By Del. H. “Buddy” Fowler
The 2014 General Assembly commenced on schedule the second Wednesday in January with several changes, yet retaining long-standing traditions that make the General Assembly so special. Most important, Virginia has a new governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, along with 15 new faces in the House of Delegates and we are awaiting two new senators.
Keeping with tradition, Gov. McDonnell gave his last “State of the Commonwealth” address to the Joint Assembly on the first day of session. He highlighted several accomplishments his office has achieved over the last four years and particularly thanked the citizens of the commonwealth, staff, and General Assembly members for helping return Virginia to the number one ranking for best state for doing business. Virginia’s focus on job creation resulted in 177,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent, a full two points lower than when McDonnell entered office. The governor also highlighted our record budget surpluses, passage of a transformative transportation infrastructure bill, and major reforms for our public education system.
The Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account, has dramatically increased under McDonnell’s leadership. Our financial reserves have grown from $295 million to just over $1 billion by the end of Fiscal Year 2016, the fourth-largest balance in history giving us a reserve to meet the challenges during these uncertain economic times.
The governor took this opportunity to give a sincere and heartfelt apology for any adverse public impression that some of his decisions may have created. As everyone else in the room could sense, he is deeply sorry for his actions. I consider McDonnell a great colleague and friend and thanked him for a very productive and beneficial four years. I believe he will be recognized as one of our most effective governors in recent times.
The Speaker of the House of Delegates, William J. Howell, has assigned me to the House Finance, Privileges and Elections, and Militia, Police and Public Safety committees. House Finance is going to keep me very busy since this committee has oversight over legislation changes to Virginia’s tax code. The Militia, Police and Public Safety committee will handle firearms and public safety issues legislation. The Privileges and Elections committee will handle election law, constitutional amendments, and campaign finance issues.
I have introduced two bills, one of which is HB 990, which provides more financial assistance for those citizens who are having to relocate because of a condemnation case. I am also introducing a bill to amend the tax code as relating to premium cigar sales sold at cigar shops.
I have signed on as co-patron to HB 1 Sexual and Domestic Violence Subfund, which creates a new sub-fund in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund to be known as the Sexual and Domestic Violence Subfund. The Subfund consists of all funds, from whatever source, in the commonwealth related to sexual and domestic violence prevention, intervention and prosecution.
In addition, I have signed on to co-patron HB 576, which is the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program; residency requirement. This bill eases residency requirements for family members and the children of military survivors. I am also working on putting together a bill on apprentice hunting licenses.
In his final address, McDonnell highlighted Virginia’s sound fiscal management over the past decade. While Washington deals with massive debt and deficits, Virginia has not only balanced its budget, but also produced four straight budget surpluses totaling $2 billion.
Crafting the next two-year budget will be the most important issue of the General Assembly this year. In the budget, we expect to fully fund the Virginia Retirement System. We will also make targeted investments in K-12 education, with an emphasis on making sure money is spent in classrooms. We will invest in Virginia’s mental health and public safety systems and we will act responsibly by setting aside money that will grow Virginia’s rainy-day fund to over $1 billion by the end of this budget biennium.
If you would like to examine my patron report, or other issues related to legislation, you can access at that information at lis.virginia.gov.
During my first week in the General Assembly numerous groups such as Hanover ARC, the Virginia Chamber, teachers and higher education advocates, veterans, and citizens stopped by my office.
I want to make you aware that my Legislative Aide Dale Hargrove Alderman and my Legislative Assistant Pat Powell are available to help my constituents during the 2014 General Assembly session. Our number is (804) 698-1055 and the email address is email@example.com. Please feel free to contact us if you need assistance on any issues.
My 2014 legislative survey went out recently to over 2,000 households in the 55th district. I encourage all of my constituents to fill out the survey to provide me with the information I need to better represent them. If you live in the 55th district and have not received a survey, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we might send you one.