2008 General Assembly session extended

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By Delegate Kathy Byron

The General Assembly has already met for 60 days this year, the period mandated by the Constitution of Virginia.

Of the nearly 2,400 bills filed by legislators, around 900 were approved and forwarded to Governor Kaine for his consideration. One significant bill, Virginia’s 2008-2010 Biennial Budget, has yet to pass. Because of this, the General Assembly has extended its 2008 session, giving negotiators on behalf of the House and Senate more time to reach an agreement.

Some news accounts imply that the negotiators – referred to as “conferees” – are not that far from reaching an agreement. There is, however, good reason to believe that the disagreements between the House and Senate spending plan are rather pronounced.

The House’s proposal, which delegates approved by a bipartisan 93-to-5 vote, does not include new or expanded government programs. It does prioritize spending decisions, putting more money into our mental health care system and relying less on debt and withdrawals from the Rainy Day Fund.

In contrast, the proposal approved by the Senate on a party-line 21-to-19 vote includes substantial spending for a dramatic expansion of the Pre-K program and – another new Senate program – jail diversion. In addition, it takes the maximum amount allowed under the Constitution from the Rainy Day. Making Pre-K available to everyone regardless of income was one of candidate Kaine’s campaign promises. Jail diversion, a priority for the Senate Democrats, would allow more of those convicted of crimes to avoid incarceration, expanding the availability of alternative sentencing.

These differences between the House and the Senate are not small. Indeed, they represent a distinct difference between the priorities of the two bodies. Delegates believe that expanding government and creating new programs when revenues are falling short of expectations is fiscally unsound.

Conferees will continue to meet to resolve their differences in the days to come. Eventually, they will produce an agreed-upon spending plan that can win the approval of both houses.

The Governor sent down amendments to my credit freeze bill on what was supposed to be our last day of session. These amendments make Virginia’s credit freeze law one of, if not the best in the country for both consumers and industry. The fees were reduced to place the freeze and there will be no fee to lift the credit freeze should you need to.

I am very grateful to all those who took the time to stop by our office during this year’s session. The smiling faces from home help to make the long days pass a lot more quickly.

Although I’ll be returning to Richmond with some frequency over the next few weeks, we have returned our operations to the District office. You can reach us there at 434.582.1592. Of course, you can still send an e-mail at Delkbyron@house.state.va.us or write me at 523 Leesville Road, Lynchburg, Va. 24502.

This has been an exceptional session, and it’s not over yet. I extend my sincere thanks to this paper for publishing these weekly columns, and to you for reading them.