The General Assembly completed its first full week of session on Friday. The 100-member House has introduced over 1,000 bills, and the 40-member Senate has introduced over 700 bills. Over the next two weeks the 14 House committees will be working diligently to hear the bills before action may be taken on the House floor.
Caucus Priorities: Spotlight on Jobs Bill
The House Republican caucus takes governing seriously. We have been working since adjournment in 2016 to develop our priorities for the 2017 session. Our policies aim to create a culture of opportunity where people can prosper. We accomplish this through private job creation and entrepreneurship, healthcare reform, and modernization of educational options. I would like to take a moment to highlight our agenda to improve the economy and create jobs in Virginia.
Our jobs agenda has one main goal: to make it easier for people to work. Several caucus members are carrying regulatory reform legislation. The current regulatory system is broken. Onerous permitting requirements have made it extremely difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to do business. While not all regulations are bad or should be done away with, our regulatory environment must be transparent, fair, and impose minimal financial burdens on our businesses and families. Several members have submitted bills to strengthen public input requirements on newly proposed regulations, create accountability for those agencies that believe they should be exempt from public input, and in general scale back the tremendous regulatory burden working professionals currently experience.
We will also have comprehensive legislation to reform the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEPD), the state agency tasked with marketing Virginia to potential new businesses. Last December, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) published the worst, most disappointing report on a state agency within the last 20 years. In its briefing, JLARC highlighted that VEDP has operated without using basic practices necessary for effective management and marketing. Further, VEDP’s unstructured and inconsistent approach to administering state incentive grant programs leaves the state vulnerable to fraud and poor use of limited resources. Sadly, the Commonwealth’s marketing agency was essentially operating without a marketing plan.
The systematic deficiencies at this state agency must be addressed. It is supposed to be the key management and marketing agency of Virginia’s economic development activities, but it has been grossly mismanaged to the detriment of our economy. It is time to restore accountability and General Assembly oversight. Until reforms have been made, its state funding will be withheld.
We are refiling several commonsense jobs bills that Governor McAuliffe senselessly vetoed in 2016. We have already passed legislation to strengthen franchisee business owners’ ability to effectively run their own business. House Bill 1394 (Del Head, R-Roanoke), which prevents franchise employees from being considered as an employer of the franchisor for the purposes of determining union membership, passed the House 67-31. Additionally, Caucus members are carrying legislation that supports coal workers, prevents the Governor from unilaterally submitting a State Implementation Plan as part of the Clean Power Plan, and ensures that government contractors are not forced to pay artificially high wages or benefits.
All member budget requests have been made submitted and made public on the state budget website. The House and Senate will deliberate on their respective requests and come up with their own versions of the budget before conferring to pass a joint budget in late February.
As previously noted, in August of last year Governor McAuliffe announced over a $1 billion shortfall. He chose to make up some of that shortfall with fee increases. The Governor's proposal would make loggers pay a $100 water quality inspection notification fee. When loggers begin to harvest timber, they are required to notify the Department of Forestry (DOF). DOF then inspects the logging operation for compliance with the silviculture water quality law. This new fee for a notification they are already providing can hurt their business. Another of his proposals is to increase the annual restaurant permit renewal fee from $40 to $285. These are not acceptable options to address the shortfall. We will pass a fiscally responsible and structurally balanced budget without fee or tax increases.
This session, I am once again seeking additional funding for FIS Waiver Slots and Storm Water Assistance Funding. Of course, I continue to seek ways to eliminate wasteful or superfluous spending as well. In fact, two of my amendments alone will save the Commonwealth over $37 million! You can view my budget amendments, as well as those of my colleagues, here.
Court House Legislation
Unfortunately, inaccurate reporting by a local newspaper has generated confusion over House Bill 2192, which I have introduced. This legislation does not negate or change the referendum vote. The Courthouse cannot be moved out of Staunton. House Bill 2192 provides that in the case of a county courthouse located in a city, the relocation or expansion of the courthouse to any other location within such city is not such a removal as to require authorization by the electorate. The bill is to allow the city and county to try and expand the courts downtown. As it is now, the Code of Virginia does not allow the courts to be expanded to adjacent or nearby downtown property. I am working on an amendment to clarify that, but will pull the bill if it will not accomplish a downtown expansion for the courts. I do not want to see the courts moved from downtown, but again the present code does not allow the county to do anything with adjacent or nearby property, so this legislation aims to find a solution to that with a code change.
We had lots of visitors from the District last week! I enjoyed addressing students from Bridgewater College (pictured right) in between committee meetings. I had the chance to see Perry Weller and his colleagues from the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters after they discussed legislation with my staff and Brian Purdy of Charlottesville. I closed out the week with visits from Dr. Barrett Peters of the Virginia Dental Association and First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe.
My staff enjoyed speaking with Tim Hensley of Grottoes, Sam Mahanes of Staunton, Jackie Sims of Waynesboro, Tim and Rebecca Simmons of Staunton, Pam Murphy of Mount Crawford, Scott Simons of Penn Laird, Lori Epik-Rubush of Mount Sydney and Ashley Kane of Staunton. It’s great for me and my staff to hear your concerns and we look forward to future visits!
In Case You Missed It:
As always, my Legislative Director, Judy Wyatt, Communications Director, Will Wrobleski, and I are here to serve you. If you need help with a state government agency or issue, we can be reached by phone at 804.698.1025 or by email at email@example.com. Our address is Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23219. For scheduling requests, please contact my Administrative Assistant Carolyn Musika in my Richmond office.
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Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.