Major issues on tap for General Assembly

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By Delegate Kathy Byron

    With ceremonies reflecting traditions accumulated over the course of centuries, Virginia’s General Assembly convened for its 2013 session this week.  Although this year’s session is scheduled to last just 46 days, it is already apparent that major issues will be discussed and debated.
    Healthcare, transportation funding and education reform have garnered a lot of media attention in the weeks leading up to the session.  We can expect to hear more about various proposals on each of these issues during the next seven weeks.
    Although legislation on high-profile issues generates most of the headlines, the General Assembly will actually consider hundreds of bills during the session – most of which will have nothing to do with these issues – and adopt a package of amendments to the state’s two-year budget.
    One of the things you come to realize while serving at Virginia’s Capitol is that all issues are not created equal.  The more contentious the bill, the more strident the debate, and the more polarized those involved, the more media attention it will receive.  This is understandable.  While many people express their desire that controversial issues be resolved with compromise and consensus, widespread agreement does not make for scintillating reading or television watching.
    Even though the majority of bills and resolutions that will pass this year will do so by overwhelming margins, you should expect to hear a lot more about those issues on which lawmakers strenuously disagree.   
    Governor McDonnell delivered his third State of the Commonwealth address on the opening day of session.  Although this session marks the beginning of his fourth and final year as Virginia’s governor, he detailed an ambitious agenda for this year’s session while noting the accomplishments – particularly on jobs and the economy – of his term so far.
    Governor McDonnell’s decision to oppose the Medicaid expansion offered under Obamacare has drawn national attention and criticism from the President’s supporters.  A dramatic expansion of Medicaid was originally mandated under Obamacare, but the Supreme Court ruled that states could not be forced to expand to the program.
    From a fiscal standpoint, the Governor’s decision was a no-brainer.  Medicaid spending now accounts for one-fifth of the state’s General Fund, and has been growing rapidly.  Adding to this burden replicates the same out-of-control spending that has plagued Washington.  Virginia just doesn’t need that, and Virginians cannot afford it.
    I am sponsoring several bills this session, and will be detailing their progress in the weeks to come.  As is usually the case, some of them relate to workforce development, an issue that I have made a focus of my work in Richmond, and my service on the Tobacco Commission.  Virginia now has the second lowest unemployment rate east of the Mississippi River, but we have to be vigilant in our efforts to attract growing industries and high-paying jobs to our region of the state.
    Visitors come to Richmond each year to view the General Assembly in action and to meet with their local legislators.  On Wednesday, the Concerned Women of America and the Family Foundation had large contingents from across the state visiting the General Assembly to promote pro-family issues.  We also had a group from the Lynchburg Community Action Organization stop by.  On Thursday, Virginia’s bankers came to town, including a group from our local Wells Fargo branches and another from the First National Bank of Altavista.  
    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.virginia.gov or by sending a letter to me at PO Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218-0406.
    I hope you have a great week.