Del. Gary Reese (R-67th) may only be a sophomore in the Virginia State Legislature, but he's approaching the upcoming session like a seasoned veteran.
"I'm carrying probably 20 bills on my own and co-patroning a number of others," he said Friday in his Fairfax law office. "It's going to be a heck of a lot of hard work with all these bills and, at the same time, the over-arching issue of the budget."
The bills are on behalf of Fairfax County, the clerks of the General District and Circuit courts, trial lawyers and the county School Board. They deal with the budget, transportation, adoption and state funding for schools.
Reese and Prince William Del. Michelle McQuigg are part of the Cost-Cutting Caucus — the largest, individual caucus in the House — and Reese is its budget chairman. Together, they've been working on a performance-based budgeting bill that passed the House last year, but died in the Senate, and they hope for approval in both arenas, this time around.
"It would mandate performance-based budgeting for state government," said Reese. "It's her bill [that] I'm co-patroning; mine is a companion bill called the Taxpayers' Budget Bill of Rights. It says that the governor's proposed budget will be in a format and language easily understood by the people of Virginia and will directly relate expenditures to goals, objectives, outcomes and standards of performance."
Reese's bill would also require this budget to be placed on the state Web site so people could see for themselves if the adopted budget is actually accomplishing its intended goals. Said Reese: "You can't do that now."
He's also promoting two bills dealing with adoption. One would mandate that specific information be given by the health-care provider to an individual contemplating an abortion. It would tell the benefits of adoption and would inform the woman about where she could obtain financial help and psychological counseling for the adoption.
"It would connect her with families and groups who'd offer support for adoption, instead of abortion," said Reese. "And this information would be provided in a non-judgmental fashion."
His other bill on this subject would make Fiscal Year 2003 the Year of Adoption. "The state — through its public-information programs, TV, radio and the print media — would stress the importance and benefits of adoption," explained Reese. "It would make it plain that the state's interest is in adoption, not abortion."
Regarding transportation, Reese has authored a bill that would require the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to make a decision within six months of receiving a petition to restrict commercial, through-truck traffic on a road.
In addition, Del. Thomas Rust (R-86th) is the chief patron and Reese is the co-patron of a bill to change the highway-funding allocation formula so that it includes a factor for traffic congestion. "Probably the maximum amount that such a change would bring back to Northern Virginia is $11 million to $13 million," he said. "But it's worth trying for."
A proposed change in the education funding formula is also in the works. Toward that end, the Republican members of the House from Fairfax County — Reese, Rust and Dels. David Albo (R-42nd) and Thomas Bolvin (R-43rd) — will make a specific proposal, this Friday, Jan. 10.
Although Reese didn't want to release the details before the formal announcement, he said the change concerns the Local Component Index (LCI) — the system by which localities receive state funding for schools. "As things stand now in Fairfax County, if you take a dollar out-of-pocket from the sales tax and send it to Richmond for schools, you'll receive back 24 cents," he said.
While it's admirable to want to aid the schools in the southern part of the state, said Reese, "At some point, helping your brethren [there] ends up being expropriation — which is the involuntary taking of money and assets. At the 75-cent mark, it's there."
As a result, he said, Fairfax's Republican delegation plans to make a proposal on how to cap the LCI so as to provide approximately $74 million more per year for Fairfax County schools. More details will be forthcoming at Friday morning's press conference in Richmond.
Reese and others are also carrying a bill on behalf of the local School Board dealing with drug and alcohol testing. It would allow the School Board to receive the results of a student's drug and alcohol tests so it could then place that student into a particular school or treatment/counseling program.
Reese also carried to Richmond with him a bill requested by School Board members Rita Thompson (at-large), Mychele Brickner (at-large), Chris Braunlich (Lee District) and Tessie Wilson (Braddock District). It follows recent changes — including a hefty raise — made to county schools Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech's contract.
According to Reese, the proposed bill "requires local school boards to provide public notice of the board's intention to re-negotiate, extend or amend a division superintendent's contract, at least 28 days prior to any such action. And if the re-negotiation has to do with compensation or duration of the contract, the board must give 28 days notice and hold a public hearing."
Another education-related bill tries to standardize job classifications. Currently, jobs in Fairfax County schools are classified differently than they are in other counties, so they can't be adequately compared.
"We need common job classifications and position descriptions that would be used in reporting information to the State Board of Education so we could be compared in things such as student-teacher ratio," explained Reese. "For example, Virginia Beach's classification of instructional employees is different from ours, [so that would throw off the numbers]." Besides, he added, "The federal 'No Child Left Behind' [program] is ultimately going to require it, so we better get ready."
Also in the realm of education, Reese foresees a big fight over funding for private and parochial schools — and he's already rolling up his sleeves. "A number of my colleagues have filed major constitutional amendments and voucher bills to take public money and put it into private and parochial schools," he said. "I'm not interested in doing it."
He stressed, as well, that these same people fought to impose SOLs on Virginia's public schools, but private and parochial schools have no SOLs. Therefore, said Reese, "They don't have this accountability. That's disturbing — in a monumental fashion."
"They also argue that parochial and private schools can teach students cheaper," he continued. But that's because the playing field isn't level, he said, and they're not mandated to do many of the things that public schools are.
"There's no requirement for them to take special-ed, emotionally disturbed or multiple-handicapped students, nor students subject to major discipline problems or students who can't even speak in their own language," said Reese. "That's going to be a major battle that'll probably come to the Education Committee — and I'm on it."
The 46-day legislative session began this Wednesday, Jan. 8, and Reese knows full well that state budget shortfalls will take center stage. "I think they're going to go after schools and Medicaid," he warned. "I just hope we're going to be able to keep the bear from the door of schools, and that schools and social services — which helps those who can't help themselves — don't take a hit."
Also beginning Wednesday, Reese's office began a telephone survey of all the voting households in the 67th District. Constituents may go to www.delegatereese.org to respond to the survey, give their viewpoints, see the issues he's dealing with and check his voting record. Said Reese: "We'd appreciate everyone's participation because it gives us an idea of where people stand on the major issues." He may also be reached at 804-698-1067.
Eager to tackle the challenges ahead, Reese said he likes "almost all" of his fellow legislators and looks forward to working with them. "You've got to respect the citizen-legislator concept," he said. "It calls upon the widest possible variety of individuals to give great sacrifices in the interest of government — and that it succeeds is a great compliment to our Founders."