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!
May 31, 2018
BUDGET SPECIAL SESSION
The General Assembly convened last week and passed the state budget. It has been sent to Governor Northam for his review and action. The budget includes the expansion of Medicaid to cover low income, able-bodied, working age adults as well as a new tax on hospitals to pay for the state share of expansion.
Other items in the budget include:
- More than $ 1.5 Billion increase in transportation funding, a 15 percent increase in the first year of the biennium and a 9 percent increase in the second year.
- Sets aside almost $1 billion in various reserve funds, to protect Virginia’s AAA bond rating.
- Provides a three percent teacher pay raise, fully-funds K-12 re-benchmarking, and sends more money back to schools with no strings attached
- Provides a two percent pay raise for state employees and raises the minimum salary for sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers
- Over $120 million in targeted money for higher education to promote more degrees in high-demand fields that will help grow our economy
- The budget also provides $1.3 million in additional funding for the School Resource Officer Grant Program to help local schools improve security.
I opposed Medicaid expansion and the new tax on hospitals. Medicaid costs are already growing at an unsustainable rate; expansion will just accelerate that growth. Many states that expanded Medicaid have experienced serious budget shortfalls requiring cuts to other programs and/or tax increases. I am concerned that the same will happen in Virginia. Also, the new tax on hospitals runs counter to our efforts to try to reduce the costs of health care; imposing the tax will simply increase costs.
Governor Northam vetoed 10 more bills which were sent back to him after the Reconvened Session last month. Several of the bills were designed to increase the availability of affordable health insurance. Here is a summary of those vetoed bills:
Senate Bill 964
would have authorized health carriers to offer catastrophic plans on the individual market and to offer such plans to all individuals. These used to be popular and affordable health insurance plans until the Affordable Care Act passed and nearly regulated these types of plans out of existence.
and SB 935
would have made it easier for employees and individual to form and join associations which provide health coverage.
authorized health insurance carriers to offer short-term health plans. Short-term health plans are defined as plans with a duration of 364 days or less.
would have required the Department of Elections to provide local Voter Registrars with a list of registered voters who have been found to be registered in another state, so that the voter may be contacted about the multiple registrations and if needed, be removed from the voter list.
House Bill 1144
would have simply required someone who is helping a person fill out a voter registration form to include their contact information on the form in case the form was incomplete or incorrect; then the Voter Registrar could contact the person with questions. I did not think this was controversial and am surprised that it was vetoed. Without the information, the form is more likely to be rejected.
and SB 972
would have prevented localities from requiring home and property owners to retrofit existing landscape cover materials should a new local ordinance be passed which bans certain material. This bill was brought at the request of several home owners in a locality (not in our area) that changed their local code to ban certain types of mulch and required any home or property that already had the material to remove it.
and SB 106
would have set standards and criteria for the 2021 redistricting. The criteria was based on Federal and State law and court rulings. It included equal population, racial and ethnic fairness, respect for existing political boundaries, contiguity, compactness, and communities of interest.
The last redistricting was done in 2011 and was a bipartisan effort, as the Senate was controlled by Democrats while the House was Republican at the time. The legality of some House of Delegates districts was challenged in state court several years ago and reached the Virginia Supreme Court last year. The Supreme Court recently unanimously upheld the validity of the challenged districts.
The redistricting complied with all federal and state laws, and court decisions. It was reviewed and approved by the US Justice Department, which was headed by Attorney General Eric Holder at the time. But that did not stop several politically motivated law suits from being filed in both state and federal court. The hopes of those that filed the suits is that a judge will establish a new requirement that will invalidate the districts after the fact. This happened a few years ago to the Congressional Districts, requiring a judge to redraw some of the lines. Regardless of who may draw districts, it is impossible to comply with rulings that change or impose new requirements after the fact.
April 19, 2018
The Virginia General Assembly met on Wednesday for the Reconvened or Veto session. This is when the General Assembly considers amendments and vetoes Governor Northam made to legislation that was passed during the regular session, which adjourned last month.
A total of 10 bills were vetoed. It takes a two-thirds majority vote in the House and the Senate to override a veto; no vetoes were overridden. Here is a summary of some of those vetoed bills:
, which banned sanctuary cities for illegal aliens in Virginia was vetoed by Governor Northam.
, would have required local Voter Registrars to investigate the list of registered voters whenever the number of registered voters in a county or city exceeds the population of persons age 18 or older. This legislation was intended to clean-up the voter registration list, which includes many people who no longer live in the area.
, which I sponsored, would have allowed the General Assembly to make minor technical adjustments to legislative districts to reduce the number of split precincts. Split precincts cause confusion and increase the costs of elections. The veto was not unexpected but was disappointing since I reached out to the Governor and Democrat leaders in the House at the beginning of session and invited their input to the bill to address any concerns they may have. They never responded.
, would have had Court Clerks share the list of persons who decline jury duty, due to not being a citizen, with Voter Registrars so that they may be removed from the voter list if they are registered to vote. This was another bill to clean up the voter list of those not allowed to vote.
, was designed to protect small businesses who run franchises from being considered as employees of the franchisee, which are large corporations (for example, many fast food restaurants, like a McDonald’s, are actually owned by local small businesses who have a franchise contract with the large national corporation). There has been an effort in recent years to classify these small businesses as part of the larger company, which would require these small businesses to comply with all the requirements of their big business franchisee; this would cause many of them to shut down and their employees would lose their jobs.
Governor Northam offered amendments to many bills that passed. Most of those amendments were technical or minor in nature and did not fundamentally alter the purpose of the legislation. Those amendments were approved.
A few amendments substantially weakened or changed the legislation. Those amendments were rejected. Here is a summary of some of those substantial amendments:
and SB 856
reformed and provided funding for the METRO Mass Transit system. The Governor offered amendments remove some cost control provisions and increase taxes in Northern Virginia. Those amendments were defeated.
will expedite the identification and potential removal of people from the voter registration list who are registered to vote in multiple states. We rejected the Governor’s amendments because they gutted the bill removing its original purpose.
and SB 935
would allow more businesses to join together in an employer group or association in order to offer health plans. These bills are efforts to expand access to healthcare and reduce costs. The rejected amendments would have prevented its implementation unless the General Assembly passed the bill again next year (this is called a reenactment clause).
BUDGET SPECIAL SESSION
The House of Delegates convened in special session the day before Veto Session to continue work on the state budget. The House passed a proposed budget very similar to the one that was passed during the regular session earlier this year. It includes the expansion of Medicaid to cover low income, able-bodied, working age adults as well as a new tax on hospitals to pay for the state share of expansion.
I opposed Medicaid expansion and the new tax. Medicaid costs are already growing at an unsustainable rate without expanding the program. We simply will not have the funds to pay for expansion. Many states that expanded Medicaid have experienced serious budget shortfalls requiring cuts to other programs and/or tax increases. I am concerned that the same will happen in Virginia. The new tax runs counter to our efforts to try to reduce the costs of health care; imposing a new tax on hospitals will simply add to their costs.
April 12, 2018
The General Assembly convened in Richmond yesterday for a special session. Because the legislature failed to pass a biennial budget during the 2018 regular session, a special session was called for the sole purpose of crafting and adopting the Virginia budget. Unlike our federal government, Virginia is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget. The fiscal year ends on June 30, 2018, so there is no immediate threat of a government shutdown. Nevertheless, much work lies ahead. Following is a projected timeline for the upcoming week:
Friday, April 13: House Appropriations Committee meets to produce a House budget, which must be posted 72 hours prior to a floor vote.
Tuesday, April 17: House convenes to consider the budget proposed by the Appropriations Committee. Once the House passes a budget it will go to the Senate for consideration. The House and Senate will then likely assign budget conferees to negotiate a compromise budget between the two bodies.
Wednesday, April 18: the General Assembly will reconvene for "veto" session, to consider gubernatorial vetoes and amendments made to bills passed during the regular session. The veto session is unrelated to the special session on the budget.
The timeline for the special session is tentative and subject to change.
March 16, 2018
The Virginia General Assembly adjourned last week without passing a state budget. We will reconvene in Special Session to finish work on the budget on April 11.
House and Senate budget negotiators were deadlocked over Medicaid expansion and the associated healthcare providers tax to pay for expansion. I continue to oppose expansion as well as the new tax. I am concerned that expansion will cause a significant budget shortfall in the near future as it has in many other states.
2018 SESSION ACCOMPLISHMENTS
The House of Delegates advanced several major priorities as part of the practical solutions to everyday issues agenda, including legislation to address our teacher shortage, lower the cost of medical prescriptions, create avenues to get students into good paying jobs, and honor our veterans who gave so much to our country. Below is a summary of some bills I sponsored or co-sponsored this year; all legislation mentioned has passed the General Assembly and been sent to the Governor for his review, unless otherwise noted.
I sponsored House Joint Resolution 30
which passed and designates November 7th as Victims of Communism Memorial Day. November 7, 1917 is the date that the Bolsheviks ceased power in Russia which led to the formation of the Soviet Union and eventually the communist block of nations. As a Cold War veteran, I know how repressive and evil communist regimes were and still are today (such as North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba). Unfortunately, many millennials do not understand what it was like under Communist regimes, thanks largely to a liberal educational establishment that tends to look at that period of history with rose colored glasses. The fact is that communism is the deadliest ideology in history, responsible for more than 100 Million deaths worldwide, more than 5 times the number killed by the Nazis. This is part of an international effort to make sure those victims are remembered and to educate a new generation about the threat of communism.
House Bill 1257
bans sanctuary cities in Virginia by prohibiting localities from adopting any ordinance or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration.
Establishes a regulatory reform pilot program with the goal of reducing or streamlining regulatory requirements by 25% over the next three years.
Establish 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 program.
Allow nurse practitioners who are licensed by the Boards of Medicine and Nursing and have completed at least five years of clinical experience as a licensed, certified nurse practitioner to be exempt from physician oversight.
Requires the Board of Medicine and the Board of Dentistry to accept the military training, education, or experience of a service member honorably discharged from active military service so long as the training is substantially equivalent to any laws and regulations of the respective boards.
Allows military medical personnel to use the skills learned during their time in service for their civil jobs.
strengthened National Guard employment protections when they are called up for duty.
allows the General Assembly to make minor, technical adjustments to districts to reduce split precincts.
Clarifies private student information cannot be given to third parties without consent of the student.
Allows the spouse of a military member with a valid out-of-state teaching license to teach in Virginia without reapplying for a license.
Ensures dual enrollment courses students take in high school transfer for credit to state universities as long as they meet a quality standard.
Allows more apprentices to get on-the-job-training.
Senate Bill 211
Authorizes a locality to show in the locality's comprehensive plan the locality's long-range recommendations for groundwater and surface water availability, quality, and sustainability. The bill requires the local planning commission to survey and study groundwater and surface water availability, quality, and sustainability in the preparation of a comprehensive plan.
Requires paid income tax return preparers to notify the Department of Taxation if they discover that an unauthorized person has accessed a taxpayer's return information.
Requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver's licenses, permits, and identification cards displaying an indicator signifying that the holder is a veteran.
would have required VDOT to start work on adding a lane to the regular travel lanes of I95. It was continued for further study, which is what I expected. It did get the attention of the new Secretary of Transportation and Commissioner of VDOT. I met with them to discuss the traffic issues on I95 and they committed to working to address the problem. A problem of this magnitude should be addressed by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), but they have done little thus far. Hopefully this will increase the priority of I95.
HJ 41 / HB 734
would have put a state Constitutional amendment before the voters to protect transportation funds from being raided and spent on other programs. It passed the House but was defeated by the Senate.
would have prohibited personal use of campaign funds. It passed the House but not the Senate. This is something I have worked on for several years and will give it another shot next year.
would require a conviction before property could be forfeited to the government. It passed the House but was defeated by the Senate.
Directs the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to apply for a waiver to implement a work requirement for able-bodied adult recipients of medical assistance services such as Medicaid. It passed the House but was continued for further study in the Senate.
February 26, 2018
Virginia does two year, or biennial budgeting for state government. This year we are working on two budgets, one to update the current fiscal budget which ends at the end of June (HB 29
), and a new budget which will start in July and cover the next two years (HB 30
The House passed its budget proposal last week. It will now go over to the Senate for their consideration, and the Senate sent their budget proposal to the House. The two bodies will negotiate a compromise budget to send to the Governor over the next two weeks.
Like any budget, it has things that I like and things I do not. Here is a summary of some of the provisions House budget proposal.
- Deposits $91 million in the new cash reserve fund to protect our Triple-A bond rating, bringing the total balance to $248 million. Unlike Washington, Virginia’s Constitution requires a balanced budget and we cannot print money to pay for more spending.
- Fully-funds education funding re-benchmarking, an increase of $480 million for local school systems. This is a sizeable investment that will make sure Virginia’s public school systems are preparing our young people to go to college or get the training they need so they can find good-paying jobs.
- Provides state funding for a two percent teacher pay raise beginning July 1, six months earlier than proposed by the governor.
- Includes $18 million in new for local police. This will help make sure they have the tools and resources they need to fight crime and protect our communities.
- Increases pay for our corrections’ officers, a major step forward that will save the state money in the long run by eliminating overtime and reducing turnover. These are hard-to-staff positions, but they’re important to the overall safety of our commonwealth.
- The budget includes $2.8 million to establish an additional 10-member tactical team in the Special Operations Division at State Police, so law enforcement can be prepared to respond to unique and dynamic security threats across our commonwealth.
- Includes a pay raise for deputies.
- The House proposal provides $3.4 million in funding for school security infrastructure upgrades. This program was started in 2013 by the House of Delegates to help local school divisions make critical security upgrades in order to keep our children safe.
- The budget includes $45 million in funding for over 800 new disability waiver slots and six new assessment centers. These key investments continue our long-term commitment to supporting those with behavioral health needs.
- Provides $6.4 million to fully-fund the cost of ensuring same-day access at Community Service Boards. This is a multi-year effort by the General Assembly to make sure those facing mental health crises can get the service they need.
- The budget includes $11.1 million to provide primary care screening services at Community Service Boards. This fulfills the commitment outlined in legislation passed by the General Assembly to provide primary care screening at all CSBs by 2020.
- Provides $350 million to dredge the Port of Virginia, widening and deepening the Port so Virginia can continue to be leading place for international imports and exports.
- More than $4 million in funding for broadband development, a necessary piece of infrastructure critical to building out our economy in rural parts of the state.
- The budget provides a two percent state employee pay raise, as well as a one percent merit increase to address salary compression.
- Fully-funds our required contributions to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).
After years of resisting Medicaid expansion, the House budget proposal includes the expansion of the program to provide coverage for low income, able-bodied, working age adults. The proposal does have some conservative reforms of the program, such as a work requirement and a trigger to repeal the expansion should the Federal Government fail to fund their share. The plan also imposes a new tax on Virginia hospitals to pay the state’s share of the costs of expansion.
I opposed expanding Medicaid as well as the new tax on hospitals. Medicaid costs have been growing at an unsustainable rate, expansion will just accelerate this. I am concerned that expanding the program will cause a budget shortfall in the next few years, as it has in many other states. Healthcare costs are already too expensive; the new tax will just make it worse.
The Senate Budget proposal did not include Medicaid expansion or the new tax on hospitals. Both these provisions will be the subject of negotiations between the House and Senate as they work to develop a compromise budget to send to the Governor.
I am deeply saddened by the act of evil we saw in Florida and heartbroken for the victims and all of those affected. We are still learning about the incident and the suspect, but early reports have suggested there were many signs that point to this person being a potential risk.
I am not sure what the laws in Florida are, but Virginia has strong laws against gun violence, and laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals and those with mental illness. Virginia has a zero-tolerance policy on gun violence and has some of the strongest laws in the country when it comes to gun crimes.
We have taken concrete steps in recent years to make our schools safer and are committed to continuing to protect our students. Below is a summary of some of the actions we have taken.
In 2013, we passed HB 2345
which required the Virginia Center for School Safety, in conjunction with the Department of State Police, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, and the Department of Education, to develop a model critical incident response training program for public school personnel. The bill also required the Virginia Center for School Safety, in consultation with the Department of Education, to provide schools with a model policy for the establishment of threat assessment teams for each school, including procedures for the assessment of and intervention with individuals whose behavior poses a threat to the safety of school staff or students. I am aware of several incidences where potential threats were headed off by early intervention of school and law enforcement personnel.
That same year, we passed HB 2343
, creating the School Security Infrastructure Improvement Fund and Local School Safety Fund. This recurring grant fund allows the Department of Criminal Justice Services to offer grants of up to $100,000 per locality to fund upgrades to school security like hallway cameras, buzz-in systems and automatic locks on classroom doors.
Since 2000 the state budget has included funding to help local schools hire and train School Resource Officers (SRO) - armed deputies and police officers assigned to schools - and School Security Officers (SSO) – non law enforcement security personnel. We also passed HB 1582
in 2013 to allow private schools and daycares to hire trained, armed security guards. Prior to this, private schools were covered by the same gun free zone law as public schools but SRO’s were not assigned to them, so they were practically defenseless.
In 2017, we passed legislation (HB 1392
) to allow school systems to hire armed retired police officers for school security. This approach can save money while making schools safer.
A common thread through many of these tragedies are mental health issues. Often, those who commit these violent acts suffer from mental illness. This was brought to light by 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. In 2008 we took a series of steps to address these problems including requiring that mental health information be reported to the gun background check database and increased funding for mental health treatment and law enforcement.
In 2014, we expanded the length of time for Emergency Detention Orders for someone who is a threat to themselves or others, so law enforcement can act quickly to care for someone who needs treatment and again increased funding, investing over $175 million in the healthcare safety net.
In 2015, the budget included $132.9 million for the healthcare safety net to provide services for more than 22,000 seriously mentally-ill patients as well as funding behavioral health community services including three new Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) teams and six new drop-off centers. We have created a total of 32 drop-off centers and 26 PACT Teams to address mental health needs.
This year, I am supporting SB 669
which closes a loophole in our current mental health laws to subject minors who have been determined to be a risk to themselves or others, to continue the same restrictions on possessing, or purchasing a firearm after they turn 18.
The best way to combat gun violence right now is to continue to improve school security, enforce our existing laws, strengthening our mental health care system, and oppose efforts to weaken criminal sentences.
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.