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Illegal immigration poses challenge for Virginia

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By Delegate Kathy Byron

I would like to dedicate this week?s column to a dear friend and community leader, Louise English. I was very saddened to hear news from home of the passing of Louise English. My heartfelt sympathy and prayers are extended to her family. Her Christian faith and love of the community will be felt for generations to come.

As the midway point of the 2008 session approaches, let?s examine Virginia?s General Assembly by the numbers. Legislators have filed more than 2,800 bills and resolutions this year, an average of more than 20 per legislator or around 50 per day in 60-day session.

Although those numbers seem staggering, both the House and the Senate have developed systems to deal with the workload. Like the United States Congress, both houses of Virginia?s General Assembly utilize a committee system to process legislation.

Bills are referred to the 15 House and 10 Senate standing committees for review and consideration ? and discussion and debate on bills can get rather involved and detailed in the committees. They can approve a bill as submitted or amend it, then send it to the full House or Senate. Of course, those committees can also reject the bill, which frequently results in the legislator filing it again next year.

This screening process keeps the workload of the General Assembly manageable. Limiting General Assembly sessions to just 60 days without it would be nearly impossible.

News reports would have you believe legislation submitted to repeal Abusive Driver Fees outnumbers all other issues. In reality, bills dealing with illegal immigration far exceed any other issue this year. Scores of bills have been filed by legislators wanting to address what has become a more serious challenge over the last several years.

Although securing the nation?s borders is a federal responsibility, Virginia has the ability to enact measures that deal with those who are already here illegally. The House of Delegates appears likely to approve several such measures relating to illegal immigration. The bills poised for passage address key challenges resulting from the problem.

Confronting the problem of criminal illegal immigrants is an especially high priority. Bills that would have local Sheriffs confirm the status of a person arrested for a crime through the nationwide databases of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and to create a presumption of no bail for those charged with an offense punishable by jail or prison time determined to be here illegally have strong support. Another measure headed for passage requires that each jail always has someone on duty with federal authority to detain illegal immigrants after sentence completion so that the deportation proceedings can begin.

The House has already approved legislation that would prohibit illegal aliens from attending Virginia?s state-supported colleges and universities. A measure I sponsored, House Bill 926, would require a corporation to include any federal conviction for hiring illegal aliens on their annual report. This information will give the State Corporation Commission the authority to terminate the corporate existence of the corporation for up to a year for actions of its officers and directors having a practice or pattern of employing illegal aliens.

Collectively, these proposals would make Virginia a leader in dealing with this challenging issue, and do so with a measured and responsible approach.

There are several measures this year to address the priorities of Virginia?s veterans. HB 475 addresses the mental health needs of returning military men and women in the Commonwealth. This bill will ensure that Virginia?s wounded sons and daughters returning home with traumatic brain injuries, combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorders get first-class care in a timely manner,. Another measure eases the process of obtaining in-state tuition for military service members in Virginia.

The halls were filled with guests last week. I enjoyed seeing visitors from the Lynchburg Area Center for Independent Living, Radford University student government association local students, Kelsey Donahue and Christine McCrimmon, and many others who dropped by to say ?hi.?

If you?ll be visiting Richmond during this year?s session, make sure to stop by our office, located in Room 811 of the General Assembly Building. You can contact us here by sending an e-mail to DelKByron@house.state.va.us or by sending a letter to me at PO Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218-0406. Or, if you just want me to know your opinion on a particular issue, you can call on the toll-free Constituent Viewpoint Hotline at 1.800.889.0229.