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

Paid for and authorized by Mark Cole for Delegate

Delegate Mark Cole 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!

RE-ELECT MARK COLE!
I am up for election this year and hope I can count on your vote! I have done my best to represent your interests in Richmond and work hard on the issues that are important to you, including transportation, the economy, and education. I will continue to stand for the sound, common sense principles that have made Virginia a great place to live, work, and raise a family. I need your help to win! If you can help with a financial contribution, CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION


RICHMOND BREAKFAST
Please join Majority Leader Todd Gilbert and myself for a breakfast fundraiser! It will be on Thursday, September 19th at MCLEAN's RESTAURANT in Richmond. For more details email me or CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE BREAKFAST. I hope to see you there!

August 16, 2019
SCHOOL FUNDING

Funding for education is the largest part of the state budget. The General Assembly has provided nearly $ 4 Billion in new funding for public schools since the Great Recession. Below are the recent state school funding figures for the localities in the 88th District. This only shows state funding; local governments provide significant funds in addition to state funds. Fiscal Year 2020 are budgeted numbers, previous years are actual expenditures.

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

NATIONAL RATING
The online publication Wallet Hub has announced their 2019 list of States With the Best School Systems, and Virginia is near the top. Virginia is ranked 4th overall in terms of best school system, and 2nd for school safety. The study also found that Virginia schools had the 4th highest scores on math tests, 4th lowest incidence of bullying.

School safety has been a major focus of the General Assembly in recent years. The Select Committee on School Safety completed its work recently and presented a comprehensive final report with recommendations last session to make our students and schools safer through threat prevention, counseling realignment, increased mental health services, and increased training for school personnel and school security. The final report also includes best practices for localities on mutual aid agreements, school design and security planning, and infrastructure improvements. These recommendations were recently adopted by the General Assembly.

July 10, 2019
SPECIAL SESSION

As you probably heard, Governor Northam called the General Assembly back for a special session in response to the Virginia Beach murders. Unfortunately, I believe the Governor acted in haste and called the session before a complete investigation was done and all the facts were known. Since then, he has admitted that none of his proposals would have prevented the tragedy. The General Assembly convened on Tuesday as constitutionally required.

The General Assembly has a responsibility to enact laws in the best interest of the Commonwealth. Instead of acting rashly, we are going to take a thoughtful and deliberative approach. All legislation filed was referred to the Crime Commission for review.

The Commission will return later this year with recommendations on how to move forward. Specifically, they have been tasked with looking at all the bills that were filed, reviewing the investigations into the Virginia Beach tragedy, and reporting back with any recommendations.

I am hopeful that the bipartisan Crime Commission will do its work diligently and provide effective recommendations for the General Assembly to consider.

When the Crime Commission returns with their recommendations, we will go back to Richmond to work on real solutions to the problems of gun violence.

VIRGINIA NAMED BEST STATE FOR BUSINESS!
CNBC has named Virginia the top state for business for 2019! Virginia climbed back to the top of the rankings for several reasons, including: our business-friendly regulatory environment, low taxes, our highly-educated workforce, and our ongoing commitment to education.

CNBC specifically cited Republican initiatives in their report. We provided nearly $1 billion in tax relief to working families, championed legislation to cut burdensome and costly regulations by 25 percent, put the brakes on college tuition hikes for the first time in 20 years, and placed an emphasis on workforce training actually needed by businesses.

Additionally, we defeated numerous anti-business proposals from Democrats that would have set Virginia back. We blocked more than $17.9 Billion worth of anti-business/anti-jobs bills that would have killed 156,000 jobs, including an energy tax scheme that would significantly increase electricity rates and an effort to repeal our right-to-work law that protects employees from mandatory union membership.

21 June 2019
NEW LAWS

Most new laws passed by the General Assembly do not go into effect until 1 July; unless it is emergency legislation that passes by a 4/5 vote or the legislation specifies a later date. To find a summary of new laws CLICK HERE FOR A SUMMARY OF LEGISLATION PASSED IN 2019

REDISTRICTING COURT DECISION
For years now, several House of Delegates districts have been the subject of politically motivated court challenges funded by Democrat special interest groups. One challenge was dismissed last year by the Virginia Supreme Court; however, another received a favorable decision in a Federal court that was dominated by Democrat appointees.

The Federal judges redrew the districts in question, and several others that border them, to favor Democrats and disadvantage Republicans. Attorney General Mark Herring refused to challenge the court ruling, so the House of Delegates was forced to step in and file an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Last week, rather than decide the issue on its merits, the Supreme Court punted and dismissed the case on a technicality saying that the House did not have standing to file an appeal, so the lower court ruling stands. None of the districts in our area were affected.

The redistricting plan that passed in 2011 was bipartisan, the House was majority Republican then and the Senate Democrat, and compiled with all applicable laws and court decisions at the time. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, including the support of then Senators Ralph Northam and Mark Herring, and was approved by President Obama's Justice Department. To sum up the situation, partisan Gerrymandering won in court over bipartisan legislation.

APPROACHING TAX DEADLINE
During the 2019 General Assembly Session, we set aside nearly $450 million for a Taxpayer Relief Fund to give back money to hard-working families this October. In order to qualify, income tax returns must be filed before July 1st, and the taxpayer can't owe any back taxes to their local government, Virginia, the IRS, or any other state agency. For those who do, the money will go to settle those debts.

If you have already filed your taxes, as most have, you do not need to do anything. If you have not, you must file before July 1st to be eligible.

Rebates won't exceed taxes you paid to the state total tax liability up to a maximum of $110 for single filers and $220 for joint. For example, if your Virginia income tax liability was only $50, your check would likely be $50.

May 9, 2019
FINAL ACTIONS

The General Assembly reconvened last month to deal with Governor Northam's amendments and vetoes of legislation passed during the regular session. Some of his amendments were not accepted. Last week, the Governor vetoed several of those bills including:

House Bill 1620 / Senate Bill 1455 Would have reformed the State Board of Elections to increase its membership and reduce political influence by allowing the Board to appoint the Commissioner of Elections, similar to how local Voter Registrars are appointed by the local Electoral Board.

HB 1661 Would have authorized farmers to form an association to offer health benefits plans to their members in order to provide more affordable healthcare options.

HB 2042 This was a bi-partisan bill to require a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 days for anyone convicted of assaulting a family or household member if they had a previous violent conviction in the prior 10-year period.

HB 2303 / SB 1047 Would have required registered sex offenders to identify themselves to officials prior to entering an emergency shelter.

SB 1087 Would have permitted the General Assembly to make minor changes to legislative districts to reduce split precincts. Split precincts cause confusion among voters and increase the costs of elections. I anticipated this veto and sponsored HJ 591, which passed and would do the same thing by amending Virginia's Constitution. A Constitutional amendment will have to pass again next year and then be approved by the voters before it is effective, but the Governor cannot veto a proposed amendment. The goal is to have it in place before the next redistricting in 2021.

HB 2443 / SB 1689 Would have expanded group health benefit associations and make them easier to form to expand affordable healthcare options.

HB 2528 This bill was an attempt to combat the ongoing opioid crisis by allowing drug dealers to be charged with homicide if they sell drugs to someone who then dies due to an overdose of the drug.

The Governor signed HB 1700, the state Budget Bill, but vetoed an item in the budget which included language to limit taxpayer funding for long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs). The language restricting the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions to the minimum required by Federal law remains in the budget.

Governor Northam also signed SB 1768 to ban hand-held cell phone use while driving in a work zone, despite his amendment to the bill being rejected. His amendment stripped the work zone provision and made it a general ban while driving. The Speaker of the House ruled that the amendment was not germane because it went beyond the original purpose of the bill. One of the things that differentiates the House of Delegates from the US Congress is that any amendment to legislation must be within the scope of the original purpose of the bill.

SESSION SUMMARY
Overall, I thought the session went very well, despite the unresolved scandals involving our statewide elected officials. While you never get everything you want, we did better than I expected at the start of session. Thousands of bills were submitted for consideration during session, and 854 survived the legislative process to be passed and signed into law.

We passed a plan to provide tax relief to for hardworking Virginians. The budget makes significant investments in education, providing over $200 million in new funding for our public schools, including the largest single-year pay raise for teachers in 15 years and money for more school counselors. There are also increases in early childhood education and in financial aid for students attending higher education institutions.

This budget funds critical infrastructure improvements like expanding access to broadband and transportation. We also put additional resources into our cash reserves, to protect our AAA bond rating and against future economic downturns.

My HJ 581 to have the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) develop a strategic plan to improve I-95 passed and Virginia's Transportation Secretary recently announced that she was beginning work on this study. We also passed my HJ 615 that would amend the state Constitution to establish an independent redistricting committee to draw Congressional and legislative district lines when we have to do redistricting in 2021.

April 11, 2019
Veto Session

After legislation passes the General Assembly during the regular session, the Governor may offer amendments or veto the legislation. We convened last week to deal with numerous vetoes and amendments. Most of the amendments were clarifying in nature or a technical correction and were accepted. However, others were substantial changes in scope or effectiveness of the legislation. Legislation where the amendments were accepted, will become law. Any legislation with amendments that were rejected will be returned to Governor Northam for action. He has until May 3rd to sign or veto them. Here is a summary of some of the higher profile legislation that had amendments rejected.

House Bill 1620 / Senate Bill 1455 Reforms the State Board of Elections to increase its membership and reduce political influence by allowing the Board to appoint the Commissioner of Elections, similar to how local Voter Registrars are appointed by the local Electoral Board. Governor Northam amended it to remove that provision and keep the Commissioner as a political appointee. Those amendments were rejected.

HB 1661 Authorizes farmers to form an association to offer health benefits plans to their members in order to provide more affordable healthcare options. Governor Northam's amendment would have nullified the provisions of the bill.

HB 2042 Requires a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 days for anyone convicted of assaulting a family or household member if they had a previous violent conviction in the prior 10-year period. Governor Northam's amendment would have reduced the period to 5 years.

HB 2303 / SB 1047 Would require registered sex offenders to identify themselves to officials prior to entering an emergency shelter. Governor Northam's amendment would have removed the penalty for failure to comply which made the bill of no real effect.

HB 2443 / SB 1689 Would expand group health benefit associations and make them easier to form to expand affordable healthcare options. The Governor's amendments would basically gut the legislation.

HB 2528 This bill is an attempt to combat the ongoing opioid crisis by allowing drug dealers to be charged with homicide if they sell drugs to someone who then dies due to an overdose of the drug. Governor Northam's amendment would have limited it to make it almost useless.

SB 1087 Would permit the General Assembly to make minor changes to legislative districts to reduce split precincts. The Governor's amendments would have placed the burden entirely on local governments to fix. This would have been a huge unfunded mandate on localities and significantly increased the local costs of running elections.

SB 1768 Would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving in a work zone. The Governor's amendments stripped the work zone provision and made it a statewide ban. The Speaker of the House ruled that the amendment was not germane because it went beyond the original purpose of the bill. One of the things that differentiates the House of Delegates from the US Congress is that any amendments to legislation must be within the scope of the original purpose of the bill.

HB 1700 is the state Budget Bill. The Governor made numerous amendments to it, most of them were adopted, such as language to end the practice of revoking a driver’s license for failure to pay court fines and fees not related to driving offenses. Several were defeated including amendments to expand taxpayer funding for abortion and to give state tax "refunds" to persons who did not pay taxes.

Another bill with significant amendments that did pass was HB 2718 / SB 1716 which established an I-81 improvement fund. Governor Northam amendments increases truck registration fees, the diesel tax, and imposes a regional gas tax on localities along I-81. The regional taxes are dedicated to I-81, however, the statewide taxes will go to projects across the state. Most Republicans, including me, opposed the tax increases.

Here is a summary of Governor Northam's vetoes. None of the vetoes were overridden. Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate; the votes were basically party-line, with a majority voting to override but short of two-thirds.

HB 2260 / SB 1027 These bills sought to expand health insurance choices for Virginians by authorizes health carriers to offer lower-cost, catastrophic plans on the individual market.

SB 1240 Authorized health insurance carriers in the Commonwealth to offer short-term, limited-duration health plans. This was an attempt to increase affordable healthcare alternatives for Virginians.

SB 1674 Would have allowed any carrier offering short-term, limited-duration health plans to provide a guaranteed renewal option.

SB 1156 Would have prohibited any locality from adopting any ordinance, procedure, or policy intended to restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws. This was a ban on sanctuary cities/counties.

HB 2270 Required the sheriff or jail superintendent in charge of a local correctional facility or a regional jail to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the release of an incarcerated alien as soon as the release date is known.

SB 1038 Would have required Voter Registrars to verify the name, date of birth, and social security number provided by an applicant on the voter registration application. There have been problems with fraudulent voter registrations being submitted, and this would have been an easy way to catch many of those fraud attempts before they were actually registered.

HB 2764 Requires any person who assists an applicant with the completion of a paper voter registration application or collects a completed paper voter registration application directly from an applicant to provide his name and telephone number and indicate the group or organization with which he is affiliated, if any, on the registration application. There have been problems with third party groups incorrectly registering people to vote, and this was an attempt to allow Voter Registrars to be able to contact the group to correct the problems.

HB 2034 This legislation tried to make the position of Voter Registrar less political by requiring the local Electoral Board to petition the circuit court and show cause to fire a Registrar.

HB 2142 This bill sought to improve school security by allowing localities to hire school protection officers as retired law-enforcement officers as part-time school security officers. This would have been a less expensive alternative to hiring full-time School Resource Officers (SRO).

HB 2253 Required the State Police to issue a concealed handgun permit to a nonresident within 90 days of receipt of the nonresident's completed application unless it determines that he is disqualified.

HB 2611 Would have required the approval of the General Assembly before the state could adopt regulations establishing a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program or bringing about the participation by the Commonwealth in a regional market for the trading of carbon dioxide allowances.

HB 2269 Would have required the approval of the General Assembly before the state could adopt regulations establishing or bringing about the participation by the Commonwealth in the Transportation and Climate Initiative or any other regional transportation sector emissions program.

HB 2749 Required the Department of Social Services to report annually the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services and the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions, information regarding the number of reported violations for misuse of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits. This was an attempt to gather information on welfare fraud.

SB 1150 Required the authorization of a Commonwealth Attorney or law-enforcement agency for a magistrate to issue an arrest warrant for a misdemeanor offense where the accused is a law-enforcement officer and the alleged offense arises out of the performance of his public duties.

SB 1251 Switchblade knives are illegal in Virginia. This bill would not have changed that but would have allowed knife manufacturers an exemption to produce them for sale in other states where they are legal. This legislation was requested by a knife manufacturer who may now have to move out of state.

SB 1782 Prohibited a person who has been convicted of a felony offense of (a) fraud or misrepresentation or (b) robbery, extortion, burglary, larceny, embezzlement, fraudulent conversion, perjury, bribery, treason, or racketeering from qualifying to be a notary.

March 28, 2019
VETOES

Governor Northam has signed most of the bills that were passed during the General Assembly session. He has amended some bills and vetoed 17. The General Assembly will convene on April 3rd to deal with his amendments and vetoes. Below is a summary of the legislation he has vetoed. Realistically, we have almost no chance of overriding any of his vetoes. It requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to override, and given the partisan divide I do not expect that to happen.

HB 2260 / SB 1027 These bills sought to expand health insurance choices for Virginians by authorizes health carriers to offer lower-cost, catastrophic plans on the individual market.

SB 1240 Authorized health insurance carriers in the Commonwealth to offer short-term, limited-duration health plans. This was an attempt to increase affordable healthcare alternatives for Virginians.

SB 1674 Would have allowed any carrier offering short-term, limited-duration health plans to provide a guaranteed renewal option.

SB 1156 Would have prohibited any locality from adopting any ordinance, procedure, or policy intended to restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws. This was a ban on sanctuary cities/counties.

HB 2270 Required the sheriff or jail superintendent in charge of a local correctional facility or a regional jail to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the release of an incarcerated alien as soon as the release date is known.

SB 1038 Would have required Voter Registrars to verify the name, date of birth, and social security number provided by an applicant on the voter registration application. There have been problems with fraudulent voter registrations being submitted, and this would have been an easy way to catch many of those fraud attempts before they were actually registered.

HB 2764 Requires any person who assists an applicant with the completion of a paper voter registration application or collects a completed paper voter registration application directly from an applicant to provide his name and telephone number and indicate the group or organization with which he is affiliated, if any, on the registration application. There have been problems with third party groups incorrectly registering people to vote, and this was an attempt to allow Voter Registrars to be able to contact the group to correct the problems.

HB 2034 This legislation tried to make the position of Voter Registrar less political by requiring the local Electoral Board to petition the circuit court and show cause to fire a Registrar.

HB 2142 This bill sought to improve school security by allowing localities to hire school protection officers as retired law-enforcement officers as part-time school security officers. This would have been a less expensive alternative to hiring full-time School Resource Officers (SRO).

HB 2253 Required the State Police to issue a concealed handgun permit to a nonresident within 90 days of receipt of the nonresident's completed application unless it determines that he is disqualified.

HB 2611 Would have required the approval of the General Assembly before the state could adopt regulations establishing a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program or bringing about the participation by the Commonwealth in a regional market for the trading of carbon dioxide allowances.

HB 2269 Would have required the approval of the General Assembly before the state could adopt regulations establishing or bringing about the participation by the Commonwealth in the Transportation and Climate Initiative or any other regional transportation sector emissions program.

HB 2749 Required the Department of Social Services to report annually the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services and the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions, information regarding the number of reported violations for misuse of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits. This was an attempt to gather information on welfare fraud.

SB 1150 Required the authorization of a Commonwealth Attorney or law-enforcement agency for a magistrate to issue an arrest warrant for a misdemeanor offense where the accused is a law-enforcement officer and the alleged offense arises out of the performance of his public duties.

SB 1251 Switchblade knives are illegal in Virginia. This bill would not have changed that but would have allowed knife manufacturers an exemption to produce them for sale in other states where they are legal. This legislation was requested by a knife manufacturer who may now have to move out of state.

SB 1782 Prohibited a person who has been convicted of a felony offense of (a) fraud or misrepresentation or (b) robbery, extortion, burglary, larceny, embezzlement, fraudulent conversion, perjury, bribery, treason, or racketeering from qualifying to be a notary.

March 1, 2019
ADJOURNMENT

The 2019 General Assembly session is officially over! We adjourned last week after a very busy 47 days. Despite the distractions taking place elsewhere on Capitol Square, the General Assembly was focused on getting our job done in a timely and responsible manner.

The controversies of the statewide office holders led to turmoil, protests, and embarrassment for our state. On the other hand, the General Assembly was not distracted by the scandals that rocked the Commonwealth. We passed a state budget, cut taxes, and passed numerous other bills which have been sent to the Governor for his review and action. He may sign, amend, or veto the legislation.

We will reconvene in April to deal with any amendments and vetoes by the Governor.

STATE BUDGET
In order to get the budget balanced, we had to cut over $1 billion in new spending proposed by Governor Northam and the Democrats. The budget includes no tax or fee increases. $120 million in healthcare savings are included in the budget as a result of lower than expected Medicaid costs and updated forecasting language.

It includes funding for a five percent teacher pay raise and $85.7 million in new funding for K-12 education. This is the fourth state teacher pay raise in six years. The budget also makes targeted investments in our at-risk student programs.

School safety was a major priority for the General Assembly this year and the budget includes approximately $12 million in funding for school resource officers, infrastructure, and other initiatives designed to keep our students safe in schools.

In the higher education field, the budget included $57 million to freeze tuition at our colleges and universities, and increased funding for financial aid by $16 million. Virginia has the nation’s best higher education system, but we must continually strive to ensure the it is affordable.

The state budget also includes a three percent pay raise for state employees.

Finally, the budget includes longstanding language that restricts taxpayer funding of abortions.

You can view the full budget by visiting budget.lis.virginia.gov.

TAX RELIEF
Changes to the Federal tax code last year required changes to the state tax code to refund an unintended increase in many Virginians' state tax bills. We passed House Bill (HB) 2529 and Senate Bill (SB) 1372 to provide a $1 billion tax relief package. These bills were passed with an emergency clause and have already been signed by the Governor, so they have already been incorporated into the state tax code.

This is a compromise that will provide $420 million in tax refunds to Virginia taxpayers in October of 2019. This means individuals will receive a refund of up to $110 and couples up to $220. The plan also increased the standard deduction by fifty percent beginning in tax year 2019. It maintains the current rules for state and local taxes (SALT), so homeowners are not hit with an unexpected tax increase at the state level. Also included are key business tax provisions for Virginia's job creators.

The total package will guarantee at least $976 million in tax relief, or on average about $400 for every family in the Commonwealth.

LEGISLATION
Below is some of the legislation I sponsored or co-sponsored this year that passed. The bills have been sent to the Governor for his review and action.

House Joint Resolution (HJ) 581 / Senate Joint Resolution (SJ) 276 Interstate 95 Corridor Improvement Plan; tasks the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to develop a strategic plan to improve I-95 from Thornburg to 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, such as the Rappahannock River Crossing now under construction, which will help, but a corridor wide improvement plan is needed.

HJ 615 A Constitutional amendment that requires the establishment of an independent redistricting commissions to draw districts during the next redistricting in 2021 in order to reduce partisan influences. Since it is a proposed amendment to Virginia's Constitution, it must pass again next year and then be approved by the voters before it becomes effective.

HJ 591 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.

HB 1620 Reforms the State Board of Elections and the Department of Elections to reduce partisan political influence.

HB 1614 / SB 1248 Allows localities to establish a grant fund to help fix stormwater management systems that are failing and impacting neighborhoods.

HB 1623 Would make enrolling in school easier for military families relocating to the Commonwealth.

HB 1656 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.

HB 1734 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.

HB 2270 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.

HB 2278 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.

HB 2694 Allows members of HOAs to request HOA notices by e-mail instead of physical mail, reducing the costs for notification.

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.

BUDGET PROPOSAL
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.

TAX RELIEF
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.

LEGISLATION STATUS
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.

HJ 581 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.

HJ 591 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.

HJ 615 Constitutional amendment that requires the establishment of state and local independent redistricting commissions to draw districts during the next redistricting in 2021.

HB 1614 Allows localities to establish a grant fund to help fix stormwater management systems that are failing and impacting neighborhoods.

HB 1617 Prohibits personal use of campaign funds. This has passed the House before but has yet to make it through the Senate.

HB 1620 Reforms the State Board of Elections and the Department of Elections to reduce partisan political influence.

HB 1623 Would make enrolling in school easier for military families relocating to the Commonwealth.

HB 1656 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.

HB 1734 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.

HB 2270 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.

HB 2278 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.

HB 2529 Repeals the unintended state income tax increase caused by the Federal income tax cuts (see the summary on tax relief above).

HB 2694 Allows HOAs to send notices by e-mail instead of physical mail, reducing the costs for notification.

February 3, 2019
LATE-TERM ABORTION

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.

TAXES
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

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
SESSION

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
GOVERNOR'S BUDGET

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.