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Special session tackles budget standoff

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By Delegate Kathy Byron

    The General Assembly adjourned the 2012 regular session Saturday night, and immediately called itself into special session.  The reason for the special session is the continued budget standoff.  But based on the events of the final week of the regular session, a resolution to the impasse may be coming sooner rather than later.
    Although few visitors came to see the General Assembly in action during the final week of session, the legislative productivity was very high.  By the time the session was gaveled to a close, 855 bills had been approved and sent to Governor McDonnell for his action.  Measures dealing with economic development, government reorganization, education reform, and transportation were all approved by legislators this session.
    As was the case in previous years where a budget was not approved by the scheduled end of session, much of the focus during the final week was on the continued impasse.  The House has successfully approved a budget twice, but the Senate has been unable to do so.  On Thursday, the situation in the Senate changed.  Democratic Senator Charles Colgan of Prince William County, the longest serving senator in Virginia history, took to the floor of the Senate to address his colleagues.  Expressing dissatisfaction with the budget standoff, he announced he was committed to reaching a resolution and wanted the impasse to end soon.
    That changed everything.  From there, the Senate Finance Committee met to review a new set of budget priorities from Democratic Senators.  As their demands have finally switched from political to budgetary policies, there is finally a path to resolving the situation.  Working with a negotiating team led by Delegate Lacey Putney on behalf of the House, lawmakers will be meeting over the next two weeks to reach an agreement.
    The speed with which this year’s General Assembly approved bills meant that several have been already been signed by Governor McDonnell.  Two of my bills, House Bills 462 and 1062, were signed into law by the Governor before the end of session.  House Bill 462, which updates Virginia’s informed consent law by adding the use of ultrasound to determine the gestational age of the unborn child, received more attention than any other piece of legislation filed this session.  House Bill 1062 received far less attention.  It affects the a requirement of the Attorney General’s office to represent the state before the Virginia Employment Commission.  Both bills become law on July 1.
    In the closing days of the Assembly, two of my bills received final approval.  House Bill 460, which continues my efforts to improve Virginia’s tax structure to make our state more attractive to manufacturers, won final approval from the House on Monday.  House Bill 1295, which relieves localities from several state-imposed mandates, won final approval on the last day of session.  Both are headed to Governor McDonnell for his action.  Also awaiting the Governor’s Action is House Bill 1061, which streamlines and strengthens high school diplomas in Virginia.
    The end of session means this also my last column for 2012.  By the time you’re reading this, we’ll be back at our offices in the 22nd District.  I’ll be going back to Richmond periodically in the coming weeks, as we complete our work on the 2012-2014 Budget, and to consider all of the Governor’s actions on bills.
    This paper has been very generous to have carried my columns from Richmond, for which I thank them.  I thank you, too, for taking the time to read them.