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Votes

Column: On the Way to $85 Billion Budget

Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling broke a tie in the evenly divided Senate chamber at the beginning of the Session. This provided Republican organizational control of the Senate even though a lawsuit is still pending on whether the power should be shared. In taking this step, many bills have been passed that were voted down by a more moderate Senate in past years.

The latest tie vote came last Friday to allow tax credits for corporations that contribute to scholarships for low and middle-income students to attend private schools. Another of the controversial issues would require voters without certain forms of identification to cast a provisional ballot that would not be counted unless the voter provided further identification. This is seen by many as a way to suppress the vote among minorities, the elderly, and students.

Other “hot button” issues such as requiring a woman to have an ultrasound before having an abortion, not allowing funding for an abortion for a poor pregnant woman whose fetus is severely deformed, requiring drug testing for welfare recipients, and allowing more than one handgun a month to be purchased have cleared the Senate. The “personhood” bill (defining life at conception) has passed the House of Delegates and will be considered by the Senate.

Democrats were able, with two Republicans not voting, to kill Governor Bob McDonnell’s proposal to make it easier to fire public school teachers. And, now, the Democrats’ plan to stick together on the budget seems to be steering some of the Republicans to try to win us over with accommodations on education and transportation. Passage of the budget requires 21 votes. The Lieutenant Governor cannot break the tie on a budget vote.

I will have more to report on the budget next week as it is released on Sunday, Feb. 19, and briefings are to occur on the following Monday and Tuesday, perhaps with a vote on the $85 billion spending plan on Thursday. I am pleased that one of the budget items I have fought for is in the proposed budget. It would bring $50,000 a year for each of the two years to help fund the Special Olympics.

Besides fighting for committee changes to share power in a 20-20 Senate, we have proposed savings for local governments to help them pay an additional $600 million over two years for retirement and other after-employment benefits. Some of this could be accomplished by restoring proposed cuts in state aid to local school districts for K-12 education and to free health clinics and other safety net health programs.

A new poll taken this month in Virginia shows a majority do not support the repeal of the one gun a month, further restrictions on abortion, increasing state employees’ contributions toward their retirement, and want to retain the power to ban guns on a college campus.

Most of the legislation I introduced this Session has passed the Senate with no opposition.

Please continue to contact me on interests of concern:

Senator Linda T. “Toddy” Puller, P.O. Box 396, Richmond, VA 23218; phone: 804-698-7536; fax: 804-698-7651, or email: district36@senate.virginia.gov.

By Linda T. “Toddy” Puller

State Senator (D-36)