As we approach the midway mark (Crossover) of the General Assembly, there are long days filled with many sub-committee and committee meetings with even longer dockets. The Senate and House of Delegates must complete the work introduced in their respective chamber by February 16. Each will also complete its plan for the biennial budget by February 25. At that point, budget conferees will start the negotiations to produce its amended budget for adoption by the General Assembly.
Many initiatives come before the Senate Finance Committee, as they often have a financial impact. I am a small businessman and understand what it takes to make payroll. I am also concerned when we fail to address the gap between the minimum wage and a wage that enables working Virginians to sustain themselves. In its infinite wisdom, the Senate Finance Committee (10 Republicans and 5 Democrats) voted down a number of bills to incrementally raise the minimum wage from $7.25/hour. Hard working Virginians living paycheck to paycheck should NOT be forced to choose what bill to pay (water or electricity; food or medicine) on an ongoing basis. In the end, this is going to come back to bite us. Virginia is going to have to cover the cost of medical and social services, and that means taxpayers are subsidizing business models that rely on government assistance while complaining about tax rates.
Another interesting twist in this same committee was the demise of SB326 (a bill I introduced) to reduce income tax rates on businesses. This bill was intended to be an incentive for further economic development in the Commonwealth. The Finance Committee is on a slippery slope as we continue to claw our way back from the Great Recession. Make no mistake about it, Sequestration has had a major impact on the health of Virginia’s economic engine. Just keeping even with job losses is a win for all of us. The votes we take in these next couple of weeks are critical to this continued recovery.
Welcoming the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce to the General Assembly this week.
Once again, a bill often referred to as the “Tebow Bill” came before the Senate. I strongly oppose this measure for a number of reasons including the value sports has in our region, a region which does not seem to suffer from a shortage of qualified players. If you want your children to participate in public school sports, send them to public school. The parents made this decision for their children when they decided they didn’t want to be a part of the system. You have the opportunity and option to send your children to public school, so you are either in or out.
Additionally, Senator Vogel’s bill regarding changing the legal age of marriage to 18 was reported from Courts of Justice. It’s disconcerting that we have to have a bill to address this issue here in the Commonwealth. This is a legitimate interest to the state, and we owe it to our children to make sure they are living in a safe environment where they are never forced into uncomfortable situations.
Talking with the Virginia Mortgage Lenders Association about the current lending system.
Legislation to reform structured settlements passed the Senate 40-0 on Wednesday, righting an egregious wrong. Virginia will now be able to offer citizens wishing to sell their structured settlements greater protection by having them attend court hearings dealing with their settlements, and by requiring the hearings to take place in the seller’s jurisdiction. These new provisions ensure people know what is happening with their money and that the process no longer takes place behind closed doors.
In Education and Health on Thursday, the committee voted down legislation that would allow localities to start the school year before Labor Day. This bill has been proposed in past years, and reaches the same fate each time. There is no evidence to suggest starting school earlier has a positive impact on our children, and the bill would have a major detrimental impact on our economy. Right now the system we have is working. If and when evidence-based results arise that show moving up the start date would be beneficial we can look at this issue again. I call your attention to the volume of Northern Virginia students in our state public colleges and universities. That number is disproportionate to any other region/locality in the state.
On the Senate floor, we held up our end of the bargain struck by the Governor with Republican legislators, and passed the bill (SB610) approving recognition of out-of-state concealed handgun permits. Additionally, Senator Howell's bill (SB49) and Senator Edwards' bill (SB715) were passed on the Senate floor Friday morning. Senator Howell's bill will prohibit those subject to a protective order from possessing a firearm, and Senator Edwards' bill will require the State Police to be available at gun shows to provide background checks at the seller’s request. The House versions of all three bills passed through the House Committee on Militia, Police, and Public Safety, and I look forward to their passage on the floor. Both pieces of legislation are a step in the right direction for Virginia and critical to public safety, especially for victims of domestic violence.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.