February 20, 2006
We are halfway through the General Assembly session. The House finished its non-budget business last Tuesday and has begun taking up Senate-passed bills. With only 19 business days left until the scheduled adjournment, both houses will be working long hours to complete each other’s docket. While we have considered about 1,800 bills and resolutions, many on crime and social issues, we have just really started the important debate about transportation.
After killing the Governor’s major transportation proposals in committee, the House Leadership decided on Friday to divert $350 million budgeted for education and the environment to transportation. The House plan also raises general funds from new “abuser fees” on bad drivers. Estimating how much would be raised on bad drivers, and at what point a driver should start paying these hefty fines, remains one of many points of contention. Despite these good intentions on behalf of our transportation needs, and even if you think we are spending too much on education, the new House money is not a stable, reliable, long-term solution. It does not make a dent in the long-term transportation problem facing Northern Virginia.
Both the Senate plan and the Governor’s plan provide approximately $1 billion per year in new, stable and reliable revenues. Either would be a welcome start, but would not be enough to reduce our commute time. If you assume that at least $300 million of the new money would flow to our region, we would remain almost $500 million short, per year, of meeting the objectives laid out in the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s TransAction 2030 plan. It is important to note that the 2030 plan is NOT a pie-in-the-sky wish list, but a realistic plan to catch up. For example, it does not even include improving I-66 inside the Beltway. If completed, however, modeling studies say that commute time in our area would improve slightly by 2030 even with the enormous growth that is coming our way.
Three of my own bills have been included in larger measures that have passed the House and are now before the Senate. I was very pleased that my proposal to increase the asset cap for senior property tax relief program was accepted. Currently, Fairfax County grants property tax relief to seniors earning under $72,000 per year and holding fewer than $340,000 in assets, not including one’s primary residence. The pending language would increase the asset cap to $540,000, should the County choose to raise it to that level.
My bill to assist first responders after Hurricane Katrina-like events is also pending before the Senate. The legislation would allow the Governor to grant $2,500 each month, for up to three months, to first responders who suffer an extreme personal or family hardship as a result of a disaster. It gives the Governor another tool to use in times of great distress and is intended to prevent some of the problems experienced on the Gulf Coast last fall.
The House also passed, as part of a concealed weapons bill, my language to make it easier for Virginians to learn when the use of deadly lethal force is legally justified. In Virginia, common law, or law handed down through judicial decisions, is the applicable law in what can be a confusing area. My bill requires the Attorney General to include on his website all Supreme Court decisions pertaining to the issue. The website address is also to be printed on the concealed weapons permit application form.
Another bill to allow security freezes on one’s credit report in order to prevent identity theft was sent to a study by the Joint Commission on Technology and Science. Over the next year, the Commission will evaluate the issue more thoroughly and examine solutions to the current concerns with the legislation, namely, the inability of retailers to check credit history instantly for the consumer.
A sample of other legislation pending in the House or Senate includes a bill that would likely shut down all but two of the state’s abortion clinics, ballot language for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships of any kind, a bill that regulates the towing industry for the first time, bills intended to improve the delivery of Medicaid services, a bill to put into place a new system to allow more competition in cable television service, and a measure that simplifies the way taxes are collected in telecommunications services. All of these bills, and much more, will now be before the opposite body of its origin.
Finally, as a leader in your community, you are very important to me. You can help me make sure citizens are getting treated fairly by the State and that tax dollars are being spent wisely. Please feel free to pass along any information from your neighbors about how we are doing. I would also be happy to include you on my email list. During the session, I have been writing a short recap every week and will be sending out information periodically throughout the remainder of the year. To receive our updates, just send an e-mail to DelMSickles@house.state.va.us with Newsletter on the subject line. Please feel free to contact me either while I’m in Richmond until March 11th at (804) 698-1043, or in the district at (703) 922-6440. Also remember to check out www.marksickles.com.
Mark D. Sickles
RHCA Home Page