I write a week and a half into the fast moving 2017 General Assembly Session, but even as a fan of a part-time citizen legislature, six weeks is way too short to fully or adequately address the issues before us. Legislation is introduced and is immediately disposed of before the public knows about it and can weigh in.
Getting more trucks off the interstate and onto rail is a win-win for commuters and for shippers. Accordingly, two major linked investments are now coming in to view as a result, in large part, of the landmark 2013 transportation legislation. Today, the Long Bridge, paralleling the 14th Street Bridge, is a severe bottleneck with CSX, VRE and Amtrak all sharing the same track. A second bridge, therefore, is in the planning stage and will help in many ways, including freeing up capacity for additional VRE trains.
Our national nightmare—the never ending 2015-16 presidential campaign—is finally over. I hope that your voting experience was less stressful this year. Part of the reason is that a record number of people voted absentee. Another is that the paper ballot (100 percent) gives the voter all the time needed to read the six ballot measures without holding up the line. Whatever happens, Virginia needs to evaluate outdated election policies and systems.
Last month, I had the opportunity to speak with the Virginia Association of Community Service Boards (VACSB) about, among other things, the General Assembly’s re-commitment to mental health services. For those of you who are not familiar with CSBs, they were established in 1968 to provide for “community-based mental health, developmental, and substance abuse services to individuals with mental health or substance use disorders, intellectual disability, or co-occurring disorders.” That is a tall order given the human condition.
Last month, I had the opportunity to welcome Governor McAuliffe to the 43rd House District. He came to help weatherize the home of two veterans living in Rose Hill. For over three decades, Dominion’s EnergyShare program has helped hundreds of thousands of Virginia families maximize energy efficiency and decrease their energy bills by providing simple yet critical tools and techniques to weatherize their homes.
In 2013, Governor McAuliffe ran to build a New Virginia Economy—primarily to grow the private economy and reduce our overdependence on federal spending. A major part of our economic growth rests on badly needed, significant transportation improvements.
Last month, I joined the League of Women Voters and other Virginia voting rights organizations to observe the ceremonial signing of my election officials training bill, HB 1030. I introduced this bill to make sure the Commonwealth meets its responsibility to maintain fair and efficient elections. We cannot continue to dictate new regulations to our localities without providing them with adequate tools to implement them.
This spring, Governor McAuliffe launched an historic action to restore the right to vote for over 200,000 Virginians through his executive authority, spelled out in Article V, Section 12 of the Virginia Constitution. Virginia is one of only four states that do not have an automatic process for the restoration of rights for felons who have paid their debt to society.
One of sequestration’s biggest “losers” was the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which was required to cut 5 percent across the board. Although this was a drop in the bucket compared to the approximately $85.4 billion in spending authority reductions for FY 13, it took a considerable toll.
Federal sequestration has taken a considerable toll on Virginia’s defense driven economy. Governor McAuliffe’s top priority, therefore, is to help diversify our economy. This session, the General Assembly is working on a business-led, bipartisan initiative called GO Virginia. It is designed to enhance the growth of local and regional business opportunities through regional public-private partnerships.