Congressmen Dave Brat and Rob Wittman with 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!
February 15, 2018
This week was “Crossover,” the official halfway point of the 2018 General Assembly session. After Tuesday, the House will consider Senate bills and the Senate will consider House bills.
As we crossed the halfway point in session, here is a status report about some of the legislation that passed the House.
House Bill 883
is a bipartisan effort that establishes a regulatory reform pilot program with a goal to reduce or streamline regulatory requirements by 25 percent over the next three years. The program will focus on regulations issued by the Department of Professional and Occupational Licensing and the Department of Criminal Justice Services. In addition to removing burdensome regulations, this legislation will help our economy grow and create jobs while making government more efficient.
Media outlets across Virginia last fall brought to light a deceptive practice being used by some political campaigns to target students by accessing their personal contact information without their knowledge. With the passing of HB 1
, students must provide consent before their personal information can be shared with any outside individual or group.
Students who attempt to cut down on the cost of college by completing dual enrollment courses have had difficulty in getting some colleges to accept their credits. HB 3
requires the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the Department of Education and our public colleges to work together to establish standards for dual enrollment courses to ensure that such courses will be accepted as college credits.
establishes High School to Work Partnerships between public high schools and local businesses to create opportunities for high school students to participate in an apprenticeship, internship, or job shadow programs. This legislation will help students have the work training they need to find jobs.
We believe in keeping our communities safe by supporting law enforcement, cracking down on violent criminals and sex offenders, and ensuring fairness throughout the justice system. Our public policy should provide paths to redemption for those who have served their time and paid their debt to society, but not at the expense of crime victims. The rule of law is paramount to ensuring safe communities. Governor Northam and Speaker Cox announced a bipartisan compromise to raise the felony larceny threshold from $200 to $500 (HB 1550
) and adopt legislation to ensure crime victims are paid the restitution duly owed to them.
A Crime Commission study found that there was over $230 million in restitution owed to victims across the Commonwealth, but was unpaid and overdue. More recently, research confirmed that $8 million in restitution was collected from defendants, but never delivered to the crime victims. HB 483
, and HB 484
will ensure crime victims get what is rightfully owed them. The legislation is significant, if not unprecedented, achievements for crime victims. This is the biggest change to how Virginia enforces restitution in decades.
In an effort to lower healthcare costs, the House of Delegates has passed HB 1177
that will end the practice of Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) requiring pharmacists to charge higher copays than the cash price of the prescription drug. This practice disproportionately affected elderly citizens who rely on prescriptions for life saving medication.
Some areas of the state have a shortage of doctors who are able to see patients. HB 793
will allow nurse practitioners who have undergone extensive training to provide expanded care.
places a work requirement on able-bodied Medicaid recipients. Virginia has a long history of promoting workfare. We applied work requirements to welfare in the mid-1990s and that principle should be applied to the entire Medicaid program. The dignity of work is powerful and a work requirement is a commonsense reform that will lower costs and help people lift themselves up.
The opioid epidemic is taking hold of our communities. On average, more than three Virginians die each day from this devastating crisis. HB 1469
would impose harsher penalties on someone who manufactures, sells or gives someone harmful drug which then kills the other person, by allowing them to be charged with second degree murder.
TAX INCREASES DEFEATED
Sometimes what does not pass can be just as important as what does pass. House Republicans are committed to keeping taxes low, so Virginia businesses can be competitive, and Virginia families can keep more of their money. This year we defeated dozens of tax increase proposals that would have raised taxes on hardworking Virginians by over $770 million.
Those of you who are my age may remember the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the US Constitution; for those of you who do not, this may be a history lesson.
Congress submitted the ERA to the states in 1972 with a seven-year deadline for ratification. 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 its impact on public facilities.
Once those concerns were raised not only did no new states ratify the amendment, but 5 states rescinded their previous ratification. As the original 1979 deadline approached, Congress extended the deadline to 1982. When the second deadline passed, Congress declined to extend it again, effectively withdrawing 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 set no 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 vote which passed and Child Labor prohibition which did not pass). 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. A lawsuit over ratification recension was 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 question of states rescinding their ratification of the ERA moot on the grounds that the ERA had expired.
Additionally, on February 3, 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 of the ERA proponents want to ignore facts that they do not like, such as the ratification deadline and that 5 states withdrew their ratification. 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. The ERA proponents need to spend their time lobbying Congress and not trying to get the General Assembly to pass a resolution that would have no effect or worse spark a series of lawsuits.
Just because the ERA is no longer before us, does not mean that Legislators have not worked to address equal rights. 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.
January 30, 2018
JOINT ELECTIONS SUBCOMMITTEE
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. announced the formation of a Joint Subcommittee on Election Review. The Subcommittee will consider issues related to the conduct of elections that were brought to light following the November 2017 elections, including absentee balloting, the assignment of voters in split precincts, and recount law and procedures. The Subcommittee will be chaired by Senator Jill Vogel and myself.
This is an effort to come up with commonsense, bi-partisan solutions to some of the problems that have plagued our elections in recent years and reduced voter confidence in election results. It will meet after session and hopefully come up with recommendations for the 2019 session.
STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS REFORM
The Virginia House of Delegates Privileges and Elections Committee passed legislation reforming the composition of the State Board of Elections to guarantee the bipartisan administration of elections in the Commonwealth. House Bill 1405
increases from three to six the number of members on the Board, requiring three to be from the party that won the most recent gubernatorial election and three from the party receiving the next highest number of votes. The bill would also allow the State Board of Elections to appoint the Commissioner that oversees the Department of Elections, previously a political appointee of the governor.
This legislation was recommended by the General Registrars and Electoral Board working group and is needed to bring professionalism and competence back to the Department of Elections. In recent years, I have received numerous complaints from Registrars and local Boards about the Department not making information available or providing guidance regarding election issues. These were not partisan complaints, but issues affecting daily operations or the ability of Registrars to do their jobs.
SPLIT PRECINCT LEGISLATION
The House Privileges and Elections Committee passed legislation, HB 158
, to allow minor adjustments to legislative districts to reduce the number of split precincts. Split precincts are voting precincts that are split between two or more districts. They are a consequence of two different bodies having control over the redistricting process: the State develops Congressional and Legislative districts, while localities draw local districts and precinct boundaries. Split precincts can cause confusion among voters and election officials.
At the start of session, I discussed this legislation and the need to reduce split precincts with Democrat leaders in the House and the Governor’s office. I invited them to offer amendments to the bill to address any concerns they may have. I heard nothing until the bill was voted on by the committee, the Governor’s office opposed the bill and all Democrats on the committee voted against it.
Given the confusion in the last election, I thought there may be an opportunity to work together to reduce split precincts at the state level, but that appears to not be the case. The only other alternative is for localities to adjust their precinct boundaries to reduce them.
On a side note, I would like to point out that the confusion in Fredericksburg last election could have been avoided. We were made aware of problems in those precincts in 2015. In 2016 I sponsored legislation to fix those problems, HB 254
. It passed the General Assembly but was vetoed by Governor McAuliffe.
January 22, 2018
Traffic is a critical problem in several areas of the Commonwealth including ours. Traffic gridlock not only impacts our economy, but our quality of life as well. Because of this, I am sponsoring House Bill 103
, directing VDOT to begin work on adding a lane to I-95 between the Fredericksburg area and the Beltway. Such an improvement is long overdue.
The legislation faces an uphill battle because the General Assembly does not normally pass legislation directing an executive agency; such direction should come from our chief executive, the Governor or the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) which is appointed by the Governor to prioritize and authorize transportation projects. Unfortunately, our area’s representative on the CTB has been quoted in the news as belittling the legislation, which also hurts its chances of passing. I have yet to hear from our new Governor on the bill.
My hope is that even if the legislation does not pass, it will raise the issue with VDOT and the CTB, and they will increase the priority of improving I95!
While the General Assembly, led by the House, has significantly increased transportation funding over the years, the fact is that transportation has not been a priority for the three of the four Governors I served with. Only Governor Bob McDonnell made it a priority.
When Mark Warner was Governor, and the voters of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads rejected his transportation tax increase referendum – he just quit trying to get anything done for our gridlocked roads. In 2004, when he pushed through the LARGEST tax increase in Virginia history, NOT ONE CENT OF IT WAS DEDICATED TO 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 the 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 Governor Tim Kaine actually raided $180 million from the transportation fund
to spend on other programs. One of the first things we had to do in the General Assembly that year was restore those funds!
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 were funds the General Assembly had budgeted for transportation that had not actually been spent by the previous Governors. 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, as well as reallocating existing revenue, to raise over $1.3 Billion in 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. 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 interstates in our area, with a goal towards reducing congestion on I-95.
We are seeing some of the fruits of these efforts now, with several new construction projects underway or in the works.
I-95 Express Lanes Southern Terminus Extension Stafford County Mile marker 145-142 $50 million (estimated cost). A 2.5-mile extension of 95 Express Lanes opened to traffic ahead of schedule on October 31, 2017.
Interstate 95 Bridge Rehabilitation
Stafford and Spotsylvania counties’ 6 locations, mile markers 145, 137 (Stafford) and 121 (Spotsylvania) $6.6 million Construction: Fall 2016-Summer 2018. Project will rehabilitate six interstate bridges at 3 locations, northbound and southbound: Ni River at mile marker 121 in Spotsylvania, and Aquia Creek and Potomac Creek in Stafford.
Exit 140 Reconstruction and Route 630 (Courthouse Road) Widening
Stafford County mile marker 140 $149.4 million (interchange) and $35.9 million (widening) Construction: Summer 2017- Summer 2020. The Interstate 95 interchange at Exit 140 (Route 630/Courthouse Road) in Stafford County is being reconstructed as a diverging diamond interchange. The interchange will be relocated slightly south of the existing interchange. The project will relocate the intersection of Courthouse Road and Route 1 to align with Hospital Center Boulevard. Courthouse Road will be widened to four lanes between Route 1 and Interstate 95. West of I-95, Courthouse Road will be widened to four lanes to a point just west of Ramoth Church Road/ Winding Creek Road.
I-95 Express Lanes Fredericksburg Extension
(“Fred Ex”) Stafford County mile marker 142-133 Construction: 2019-2022. Project would extend the 95 Express Lanes facility by an additional 10 miles, as far south as the Exit 133 interchange at Route 17 in Stafford County, and would tie into the I-95 Southbound Rappahannock River Crossing project. These would extend two reversible lanes in the median of I-95, and would add new access to Express Lanes from the Route 17 interchange area, from Courthouse Road in Stafford, and at the Quantico Marine Corps Base.
I-95 Southbound Rappahannock River Crossing
Stafford County and City of Fredericksburg mile marker 134-129 $125 million Construction: Summer 2018-2022. Construction begins this summer on the I-95 Southbound Rappahannock River Crossing. This $125 million dollar project will double the number of lanes on I-95 southbound between the interchanges at Route 17 and Route 3. Three new lanes will be built in the median for through traffic. The three existing lanes will be converted to local traffic lanes. Signs will guide drivers as they approach the Route 17 area so they can choose local or through lanes. This will let through traffic pass through the Fredericksburg area, and then rejoin the southbound lanes once they’ve passed Route 3. The project will also replace two structurally deficient I-95 overpasses spanning Route 17. Project completion is in 2022.
Interstate 95/Route 17 Overpass Replacement and Route 17 Reconstruction
Spotsylvania County mile marker 125 $20 million Fall 2020-Fall 2022. This project will replace the existing Route 17 overpass at Interstate 95 in Spotsylvania County with a new, four-lane overpass. The existing overpass is structurally deficient. Route 17 will also be widened to four lanes between Route 1 and Hospital Boulevard, with the addition of a sidewalk/shared use path along Route 17.
I-95 Northbound Rappahannock River Crossing
Stafford County and City of Fredericksburg mile marker 134-129 was just recently authorized and is in the planning stage. This project along with the previously mentioned Southbound Crossing should improve traffic flow between Stafford and Spotsylvania, a serious chokepoint on I-95.
January 14, 2018
The 2018 General Assembly session has officially begun! This year will be a long session (60 days) as we have to develop a new biennial budget, as well as dealing with a wide range of legislative proposals aimed at creating jobs, lowering healthcare costs, improving transportation, and creating more educational opportunities.
The House was gaveled into session on Wednesday, January 10th at 12 noon and is scheduled to continue through early March. Our first order of business was electing a new Speaker of the House, as you may know, our long time Speaker Bill Howell has retired. My colleagues and I unanimously elected Delegate Kirk Cox as the 55th Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Speaker Cox set a clear tone for the 2018 session, pledging to focus on government, work across the aisle, and lead with character and integrity.
The Speaker also made committee assignments for the session. I was reappointed as Chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee, as well as a member of the Finance and Education Committees.
STATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
Later that evening, Governor McAuliffe delivered his final State of the Commonwealth Address. Newly elected Governor Northam was sworn in on Saturday and will be addressing the General Assembly to share his vision this week.
I was selected as the “designated survivor” for the State of the Commonwealth speech. Every year a senior member of the General Assembly is taken by the Capitol Police to a secure location during the speech. This is to provide continuity of government should a catastrophe occur during the speech. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, so I will not be the inspiration for a new TV show.
After many decades of service, the old General Assembly Building is being torn down. Our offices have been relocated to the Pocahontas Building, 900 East Main Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219 (across the street from the main entrance of the Capitol on Bank Street). My office is Room 202.
Unfortunately, the new building does not have the space that the old GAB had, so we will not be hosting our annual open house at the Capitol. However, you are still welcome to come down for a visit and tour during session. If you would like to visit, please let me know so that we may schedule a tour. My office email and phone in Richmond are DelMCole@house.virginia.gov and (804) 698-1088.
January 8, 2018
Transportation continues to be a high priority, especially for our area. In recent years the General Assembly, spearheaded by the House of Delegates, had significantly increased transportation funding to try to address traffic issues. 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 directs 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 I95.
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.