Herndon and Reston Delegates Tom Rust (R-86) and Kenneth Plum (D-36) ended the first half of the 2014 General Assembly session happy with the House of Delegates’ passage of transportation, education and absentee military voting bills. Tuesday, Feb. 11 marked the "crossover" point for this year’s General Assembly session, when both houses of the General Assembly must vote on all non-budget related legislation or allow those bills to die.
A HIGHLIGHT for both Rust and Plum was both houses’ passage of identical transportation legislation that will repeal the oft-criticized hybrid vehicle tax that charges hybrid drivers an annual $64 fee. Rust served as chairman of the 22-member transportation committee this year, which approved that piece of legislation, one of 112 bills it examined over the course of five weeks.
"The explanation last year was that people who drive hybrid vehicles use less fuel and therefore pay fewer fuel taxes," said Plum, a strong advocate for that bill. "Many people, including myself, thought there was a contradiction in the fact that we promote people’s decisions to drive more fuel efficient vehicles, but penalize them for not partaking in our state’s tax policy."
Rust also noted the passage of HB 759, which provides for secure electronic means for voting by overseas military members, as a major success. Rust said that in the past, Americans serving in uniform had to mail paper ballots back, which proved difficult for those serving in battle zones or at sea.
Rust also was chief patron of HB 754, providing school officials with increased flexibility for expulsion terms as opposed to mandatory periods, which passed in the House on Feb. 6. "Right now for school boards there are mandatory sentences for up to a year of expulsion for certain students," said Rust. "We put a package together that allows some flexibility with that for certain cases."
Plum, an advocate for increased gun control legislation, said that several bills had either been defeated in the Senate or were not expected to pass through the House this year. This included SB 39, requiring background checks for those attempting to purchase firearms at a gun show, which was tabled to the Senate’s Courts of Justice committee until 2015.
HB 705, which loosened requirement for recognition of out-of-state gun permits in Virginia, passed in the House, but was defeated 9-6 in a Senate committee, something Plum saw as a positive. "The difficulty with this is that we have no way of doing background checks on their permits already," said Plum.
For the second half of the budget-focused General Assembly session, Plum hopes to see additional funds allotted for Medicaid expansion for Virginians. "We could insure 400,000 additional Virginians with federal money if we could expand our program," said Plum.
According to Rust, there is no agreement on any additional funds for Medicaid expansion in the House’s proposed budget, though there may be some language in the Senate budget, a difference in bipartisan cooperation between houses that Plum also noted. The topic of Medicaid expansion has been particularly divisive for this year’s session, for which there has otherwise been more bipartisan cooperation than in years past, according to a Feb. 14 update from Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-67).
THIS YEAR’S SESSION will conclude Thursday, March 8. To stay updated or track specific legislation, visit http://lis.virginia.gov/lis.htm.