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Votes

Delegates Identify Issues

2007 legislative session commences with a full hopper

Last year Virginia Delegate Kristin J. Amundson (D-44), prior to leaving for the 2006 legislative session, announced that she was packing spring clothing in preparation for an extended session. This year she might want to consider an entire second wardrobe for Richmond.

With over 4,000 requests for bills prior to the opening gavel yesterday this so-called "short session" could turn out to be anything but. "The Governor told us this morning that he feels very optimistic about this session," said State Senator Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36) on Tuesday morning in a phone call from Richmond. That assessment remains to be tested.

Contributing to that proposed legislative avalanche are bills and priorities from Puller and Amundson. Both lead off their list with transportation. "I hope we do something meaningful on transportation. But, we in the Senate will have to wait and see what comes out of the House," said Puller.

"I believe the time is right to increase the gasoline tax. It's now at 17 and a half cents. It could be raised a dime without the price of gasoline going up a dime," Puller said.

"Raising that tax would also get those from out of state to help pay for our roads instead of placing the whole burden on Virginians. Other people use our roads and they should help pay for them," she said.

Amundson echoed that emphasis on transportation." I have a bill that focuses on the maintenance of our streets and highways. That element of our transportation needs is eating up a great deal of VDOT's budget," she said.

Amundson had previously noted that, "Although this is not a budget year there will be some very critical budgetary issues up for discussion and action. There is approximately $1 billion in revenue to be allocated to specific projects. The bulk of that money will go to transportation issues."

Other issues of top priority to each for which they intend to introduce legislation include the following:

Puller:

*A workforce affordable housing bill for Prince William County

*Allowing churches to conduct criminal background checks on potential employees similar to those conducted by the State Police

*A bill dealing with compensation for mental health issues

*Legislation to clarify the land ownership dealing with the transfer of land at George Washington's Grist Mill property in Mount Vernon District

*Legislation to allow Mount Vernon Estate to sell whiskey distilled at the reconstructed Grist Mill distillery through State ABC stores

Amundson:

*Legislation creating a separate celebration for George Washington's birthday on February 22, his actual birthday, in addition to the national celebration of Presidents' Day which honors both Washington and Lincoln. "Schools would be encouraged to teach about Washington on that day in order to increase their knowledge of our first President," she explained.

*A bill dealing with election integrity to have legislative districts drawn by a nonpartisan group and to discourage providing false information in telephone calls to voters in order to discourage them from voting for one party or candidate or another. The item dealing with district boundaries would require a constitutional amendment. "Voters should pick their candidates not vice versa," she said.

*A bill to promote and encourage the development of workforce affordable housing

*Provide money for shelter kitchens and to exempt them from Health Department regulations requiring that they be comparable to commercial kitchens in order to provide food for the homeless.

*Legislation to create a program of training for people to gain basic workforce skills

*Creation of a saving plan program to provide funds for long term care similar to the plan now in place allowing individuals and families to save for higher education expenses.