By Delegate Mark Sickles, 43rd District
I write this as we enter our fourth week in Richmond. It has been very busy. While the two-year budget is being negotiated behind the scenes, an array of hot-button social issues have dominated the debate in the General Assembly. On their way to approval are bills covering voting procedures, abortion, guns, and gay rights. I will write more about these issues below.
In even-numbered years, a new two-year budget is adopted. On a couple of major issues that have the potential to tarnish Virginia’s excellent record of fiscal management, Governor McDonnell’s introduced budget is worrisome. For example, the Governor has proposed that a greater portion of the existing sales tax be sent to the transportation department. That diverted portion would grow substantially over time. Currently, that money goes to the “General Fund” to pay for schools, services for the disabled, higher education, public safety and many other state functions. While the 2012-14 budget takes $100 million from the General Fund, a nominal amount in terms of addressing the $1 billion transportation shortfall, the next governor will be stuck trying to adequately fund our schools, police, natural resource protection and support for families with disabled children.
A second concern about the budget is the proposed elimination of Northern Virginia’s "cost of competing" funds for certain positions in the Fairfax County Public Schools. If this provision passes, the County will have to pick up even more education cost, thereby increasing pressure on your property taxes. The budget also almost eliminates funding for free clinics and health centers in the second year. Ironically, the Governor is assuming the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will cover health care costs, a federal law he opposes, and that these clinics will not be necessary. If the Supreme Court decides in June that the ACA is in fact constitutional, the safety net would have been ripped away by his budget.
Numerous social issues have made headlines across the Commonwealth. So far, the House of Delegates has passed legislation that would eliminate Medicaid payments for women when her fetus would be born with a “gross and totally incapacitating physical or mental deformity." Last year, only ten women needed this assistance. We also passed a bill that would allow adoption agencies to discriminate if it “would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies." While I support the right of private adoption agencies to follow their own tenents, I am opposed to allocating state funds to discriminate in any way, shape or form.
We eased access to guns by overturning the two-decade old ban on purchasing more than one handgun a month. This law has been successful at reducing the number of handguns from Virginia used to commit crimes in other states. We also passed a bill that would prevent employers from banning guns in their own parking lots, and thus allowing guns on the grounds of parks, courthouses and other government buildings.
So far this session, I have had four bills pass the House of Delegates and head to the State Senate. The first bill was brought to me by a constituent who had trouble with a complicated new tax code section regarding survivor death benefits. After doing his due diligence and filing his taxes, he was informed he had made a mistake and was penalized. The tax code itself had not been updated to reflect an earlier Tax Commissioner’s ruling. HB 879 clarifies how the provision works and will hopefully prevent future problems for Virginians.
The third bill would provide a modern solution to the problem of political ad disclosure on electronic media. Today many candidates buy political ads that cannot reasonably fit the required disclosure statement. My bill would require, in cases where the ad is too small to fit a statement, that the ad instantly link to the disclosure statement on a website.
A fourth bill would help curb tax cheating. Some Virginians living in Northern Virginia maintain Maryland plates on their car in order to avoid personal property tax. HB 878 would increase the penalty these individuals would have to pay when they are caught violating this law. Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay sought this bill.
It is an honor to represent our area and I enjoy hearing from you while I am away.