Senator Obenshain sent out a report on Saturday regarding progress in the General Assembly:
As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” – but with crossover just around the corner, the time for the Senate to take action on its own bills is almost at an end, so now is a great time to take stock of where we are and what has been accomplished thus far. This year we have pursued an aggressive agenda, seeking to create jobs, increase educational opportunity and make government operate more effectively and efficiently through government reform.
There’s no question of this year’s top priority – protecting Virginia’s position as the best place in America to do business. To that end, the Senate has passed legislation extending the sunset on tax credits for companies creating at least 50 new jobs (Senator Bryce Reeves’ SB 368) and expanding the Virginia Investment Partnership Act to cover a broader range of job creation and growth opportunities (Senator Steve Newman’s SB 338).
Other legislation and budget items still pending would create a small business investor tax credit (Senator Ryan McDougle’s SB 344) and expand the Commonwealth’s investment in job training and placement, economic development assistance, and various other efforts to attract businesses to Virginia.
Most education bills are still waiting to be voted on in the next few days, but looking ahead, the Senate is poised to move forward on legislation allowing colleges and universities to partner with local school boards to establish college partnership laboratory schools (Senator Mamie Locke’s SB 475) and to expand virtual school programming to give more students the advantage of new educational options (Senator Newman’s SB 598). I’m also excited about legislation in the House that would allow dual enrollment programs allowing students to complete an associate’s degree concurrent with their high school diploma, though it will be a while until the Senate takes action on this proposal.
Senator McDougle is carrying SJ 66, the Governor’s executive reorganization plan, which eliminates two state agencies and merges seven state agencies into others. It also eliminates 19 boards and commissions entirely and merges the functions of a further 23 into 11. Virginia is bogged down in an alphabet soup of overlapping agencies, boards, and commissions, and these much-needed reforms will help streamline government operations and save taxpayer dollars. This proposal is the outgrowth of the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring, of which I am a member. The plan met with the Senate’s approval.
SB 1, patroned by Senator Steve Martin (I am chief co-patron), is on its way to the House. The bill, into which my SB 55 was incorporated, requires voters to show some form of ID before voting a regular (rather than provisional) ballot. It’s a bill that improves the integrity of the process and ensures that no one’s vote is watered down by fraud. The rhetoric was strong, but the truth is this is a common sense measure with one purpose – It will prevent fraud, and nothing more.
One of the biggest issues in land use in recent years is the rise of Urban Development Areas (UDAs), which impose limits on development and land use in certain localities. Right now, a UDA, once adopted, cannot be revoked. Senator Ralph Smith’s SB 274 establishes that UDAs are optional rather than mandatory, and that the voting public can rethink a locality’s decision to adopt one.
Gun Rights and Self Defense
A man’s home is his castle – and under Senator Stuart’s SB 4, the Code will finally recognize that. This bill (and Senator Stanley’s SB 64, which it incorporates) formally establishes in law that an individual has the right to defend themselves and others in their own home. I am satisfied that this does not extinguish the rights we already have through the common law and am pleased to see this important principle embedded in statutory law. The Senate also passed Senator Bill Carrico’s SB 323 repealing Virginia gun-a-month law. Our Second Amendment rights weren’t meant to be rationed – and a law enacted before we had instant background checks simply doesn’t make very much sense today.
Obenshain Legislative Package
A number of my own bills have also passed the Senate. I’ve already shared the details of many of them with you, so I won’t go into much detail here, but I’m still excited to be able to report important victories such as –
- Ensuring that state contracts go to the best qualified bidder, whether or not they employ union labor (SB 242)
- Equipping charter schools with the tools they need to succeed (SB 440)
- Enhancing penalties for heinous crimes against minors (SB 436)
- Enhanced sentences for repeat drug dealers (SB 159)
- Reforming the SWAM program (preferences program for state contracting) to ensure transparency, integrity and cost consciousness (SB 250)
- Securing our elections by closing a loophole that allowed some people register and vote on the same day without providing and ID to do either (SB 57)
- Creating tort reform for winter sports through a Winter Sports Safety Act (SB 246)
On Monday and Tuesday there will be votes on a number of other significant bills I am carrying, including the Virginia Property Rights Amendment (SJ 3) and a bill to keep good teachers by giving them three year term contracts instead of the current continuing term contracts, otherwise known as tenure (SB 438).
In all, as we approach the halfway point, I’m happy with where we are. Still, storm clouds are forming on the horizon.
I joined the Senate of Virginia in 2004 when a Republican-controlled Senate backed the Warner tax hikes (over my strong opposition, of course). Predictably, Republicans paid the price at the ballot box, and deservedly so. Now, to my surprise, we are poised to go another round.
This week, the Finance Committee favorably reported a bill (SB 631) that would establish automatic gas tax. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the Committee (on a 12-3 vote) then hijacked the Governor’s transportation bill to tack the gas tax hike onto that bill as well.
To quote Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young:
If I had ever been here before
I would probably know just what to do.
Well, I have been here before and I do know just what to do. We will fight it and defeat it. If it somehow clears the Senate, I can say with absolute certainty that it will never make it through the House of Delegates. This is a tax increase that will hit working Virginians the hardest. It is simply unacceptable – and if there has to be a showdown on it, then let there be a showdown.
But for today, at least, I’m looking on the bright side. And halfway through session, there’s a lot to be happy about. So enjoy your weekend – and, as always, don’t hesitate to share your opinion with me on bills coming before the Senate!
With best regards,
Mark D. Obenshain
Virginia State Senator