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Enacting change

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By Delegate Kathy Byron

    This week, we had an example of a change being enacted after more than two decades of attempts.

    Abortion clinics in Virginia are not currently subjected to government regulation or oversight.  As these facilities are performing serious medical procedures, most Virginians would be surprised to learn that they are not regulated.  Efforts to apply some form of oversight to these facilities have been repeatedly thwarted by the Senate Education and Health Committee, which has reliably consisted of a majority that opposed any legislation that might regulate the abortion industry.
    This year, House and Senate Bills that would have required the Board of Health create some appropriate safety standards and regulations for these clinics were both defeated in the Senate Education and Health Committee, both times by 10-to-5 party-line votes.  If this change was ever going to be enacted, it would have to be travel a legislative route that bypassed the Senate Education and Health Committee.
    The Senate Education and Health Committee had already passed Senate Bill 924 (SB 924), a bill that required the Board of Health create minimum standard regulations for hospitals and nursing homes.  On the floor of the House of Delegates, I offered an amendment to this bill that would in effect add abortion clinics to the list of facilities subject to regulation.  The House approved my amendment by a vote of 63 to 34, and then approved SB 924 as amended by a vote of 67 to 32.
    Since the House approved SB 924 with an amendment on it, the bill had to be approved by the Senate with the same amendment.  This time, however, the bill would not have to go through the Senate Education and Health Committee, but would instead be voted on by the entire Senate.  The Senate approved SB 924 with my amendment by a vote of 20 to 20, with Lt. Governor Bolling breaking the tie by voting in favor of the bill.
    This was a major and long-sought victory for those committed to protecting the safety of women who seek out health care and utilize one of these facilities  I was proud to have offered this amendment, and to have played my part in its passage.
    While the passage of landmark legislation like SB 924 garnered substantial media attention and dominated the media coverage in the session’s final week, three of my remaining bills won approval this week as well.  House Bills 2317, 2319, and 2479 were all approved and are now headed to Governor McDonnell for action.
    A few weeks ago, I noted that the budget amendments proposed by the Senate included funding that would lead to the construction of a new General Assembly Building.  Thankfully, that spending was not included in the final package of amendments approved by the negotiators for the House and the Senate.
    The agreement was reached early in the morning on February 27, one day after our scheduled agreement.  But because the plan did not include new or higher taxes or fees, and was free of the unconstitutional earmarks for non-state agencies proposed by the Senate, I can report it was worth the wait.
    Perhaps more importantly for the long run, we are positioning Virginia’s budget grow at a slower rate to avoid future tax increases.  By making frugal decisions now, we can successfully stand firm against future attempts to raise taxes and increase government spending.  There are still those who will call for higher taxes and there always will be. But by demonstrating that government can make do with less and still deliver core services, we can succeed in keeping our economy strong, growing our businesses, and creating more jobs and opportunities for our families.
    For its 2011 session, the Virginia General Assembly approved around 900 of the nearly 1,900 bills filed by delegates and senators.   Now, those bills are forwarded to Governor McDonnell for his consideration.  Amendments and vetoes will be considered at the reconvened session to be held on April 6.
    With the conclusion of the regular session of the General Assembly for 2011, this will be my last column for the year.   My legislative assistant, Sherry Richardson, and I will be working out of my district office once again.  I am very grateful to this paper for running my columns from Richmond again this year.  I have heard from many of you who are regular readers, and have really appreciated the feedback.  I am also very grateful to all of you who have taken the time to read these columns.