a violation.
As the original 1979 deadline approached, Congress extended the deadline to 1982. The extension was legally questionable and subject to a court challenge; however, when the second deadline passed, Congress declined to extend it again. This effectively withdrew the amendment from consideration. This fact was generally recognized by both proponents and opponents of the amendment at the time, as efforts to get additional states to ratify it ceased for more than a decade. Not only that, but in 1983, proponents introduced a new ERA in Congress because the original amendment was no longer valid.
In 1992, the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, dealing with Congressional pay, was ratified long after it was submitted to the states for ratification. This caused some ERA proponents to renew their efforts to get it adopted. The fundamental difference between the two amendments is that Congress did not set a ratification deadline for the 27th Amendment, while they did set a deadline for the ERA.
Since the submission of the Prohibition Amendment, Congress has routinely added a seven-year ratification time limit, except for two proposed Amendments (Women's voting rights which passed and Child Labor prohibition which did not pass). Additionally, an Amendment granting full voting authority to residents of Washington DC with representation in the US Senate had a seven-year limit and also failed.
The passing of the ERA deadline has been recognized by the US Supreme Court. Lawsuits over ERA were pending before the Court and on October 4, 1982, in NOW v. Idaho, 459 U.S. 809 (1982), the U.S. Supreme Court declared the questions moot on the grounds that the ERA had expired.
In 1994, the Attorney General's office issued an opinion stating: "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, and any action by the General Assembly to ratify it now would be a nullity".
Some ERA proponents want to ignore facts they do not like, such as the ratification deadline, that 5 states withdrew their ratification, and that 24 states placed time limits on their ratification which expired decades ago. While I certainly support equal rights for all, for the General Assembly to be able to consider the ERA, the US Congress needs to resubmit the amendment to the states for ratification. This is why I am sponsoring House Joint Resolution 692
, which calls on Congress to submit a new ERA to the states, with language that addresses the concerns that caused the old ERA to fail.
If Virginia ratifies the old ERA after the fact, it will set off a series of expensive and divisive lawsuits over the validity of the amendment. Regardless of who wins these lawsuits, a large portion of the country will consider the Constitution to be tainted, either with an amendment that is not valid or because an amendment that should be included was not. All this confusion and divisiveness could be avoided by Congress simply submitting a new amendment to the states.
I hope that ERA proponents will spend their time lobbying Congress instead of trying to get the General Assembly to pass a resolution that would have no effect or worse spark a series of costly and divisive lawsuits.
January 12, 2019
The General Assembly convened in session last Wednesday, January 9th. This is the short session and is scheduled to run for 45 days. 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the Virginia General Assembly. They first convened in 1619 as the House of Burgesses and have been meeting regularly ever since.
Things move very quickly during session, especially during the short session. We will have to deal with thousands of pieces of legislation and budget amendments in just a few weeks. If you would like to come down for a visit during session, please let me know and I would be happy to schedule a tour.
STATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
As is tradition Governor Northam gave his state of the Commonwealth speech addressing the members of the General Assembly during a joint session last Wednesday night as well. This is where the Governor lays out his legislative agenda for the session.
This years speech was delivered with a slightly less partisan tone than last year. We oppose some of the ideas and proposals he talked about, but there may also some areas where we can find common ground.
One of the Governors priorities is a $1.2 Billion middle-class tax increase built into the his budget. I believe we should prioritize tax relief instead of increased spending. The contrast is clear: the governor wants to collect higher taxes to spend it, instead I want to leave that money in the pockets of hard-working Virginians.
House Leadership put forward a tax relief proposal to allow people to keep their itemized deductions regardless of how they file their federal taxes and increase the standard deduction. For a family that takes the standard deduction, we would provide $115 in tax relief. For a family that itemizes, we would prevent a tax increase as high as $800 or more, depending on how much they make.
Another area where I am concerned about the direction of the governor is on public safety. He mentioned in his speech tonight that Virginias recidivism rate was one of the lowest in the country, just before proposing big changes in criminal law. This fits an emerging pattern that suggests Democrats are going to seek fundamental changes to a criminal justice system that has made Virginia one of the safest states in the nation.
We may be able to find common ground on issues like economic development, the tech-talent pipeline, and higher education affordability. Speaker Cox has laid out a vision to bring the state, our colleges and universities, and the business community together to promote internships in high-demand fields, make college more affordable, and align curriculum to the needs of our economy.
We are also prioritizing two-dozen recommendations from the House Select Committee on School Safety. House Leadership has led the effort this year to find innovative ways to keep our children safe. We are hopeful that we can find common ground with the governor on that.
We have also talked about improving healthcare affordability. We have innovative ideas to empower consumers, create more health insurance options, and lower barriers to competition in healthcare. We hope the governor will work with us on those proposals this year.
December 28, 2018
The next General Assembly session is scheduled to start on January 9th. One of the pre-session activities is the submission of the Governor’s Budget proposal in December. Last week Governor Northam presented his proposed budget amendments to the two-year budget to the joint House and Senate Finance and Appropriations Committees. The General Assembly will consider what the governor has offered as we set out to craft our own amendments to the two-year budget.
Unfortunately, the governor's budget is based on allowing over 600,000 middle-class taxpayers to pay higher taxes. The budget assumes $1.2 Billion in higher taxes that the General Assembly has not approved. I cannot support a budget with billions in new spending, on the backs of the middle-class families who are struggling to make ends meet.
The governor has proposed $2.2 Billion in total new spending, including $1.6 Billion in recurring spending. In fact, the governor is proposing more new spending in the second year of the budget than was included in the entire two-year budget originally passed last session. While my colleagues in the House and I are eager work with the governor on areas of agreement, I am wary of the long-term and recurring nature of the commitments he is proposing.
Some of this spending, like proposed additional investments in K-12 education, are worth discussing. But in other cases, the governor is proposing installment plans on multi-million proposals that extend long after his term is over. It’s highly unusual to see this level of spending proposed in the middle of the two-year cycle. While we must always be looking toward the future, we cannot make promises that we cannot afford.
The need for caution is especially true given the status of our bond rating and that many economists foresee an economic slowdown in the not-too-distant future. A recent report from Old Dominion University says that Virginia is still too reliant on federal spending. We must diversify our economy and begin preparing now for the next recession.
Just six months ago, the rating agencies applauded our fiscally-responsible approach to budgeting. Our AAA bond rating was reaffirmed because we committed $1 billion to two state savings accounts; this was a prudent and responsible step.
Despite boasting about his commitment to increase the size of the Cash Reserve Fund to guard against either an economic downturn or a hedge against unanticipated costs, the governor proposes to deposit addition dollars into the fund and then simultaneously directs the fund to pay known obligations potentially totaling over $200 million dollars.
It was never the intent that the fund be used to pay for known economic development incentive grants or repay the federal government for disallowed Medicaid cost. We need to be more transparent on our commitment to fiscal responsibility and not play a shell game with our reserve funds.
Ultimately, I will work to craft a conservative, responsible budget. We will make investments where we need to, but we will also work to protect taxpayers and our state AAA bond rating.