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Column: End of Session Report 2012

The Virginia House of Delegates adjourned the 2012 legislative session on March 10. We returned to Richmond briefly in late March and April to consider the state budget and more than 130 bills that the Governor sought to amend or veto. Nine bills that I authored on your behalf became law. Here are some highlights.

Public Invited

Del. Jim LeMunyon is hosting a town hall meeting on Tuesday, May 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Sully Government Center, 4900 Stonecroft Boulevard in Chantilly.

TRANSPORTATION

This year, four transportation-related bills I introduced became law with bipartisan support. H.B. 599 requires that significant, proposed transportation projects be rated based on the congestion reduction benefits of each project. Funding can then be prioritized and granted to those projects that give us the “biggest bang for the buck” in terms of congestion reduction. H.B. 601 provides Virginia with representation on the Metro Board that governs Metrorail and Metrobus. The Virginia representative will be a watchdog for our dollars and bring better oversight to an organization that needs it.

H.B. 625 requires VDOT to point out when local zoning changes could result in increased traffic congestion, to better synchronize transportation planning and land use and development. H.B. 626 provides a way for local governments to evaluate noisy roads that reduce the quality of life in some neighborhoods.

The new two-year, $85 billion state budget provides nearly $10 billion in funding for transportation construction and maintenance, about a $1 billion increase from the last budget. Funds are not earmarked for specific transportation projects in the state budget. Instead, the Commonwealth Transportation Board makes decisions regarding the allocation of construction funds. I continue to work with the CTB to obtain more funding for Northern Virginia, and I stay in close contact with VDOT related to the progress of several on-going projects in our area.

EDUCATION

The new state budget provides a 15 percent increase in education funding for Fairfax and Loudoun Counties — evidence that more of our tax dollars are returning to Northern Virginia in the new budget.

With some exceptions, the budget gives broad discretion to school boards in terms of how the money is spent, as providing local control of spending decisions makes sense. The budget also contains additional funds for higher education to offset tuition hikes and allocate funds specifically to create more seats for in-state students at Virginia’s public universities.

I worked with a bipartisan group of members to repeal the so-called Kings Dominion law, to give local school boards the option to open schools before Labor Day. Doing so would allow more instructional time before standardized tests are administered in May and June, and reduce the number of days students are kept in school after testing. This not only would help students, but would provide better value for our tax dollars, as public schools in Virginia cost about $50 million per school day to operate. This bill passed the House but not the Senate. I plan to re-introduce this legislation next session.

JOBS AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

The legislature passed a number of bills to further strengthen Virginia’s position as a top state for business. These measures included extending tax credits for investment in start-up businesses and incentives for research and new product development as well as workforce training. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce gave me an “A” rating for my pro-jobs voting record.

BETTER GOVERNMENT

In addition to keeping the state budget balanced, the General Assembly took a number of steps that I supported to improve the operation of Virginia’s government, including public safety. These include:

  • Consolidating and eliminating seven agencies and 25 boards and commissions that outlived their usefulness;

  • Reforming the state pension system for local government employees, including teachers, to ensure the long-term solvency of the Virginia Retirement System;

  • Approving a proposed state constitutional amendment to strengthen property rights related to the taking of private property for public use. This will be on the November 2012 ballot for voter approval;

  • Requiring local school divisions to determine and report how much of our tax dollars are spent on classroom learning rather than on overhead or other expenses;

  • Keeping state agencies from competing with private companies, which was the subject of an amendment I authored to the Governor’s government reform legislation;

  • Allowing local governments to stop unlicensed home contractors from doing business in Virginia, which was a bill that I authored (H.B. 1277);

  • Strengthening criminal laws pertaining to sex offenders, crimes against children, drug traffickers, and drunk drivers.

The House, but not the Senate, passed legislation with my support to facilitate greater information sharing between the Virginia State Police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when a person who has committed a felony is also found to be in the U.S. illegally. I expect this issue will be considered again in 2013.