2016 Session Commentary
Virginia FREE is the independent, non-partisan voice of Virginia business. In carrying out this critical mission, at the conclusion of each session of the Virginia General Assembly, for the past twenty-eight years, Virginia FREE has assembled a team of highly respected business leaders and legislative representatives to identify the legislation – both passed and failed – that has an impact on the promotion of free enterprise and responsible, pro-business government in the Commonwealth.
The Evaluations Committee reviews the content, deliberations, and votes on all legislation introduced to identify the key legislative measures that are likely to affect the business community. The Committee meets several times, deliberating on the legislation with the goal of producing findings and recommendations which include evaluations of our Virginia legislators on their support of business interests. In conjunction with the evaluations, Virginia FREE also highlights the business critical events of the Session.
Transparency and Timeliness
Transparency and attention to constitutionally established deadlines restores trust and confidence in the legislative process.
Rule changes in the House of Delegates proposed and implemented by Speaker William J. Howell, resulted in improved transparency in the legislative process. Speaker Howell ended committee meetings on the floor of the House. These “desk meetings”, although helpful in process, detract from transparency which is integral to good governance.
In 2014, Virginia FREE expressed concern about a developing trend – extending legislative sessions in order to finish the work of the General Assembly. Extra days were added to sessions and in some years, a special session was necessary. Virginia FREE members believe that this practice reflects poorly on the Commonwealth which is most proud of its citizen legislature. Moreover, the extended sessions can be costly and present challenges for our state agencies, local governments, and by extension, Virginia businesses.
Virginia FREE commends the leadership of the General Assembly for completing the work of the session early, for a second year in a row. Efficiencies evident in the timely completion of Session deliberations send a strong message to the business community that the legislative process is working and effective.
Efforts were made to change the Rules of the House of Delegates to give members of the House, and by extension the Senate, 48 hours in which to review the final work product of the Budget Conference Committee before a final vote.
In 2014, Virginia FREE expressed great concern about legislating through the Budget. Those concerns continue. Consolidation of power results from this practice and unnecessarily avoids full discussion and consideration of proposals. While the pace of General Assembly deliberations is understandable – issues are complex, stakeholder views must be considered while the sheer volume of proposals continue to increase – recent political and cultural developments in the Commonwealth demand more self-restraint. The committee structure of the General Assembly, a great strength of the legislative process, is severely damaged and denigrated by this practice. Virginia FREE urges the General Assembly to return to the policy of not using the budget process to legislate and thereby restore the long treasured Virginia Way of governing.
Virginia FREE recommends that the House and Senate consider Rule changes to affirm that no action of a committee of jurisdiction can be overridden in the Budget.
Two cornerstones of Virginia fiscal behaviors are worthy of note.
Article X Section 9 of the Virginia Constitution establishes constitutional caps on how much the Commonwealth may borrow. This cap helps maintain our AAA Bond Rating which helps keep taxes reasonable. The cap in the Constitution can be read here http://law.lis.virginia.gov/constitution/article10/section9/ – please note that while the cap is based on a 15% of state sales and income tax dedicated to debt, the internal caps are 1/3 of that or 5%.
In the 2002 General Assembly Session, Delegate Vince Callahan sponsored HB1285 which further spells out the Commonwealth’s policy on spending and borrowing. Then Governor Mark Warner signed the bill which can be read here: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?021+ful+CHAP0888.
This is done to educate the public on what is reality and not perception given the intense nature of our American political climate of misinformation and disinformation.
The General Assembly and the Governor are to be commended for agreeing to fund important investments through the Biennial Budget and HB1344, carried by Delegate Chris Jones, and SB731 carried by Senator Emmett Hanger. Overall, significant investments were made in the infrastructure of the Virginia economy notably the Port of Virginia, Dulles Airport, Carilion – Virginia Tech, as well as the funding of K-12 public schools and notable other investments in Virginia higher education institutions.
In a session full of examples of partisan divide, there were also a number of examples of efforts for opposing views to find compromise – that produced positive legislation in the best interest of Virginia citizens. Most notable, the work of Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, Delegate Todd Gilbert, and Senator Bryce Reeves, who working across the aisle and the branches of government, addressed a serious public safety issue. Collaboration on issues related to firearms and domestic violence is heartening in an era of striking partisanship. The role of the Governor, House leadership under Speaker Howell, Senate leadership, and other legislators including but not limited to Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, Delegate Kathleen Murphy, Senator Janet Howell, Senator Louis Lucas, and Senator John Edwards, is also worthy of our gratitude. And, the legislative representatives of the various stakeholders likewise worked diligently to support and facilitate discussions that produced the final legislative package.
The General Assembly, Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Secretary of Finance Ric Brown are to be commended for their hard work to pass the Biennial Budget. The work of staff to both the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees were, as always, integral to that process and Virginia FREE thanks them.
The second half of our review of the 2016 General Assembly Session will be out later this week.