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The halfway point draws near

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By Delegate Kathy Byron

In Richmond this week, the House and Senate moved closer to the halfway point of the General Assembly session, and prepared for the unveiling of their competing budget plans.  It was the week before Crossover, and temperatures outside varied from the freezing mark to the high sixties in a single week.

    By the time Crossover, the midpoint of the legislative session, occurs on February 8, both houses must complete their work on bills submitted by their own members.  As a result, floor sessions get longer as the week progresses.
    The big headline of the week was the passage by the House of the main components of Governor McDonnell’s transportation plan.  The proposal speeds up the issuing of $1.8 billion in bonds that were approved by the General Assembly in 2007, and utilizes another bond program for an additional $1.1 billion in funding for roads.
    The plan has won bipartisan support since the Governor unveiled it late last year.  Ten Democrat delegates voted for the plan when it passed the House.  Perhaps more essential to the proposal’s ultimate passage, it won the support of the Senate Finance Committee, with eight of that panel’s ten Democrats joining all five of its Republicans in voting for approval.
    Things did not go nearly as well for the Governor’s plan to end the state’s monopoly on liquor sales.  Neither the House nor the Senate took up the plan, and the Administration has pledged to revisit the issue next year.
    My own legislation continued to make its way through the House this week.  My bill to ensure that consumers are made aware of when a database breach involving their medical information occurs, House Bill 2315, was approved by a vote of 94 to 4, and is on its way to the Senate.
    Similarly, my legislation to improve the e-notary process and make it more usable for business and government in today’s electronic world, House Bill 2318, won approval by a vote of 72 to 25.  As Chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee and a member of the Joint Committee on Technology, I frequently carry bills that are intended to maximize Virginia’s utilization of new – and often cost-saving – technologies.
    In last week’s column, I highlighted House Bill 2319, which I am carrying as part of the Governor’s reform agenda.  The bill is part of an effort to limit unfunded mandates, and it will be voted on by the full House this week.  Two other bills I am carrying as part of the Governor’s reform agenda have also won committee approval and will be voted on by the House this week.
    House Bill 2316 would create the Clean Energy Manufacturing Incentive Grant Program.  The program is intended to replace the Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing Incentive Grant and the Biofuels Production Incentive Grant Programs, combining them into a new program that would provide financial incentives for firms involved in renewable or nuclear energy.  The bill was approved by the House Appropriations Committee without a single vote against it.
    House Bill 2479 reorganizes the Virginia Liaison Office, doing everything from clarifying the duties and mission of the office to changing its name to the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.  Most Virginians have probably never heard of the Liaison Office, but it plays an important role.  The office is Virginia’s link to the federal government, advocating on behalf of state government on many issues.  The bill won approval from the House General Laws Committee.
    The General Assembly Building, located on the northwest corner of Capitol Square, was packed with visitors this week.  There are always a large number of school groups that come to Richmond each session.  They tour the Capitol, often viewing the House and Senate in session from the galleries of each chamber.
    In the week to come, we’ll not only be finishing our work on all the bills filed by delegates, we’ll also be approving the House’s version of amendments to the budget.  In next week’s column, I’ll update you on the details of the House’s spending plan.
    Until then, enjoy the week ahead.