The first week of the 2013 legislative session of the Virginia General Assembly is now history.Catching my breath in my Capitol Square office on Monday morning after a busy first week in Richmond, followed by town hall meeting that I hosted with Sen. George Barker (R-39th) for Prince William County constituents, it’s apparent that we are in for a fast ride in the Virginia State Capitol over the next five weeks.
Our 2013 session opened on Wednesday, January 9th, when House Speaker William J. Howell gaveled us into session for the next six weeks. This year is designated as the “short session” of the General Assembly, during which we meet for a fast and furious six weeks. Next year is designated as the “long session” when we meet for a full eight weeks. The long session is typically dominated by the budget process that results in debate and approval of the biennial (two-year) Virginia state budget. The budget cycle in which we’re now operating is at the $85 billion level and can be viewed at www.governor.virginia.gov. Most agree that unprecedented fiscal uncertainties drive a need for a cautious budget over the coming year.
After a number of meetings on the opening day, members of the General Assembly gathered in the House of Delegates chamber in a joint legislative session to hear Gov. Bob McDonnell’s annual State of the Commonwealth Address. During his presentation, the governor outlined his proposals for the final year of his administration and reported on the state of affairs in the Commonwealth.
As expected, Gov. McDonnell’s address centered on matters of reform initiatives and monetary investments in transportation and K-12 education. Both are critical issues for the Commonwealth and will consume much of our attention over the next five weeks.
In the area of transportation, our primary challenge is to stop the movement of some $500 million each year from Virginia’s road construction account to the road maintenance account. To do so, we must identify sources of revenue that replenish regularly and are dependable funding sources for Virginia’s large system of roads and highways.
Gov. McDonnell has proposed a transportation package that consists of a number of elements, including repeal of the gas tax of 17.5 cents per gallon. This would be replaced by an increase in the state sales tax from 5% to 5.8%, with the additional 0.8% devoted to transportation needs and start the process of new funding for transportation. His proposal also includes increases in vehicle-related fees.
Both parties will discuss the governor’s transportation proposals in depth over the next several weeks. Delegates and senators from both parties have proposed several alternative proposals, and I predict at this early point that we will see some sort of hybrid proposal emerge from the committee process.
In the area of K-12 education reform, the governor has proposed a state-supported pay raise of 2% for teachers and educators, along with reforms to teacher employment contracts and the development of local incentives for teachers who help students make academic progress.
We are seeing a greater emphasis on programs that recruit and retain high-quality teachers in subjects that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math. They also include creation of a Governor’s Center for Excellence in Teaching for the professional development of our best teachers.
This session, I am patroning comprehensive legislation on protocols to be followed in suspected concussions sustained by youth athletes. I am also carrying a bill to reauthorize the Virginia Commission on Civics Education that I chair to encourage youth participation in civic and public activities in their communities.
This year, Sen. George Barker (D-39) and I are teaming together on a bill to ban texting while driving. The bill makes texting a primary driving offense and carries a $250 fine for the first offense and a $500 fine for each successive offense. It’s time to put teeth into state law to dissuade this dangerous activity behind the steering wheel.
As chair of the General Assembly Military and Veteran Caucus, I am joining forces with Sen. Toddy Puller (D-36th) to move a bill to formalize the Virginia Veterans Values (V3) program, which will increase employment of military veterans by Virginia businesses. Also, I have joined forces with House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-66th) to start the process for constructing the next Virginia Veterans Care Center in Northern Virginia. From my perspective, Prince William County is an ideal venue for such a center.
In short, the 2013 legislative session of the General Assembly is shaping up as a breathtaking event between now and when we adjourn on February 23rd. If any residents of the 51st House District are in Richmond, please stop by our office in Room 406 of the General Assembly Building where our offices are located. I may be reached at DelRAnderson@house.virginia.gov, or at our office number, 804-698-1051. You may also reach my legislative assistant, Ryan M. Galloway, at the same number or at RGalloway@house.virginia.gov. Regardless of your opinion on an issue or bill, and regardless of your party affiliation, we value your views and are pleased to represent you in Richmond.