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Column: Session Ahead Includes Opportunities for Progress

Last week, Virginia's 100 state delegates and 40 state senators gathered in Richmond to begin the 2012 General Assembly session. Over the next eight weeks, we will review and act on more than 2,000 pieces of legislation, elect judges, confirm gubernatorial appointments, and craft the state's multibillion dollar two-year budget. Governor Bob McDonnell and his fellow Republicans now control both houses of the General Assembly. On the one hand, that bodes for a very challenging session standing up for our community's progressive values and priorities. On the other hand, in the few cases where Governor McDonnell's agenda and mine happen to overlap, my legislation is already gaining steam, if in a roundabout way.

For example, I have long been an advocate of repealing the so-called "King's Dominion Law" that restricts local school divisions from setting their own school calendar and forces school to start after Labor Day. Working with a bipartisan group of legislators, I drafted a bill to fix the problem. No sooner was my bill ready to go into the hopper when Governor McDonnell publicly announced his support for our effort, preempting the need for my legislation. Another of my bills would enable Virginia's military veterans to request that the Department of Motor Vehicles place a "veteran" identifier on their driver's licenses to facilitate their access to a variety of services. Shortly after I introduced this as House Bill 1025, the McDonnell Administration announced plans to create a separate identification card that can be issued to Virginia's veterans, accomplishing the goal of my legislation.

Other priorities for this session will no doubt be more challenging. Governor McDonnell has proposed shifting $55 million per year in sales tax proceeds from schools to road maintenance, cutting tens of millions of dollars of education funds that account for Northern Virginia's higher cost of living, and slashing funds to neighborhood clinics and pre- and post-natal early childhood development programs. All of this, while widening corporate tax loopholes that siphon off revenue with little scrutiny as to whether those giveaways actually produce any return on investment for taxpayers. I will be working hard to defeat these shortsighted proposals and steer Virginia's budget in a smarter and more responsible direction.

Beyond the budget, Republicans have proposed a range of objectionable bills. One bill would define "personhood" as beginning at conception, effectively outlawing not only abortion but also some of the most common forms of birth control. Several bills would make it more difficult for minorities and young people to exercise their right to vote, which is part of a nationwide effort to suppress turnout for President Obama's reelection. Another bill would offer tax credits for people who want to shoot their cremated remains into space. Don't get me wrong; some of my U.S. Air Force Academy classmates are astronauts, and I'm a strong supporter of Virginia's spaceport initiatives. But tax credits for space burials means less money for things like early childhood education, which has demonstrably superior return on investment for communities across Virginia.

For my part, I have proposed bills to expand access to high-quality early childhood education, lower college costs by granting more credit for Advanced Placement tests, create jobs by focusing on climate- and national-security-friendly energy and energy-efficiency technologies, and a number of other initiatives. One of my goals this session will be to use my position on the House Finance Committee to shine as much sunlight as I can on 187 separate tax preferences, loopholes, and giveaways that drain nearly as much as we raise in revenue. As liberal as I am, I enjoy good friendships and strong working relationships with some of the most conservative legislators, and this concern about tax preference transparency and accountability is something we have in common. Therefore, I'm hopeful that together we can build momentum for badly needed reform of Virginia's tax code, which currently is an opaque two-century accumulation of nonsensical hodgepodge.

To share your views during the session, or to request service or assistance from my office, please contact me at 703-549-3203 or DelDEnglin@house.virginia.gov or visit www.DavidEnglin.org/survey to take my constituent survey. You may also sign up for my email newsletter at www.DavidEnglin.org/subscribe or follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you for the honor and opportunity to serve the people of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax.