January 31, 2011
As we near the half-way point in the legislative session, we have considered nearly 800 bills in the Senate. Our obligation at this point is two-fold--work hard to support the good bills and work harder to kill the bad ones. A good lesson at this point in the session is first, do no harm. In my first term, I have learned that my duty is a very simple one and it certainly makes it easier to decide on tough votes: do not be wedded to any one group, vote your conscience and vote for what is in the best interest of your district. That's it. The rest is just a critical consumption of enormous volumes of information.
Last week I was appointed Deputy Whip for the Senate Republican Caucus. I am honored to join leadership in a year where we have so much at stake in the legislation before us, the redistricting process and the elections this fall. Also, I have great respect for my colleagues and appreciate working with them as we try to lead the Senate with an aggressive agenda.
I had several bills pass in the full Senate this week. The first bill creates a streamlined electronic filing process for certain filings in Virginia. The second was a bill that supports organic and sustainable farming and provides that an organic distillery may sell the product on site. The third bill that passed is a measure to protect economic growth. It streamlines the dissolution process for authorities created for the development of former federal areas. The fourth bill consolidates services in the Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. The legislation provides a foothold for our efforts to increase access to services for Virginia's veterans, including healthcare and education.
Three other bills which I patroned passed in committee this week. The first impacts the nursing shortage in Virginia by providing for provisional licenses for nurses. The second was a bill drafted in partnership with the Department of Corrections. The bill provides for HIV testing of inmates prior to release into the general population. As many know, I have been very involved in this issue, hosting a screening of a film on HIV in our region and in serving on a board focused on service to those who are infected. HIV is preventable but only when those who are infected know they are infected, and I hope that this bill will contribute to greater prevention. A bill that I patroned in partnership with the Attorney General also passed in committee this week. It bolsters our Medicaid fraud statute and ensures that Virginia continues to collect our portion of federal dollars to combat fraud.
One issue drawing major attention this week was the Governor’s transportation plan. The Governor has a strong coalition of bipartisan support for his Omnibus Transportation Funding Bill. I stated emphatically early in the process that I would only support a no new debt plan and time will tell how this plays out. The plan injects $4 billion into the state’s transportation system over the next three years. Currently, we are in the best position to capitalize on low interest rates, lower costs of construction, and a willing workforce. Transportation has been underfunded over the last few decades and has not kept pace with growth, especially in Northern Virginia. With many projects slated over the next few years, it will be an economic driver for getting many of our unemployed citizens back to work while opening up new areas for development and economic activity.
This session, I have co-patroned a bill that codifies the constitutional amendment that would allow a property tax exemption for disabled veterans. The amendment was proposed in November 2010 and was overwhelmingly approved by voters. The constitutional amendment requires the General Assembly to enact the exemption in general law.
Other Senate bills which I co-patroned include:
A bill to make it easier for landlords to recover in cases of a tenant's abuse or destruction of property;
A bill to impose a Class 6 felony on a person who commits assault and battery on a fire marshal engaged in the performance of his public duties;
A bill that requires the health insurance plan for state employees to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder;
A bill that requires health insurers, health care subscription plans, and health maintenance organizations to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder;
A bill to add synthetic marijuana to Schedule I of the Drug Control Act which would make possession of the drug a Class 5 felony;
A bill to promote the purchase of and procurement procedures for Virginia-grown food products by state agencies and institutions and local school divisions;
A bill to establish the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011;
A bill to limit the exercise of eminent domain for the taking of private property for public use; and
A bill to request a study to be conducted by the Bureau of Financial Institutions to review development project loan defaults.
I take your thoughts and opinions seriously and hope you will contact our office any time that you have questions or concerns. I always appreciate hearing from you and welcome visitors to the Capitol. My room number is 309 in the General Assembly Building. You may contact me in Richmond at 804-698-7527 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 24, 2011
Last week concluded an intense second week of session. On Tuesday, I held a press conference with Senate Republicans to outline key points of our legislative agenda for 2011, which includes a number of my reform bills. Senators emphasized support for initiatives to reduce and consolidate government agencies, to enforce immigration laws, to increase budget transparency and to reject proposed tax increases. Other bills highlighted in the agenda focus on keeping jobs in Virginia with employer and employee protections including:
A Constitutional Amendment codifying Virginia's status as a right to work state making it illegal to deny a person employment on the basis that he or she is not a member of a union;
A bill to protect the rights of workers to have secret ballot elections when determining whether to form a union. The secret ballot is a fundamental principle of American democracy and individual employees should be able to vote free of any coercion; and
A bill to require all public contractors and their subcontractors to register and participate in a federal Electronic Work Verification Program (E-Verify) or similar electronic verification of work authorization program to determine that their employees and individual independent contractors are legally eligible for employment in the United States.
Also included in our agenda is support for the Resolution which I co-patroned calling on Congress to support a repeal provision to provide states a safeguard against overreaching by the federal government. Although the Resolution was defeated by a Senate subcommittee, it passed in the House committee and we can expect to hear more from the Governor, the House Speaker and others who support the measure.
Several other bills I patroned were reported out of committee this week. A bill to consolidate services in the Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security passed unanimously. The legislation provides a foothold for our efforts to increase access to services for Virginia's veterans, including healthcare and education. Over 820,000 veterans and almost 200,000 active duty military live in Virginia. It is critical to direct resources and attention to our veterans and active duty soldiers.
My legislation to authorize electronic submissions in certain public filings and a bill to make temporary registration for overseas military voters more flexible passed unanimously in committee. A bill I introduced to expand nursing opportunities in Virginia through a provisional licensure passed unanimously in a Health and Education subcommittee.
This week the Governor appointed me to the Domestic Violence Prevention and Response Advisory Board. There were more than 63,000 calls to domestic and sexual violence hotlines across Virginia in 2009 and more than 6,500 adults and children received almost 255,000 nights of emergency or temporary shelter due to domestic violence. It is a serious life and death issue that we can do more to address.
I always appreciate hearing from you and welcome visitors to the Capitol. My room number is 309 in the General Assembly Building. You may contact me in Richmond at 804-698-7527 or send an email to email@example.com.
January 17, 2011
Last week, I hosted my final town hall event before the beginning of the 2011 General Assembly session. I am happy to report that 3,645 people from around the 27th district participated in a live, interactive tele-town hall format where constituents could chat with me, ask questions or make comments. While the comments from callers spanned a broad range of topics, the themes were remarkably consistent: curb spending and support government reform, protect state employee pensions, protect public safety and K-12 funding and take measures to make higher education more accessible.
Wednesday, January 12th was the first day of the
legislative session. The Governor
delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth Address to a joint session of
the House and Senate, joined by his Cabinet, Commission heads and the State
Supreme Court. The Governor rolled out an ambitious agenda, outlining the
bi-partisan support he has sought on his plan which includes a $4 billion transportation
funding package, a modified VRS funding plan, increased funding for higher
education and a state government reform package that will shut down
commissions, consolidate agency functions and get the Commonwealth out of the
liquor business. He hammered home the
benefits of the reform package, emphasizing the need to chop some of our 359
small boards and commissions. His most
humorous remark referred to the Plant Pollination Advisory Board. “Call me an optimist" he said, "but
I believe that plants are fully capable of pollinating themselves without
advice from Richmond.
While he has gained support for large parts of the plan, much of it remains controversial including the employee contributions to VRS and the privatization of ABC.
The Governor also took note of Virginia's progress in the last year. State spending is now down to 2006 levels. As a result, the massive budget shortfall that was forecast for Virginia last year has shrunk to zero – without increasing taxes. Virginia's record of fiscal management is among the nation’s best. We are now ranked third nationally in job growth and have maintained our AAA bond.
I formally submitted my legislation last week. The bills reflect measures to address a number of local business and constituent concerns. Other bills were generated in collaboration with the state police, Secretary of Agriculture, local supervisors, the Attorney General's office, the Department of Corrections, state Homeland Security and the Governor. The bills include:
A bill to establish process for audit and sale of surplus property and land owned by the Commonwealth;
A bill to authorize the Secretary of the Commonwealth to accept electronic submission for certain public filings;
A bill to initiate a process to establish a statewide auditor of accounts;
A bill to consolidate certain duties under the Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security;
A bill to authorize incentives for
A bill creating an income tax credit for farm wineries equal to 25 percent of the cost of certain winery equipment and materials;
A bill to permit an organic distillery to sell on the premises;
A bill to permit dissolution of development authorities for formerly owned federal lands;
A bill to extend temporary registration time frame for overseas military voters;
A bill to change the presidential primary date to conform Virginia to the Democratic and Republican party rules;
A bill to rewrite and clarify the reckless driving statute related to passing a school bus;
A bill to prohibit any state entity from establishing rules for firearms or ammunition without the express adoption by the General Assembly;
A bill to prohibit use of electronic tracking devices through intentionally deceptive means, a recommendation of the Joint Commission on Technology and Science;
A bill to exempt certain records of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit from disclosure;
A bill to establish HIV testing for inmates by the Department of Corrections;
A bill to revise the review standards for certain law enforcement databases;
A bill to clarify that law enforcement may legally possess child pornography as part of their law-enforcement duty;
A bill to require concurrence of the AG in certain Fair Housing matters;
A bill to revise the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act to provide that a designee of the Attorney General may issue civil investigative demands and permits the sharing of information and changes the elements for the offenses;
A bill to allow the Board of Nursing to issue certain provisional licenses;
A bill to extend the expiration deadline for provisional common interest community manager licenses;
A bill to authorize licensure for soil scientists and wetlands professionals;
A bill to designate a Cancer Prevention Day in Virginia; and
A bill to authorize notice prior to use of certain pesticides at school locations.
We are now full time in our Richmond office. We
welcome visitors and hope you will call if you have students or other groups
who are interested in an exceptional, up close view of the Capitol and the
legislative process. Tricia Stiles is my
legislative assistant and our office is Room 309 of the General Assembly
Building. You may call 804-698-7527,
send email to District27@senate.virginia.gov, or mail to PO Box 397, Richmond
General Assembly Update
January 03, 2011
The House and Senate of Virginia will convene for the 2011 General Assembly session this January the 12th. It is a historic year as the Legislature addresses budget challenges unprecedented in the modern history of the Commonwealth and undertakes the monumental process of redistricting. Amidst that backdrop, the Legislature will also consider several thousand pieces of legislation.
Despite signs of recovery, revenue shortages dominate pre-session discussions. Billions of dollars were cut from the budget already, however more cuts are inevitable. Recently, Governor McDonnell asked the Legislature to adopt $191.6 million in cuts and adjustments to the current two-year budget.
The rationale for spending adjustments is to redirect money for certain education, transportation and job expansion programs. The Governor's education proposal includes more money for higher education with a goal of 100,000 more degrees awarded in the next 15 years. His transportation plan includes $4 billion in new transportation money over the next ten years. This comes on the heels of the remarkable VDOT audit that uncovered $1.5 billion in unspent transportation money sitting at VDOT. Countless other money issues exist, but perhaps none as important as the Virginia Retirement System crisis. The state retirement fund is nearly $18 billion short and we owe it to every state employee to make system-wide solutions a priority and keep VRS solvent.
It is not all grim, however. New industries continue to locate in the Commonwealth as we provide an example of what conservative budget choices yield. States that decided to raise taxes and spend their way to recovery are bankrupt with the best jobs fleeing their borders. Meanwhile, the Virginia Legislature balanced the budget with painful but necessary cuts, keeping taxes the same, attracting new jobs and generating some of the lowest unemployment numbers in the country.
The Legislature will also undertake the complex process of redistricting this session. Redistricting occurs every ten years when the boundaries of each Congressional and state legislative district are redrawn to accommodate new population figures. Two weeks ago, we received the first official 2010 census numbers. Virginia's population grew by 11.4%, with substantial growth in our region. In the 27th senate district, Frederick County grew 26.7%, Fauquier 23.2%, Clarke 15%, Winchester 11.6% and Loudoun a whopping 77.6%. To maintain proportional districts, higher population districts will have to shrink accordingly.
It is worthwhile to mention that redistricting is also significant because of the impact on the 2011 elections. All 140 members of the House and Senate are up for election this November. Because the redistricting process will not be complete until the summer, the election calendar will be compressed with party primaries pushed to the fall.
I look forward to updating you as we proceed with the session. I continue to serve on the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, the Committee on General Laws and Technology, and the Privileges and Elections Committee. Recently, I was appointed to the Governor’s Transportation Workgroup and the Prison Re-Entry Commission and our efforts have produced some meaningful proposals.
I take your thoughts and opinions seriously and hope you will get in touch with our office if you have questions or concerns. Over the next few weeks, I will provide updates via email, facebook and my website www.senatorjillvogel.com. I can be reached during the General Assembly session at 804-698-7527, P.O. Box 397, Richmond, VA 23218 or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you a very Happy New Year!