By Delegate Kris Amundson, D-44th District
I want to thank everyone who joined Senator Toddy Puller and me at Sherwood Regional Library last Saturday morning for our first legislative Town Meeting. We were grateful that so many Mount Vernon residents showed up to listen to presentations on state transportation policy and the state budget and to ask their always-insightful questions.
Transportation Secretary Clement, who served in the House with both of us, walked everyone through the reforms that are underway at the Department of Transportation. He has put together an outstanding team of professionals who are making real progress in restoring accountability and professionalism to this critically important state agency. Not surprisingly, many of the questions dealt with Route 1.
Bill Murray, the Deputy Director of the Governor's Policy Office, is one of those rare individuals who not only understands budgets but can help others understand them as well. Many of those in the audience expressed their gratitude to Bill for his straightforward and clear explanations of how Virginia's budget got to where it is and what we may do in the future to improve things.
But now I'm back in Richmond for the second week of the session. Last week, like most first weeks, was quiet. Committees were just starting their work, so few bills reached the floor. But this is the week that the real work begins. You'll see General Assembly members rushing from committee to committee, both to present our bills and to vote on the bills of other delegates.
I am writing this column on Monday, but I want to give you a preview of what the week will be like. Here's what's on tap for me tomorrow.
My day will start at 7 a.m. before a subcommittee of the House Committee on General Laws. They will consider my bill 1761, which would allow teachers to purchase computers through a state contract.
At 7:30, I have two bills before a subcommittee of the House Education Committee. My bill, HB 1495, would require the state to fully meet its obligations in funding the Standards of Quality, an important bill to increase the amount of state funding for schools in Fairfax County. HB 1493 would add a section to the Standards of Quality on the importance of adequate school facilities to the educational process.
At 8:30, it will be time to appear before another subcommittee of General Laws, this time hearing my bill to add a seat to the state's Emergency Services Board for the International Association of Fire Fighters. Because this is a relatively straightforward piece of legislation, it has not been assigned to a subcommittee. If my technology bill is approved by the subcommittee, it will also be heard at that time.
IN THE MIDST OF committee obligations, the General Assembly will convene at noon. Our deliberations of the Commonwealth's business will last well into the afternoon. Though Speaker William Howell has worked diligently to streamline our rules and regulations, members of the House of Delegates are an opinionated group. All 100 of us are not shy about speaking our minds!
At 5 p.m., another subcommittee of General Laws will hear legislation I am carrying for Virginia's police officers. Today, citizens often have greater access to the police department's files on individual officers than the officers themselves have. My bill, 1759, would provide a more level playing field, and save the state money against frivolous lawsuits.
After all of the meetings with delegates, I will move on to a meeting with parents from Thomas Jefferson High School. I am carrying a budget amendment that would treat Fairfax County's Governor's School the same way that every other Governor's School in the Commonwealth is treated.
Not every day is quite this hectic, thank goodness. But all of them start early and end late. Is it tiring? Of course. But it's also energizing. During 46 days, we will consider more than 2,100 pieces of legislation. Some are terrific, some are truly awful, and some are good ideas whose time may not yet have come. But all represent an effort to shape the future of Virginia.
As always, I invite you to stop by my office (Room 709) in the General Assembly Building if you are in Richmond. Or contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 804 698 1044.
Governor Lays Out His Vision
By Senator Patricia "Patsy" Ticer,
During the first week of the legislative session, it is always fascinating to attend the governor's annual State of the Commonwealth Address where he lays out his visions and objectives for the coming session and fiscal year.
Before Governor Warner discussed his hopes for the upcoming session, he took the time to pay tribute to the many distinguished guests in the audience. The first to be honored was the retiring Virginia Supreme Court Justice, Harry Carrico, whose retirement comes after 42 years of service on the Court. Leroy Hassell, an old friend and classmate of the governor's will be replacing Justice Carrico on January 31. Other notable guests in attendance were the chiefs of police from each of the areas that were terrorized by the snipers, the head of the National Guard, and the Nobel Prize winner from George Mason.
As Governor Warner tries to revive the state economically and ensure its stability in the future, his methods of doing so are clear: long-term financial planning and strategic thinking. The governor has consolidated agencies and provided safeguards to ensure that Virginians are never again faced with these budget shortfalls. Not only are we working with $8 million less than in 2000 but we also have 44,000 more people on Medicaid, higher population in colleges and universities, and 5,000 more people in jails.
Because this is a short session it is very important that the two parties try to cooperate to pass legislation that is most beneficial to the people. While the budget is in crisis the core issues must still be addressed. Governor Warner has stated that he will not sign legislation that cuts funding for education because there is no priority higher than support for our public schools. I agree. He also said that he would veto any legislation that would raid money from VRS.
ASIDE FROM education, the two proposals that gained the most applause at the address were those on reopening DMV offices and Warner stressed opposition to tax increases. The governor also highlighted the reforms already made to VDOT and promised further accountability and accuracy measures for project management.
It is amazing to see the enthusiasm that is evoked from the audience through those types of statements. Every three minutes or so people were standing in applause of the governor's words. This is when you see bipartisanship at its best.
I hope that we can maintain a spirit of cooperation to truly serve the citizens of Virginia as we progress into the labor-intensive six-week session. I will tell you more about my own legislative agenda in the next report.
Warner Issues Challenges
By Delegate Marian Van Landingham, D-45th District
In concluding his state-of-the-state address opening the 2003 Session of the General Assembly, Governor Warner threw down a challenge to Virginia citizens and their elected representatives.
'What kind of public education system do you want? And what are you willing to pay for it? Or for higher education, or transportation? What level of services should we provide for the mentally or physically disabled?
'And in these troubled times, what resources should we commit to public safety?'
The governor and those of us on Appropriations have heard much talk lately that the state should just provide "core services," but how are these to be defined? If we are to resist the pressures of special interests, are we against advocates for better mental health services who represent one interest? Advocates for programs at budget hearings are enviably citizens representing the needs of particular populations within our Commonwealth.
Governor Warner wants the citizens of Virginia to think seriously about these issues.
By proposing reorganization of many activities of state government to increase efficiency, and by making deep spending and personnel cuts over the past year and proposing more for 2004, the governor has worked to meet the immediate budget crisis as fairly as possible.
But Virginia is a rapidly growing state and every year there are thousands of more school children and prospective college students, as well as more senior citizens and handicapped persons needing services. And with sharply rising drug costs, Medicaid payouts split 50/50 with the Federal government are skyrocketing. Every year our roads are clogged with more and more cars and trucks.
The future demands some kind of political consensus on achievable priorities supported by a revenue base citizens are willing to accept as fair.
Governor Warner and many legislators also believe that there must be some agreement on the proper financing roles of state and local governments so that tax cuts and budget problems at the state level do not force localities to raise local property taxes to make up for loses in state revenues.
Despite the reluctance of many legislators to deal with these large issues before next fall's elections, Governor Warner urged immediate and serious discussions.
Decisions need to be made. The future is very near.
You may reach me by calling the Constituent number or sending me an e-mail.
Constituent Viewpoint: 1-800-889-0229
E-Mail Address: del_VanLandingham @house.state.va.us