Opinion: Commentary: 17 Bills Vetoed and 48 Bills Amended in Virginia

Opinion: Commentary: 17 Bills Vetoed and 48 Bills Amended in Virginia

By the time you read this, the General Assembly will have reconvened for the annual “Veto Session” on April 3. According to the Rules of the House, the purpose of the Reconvened Session (its proper name) is to specifically, and exclusively, consider only the Governor’s recommendations to amend, and vetoes to, the legislation we passed during the 2019 Regular Session.

In the five weeks since the conclusion of the 2019 Regular Session, the Governor of Virginia has taken action on all of the 883 bills that were passed through the General Assembly. The Governor signed 819 of these bills or 92.75 percent of those that passed into law. Of the 64 other bills, the Governor vetoed 17 bills and recommended amendments to 48 bills. On the 2018-2020 budget bill, the Governor suggested 40 amendments. During the 2019 General Assembly session, numerous public safety and criminal justice reform initiatives championed by the Northam administration were advanced, making tremendous progress on a number of issues. While not all of these initiatives were pushed through into law, the Northam administration has included many of these proposals in budget amendments that we will decide upon this Wednesday.

One of these important proposals included in the Governor’s amended budget is ending the inequitable policy of suspending Virginians’ driver’s licenses due to failure to pay court costs and fines. Should this policy end, more than 600,000 Virginians will have their licenses restored. License suspension for failure to pay court costs and fees punishes Virginians for their socioeconomic status and makes it more difficult for Virginians to support their families and repay these court costs.

Additional amendments include:

  • Adding an additional $4 million to the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, which helps address the affordable housing crisis in the Commonwealth.

  • Making Virginia’s tax code fairer by ensuring that low-income taxpayers with tax credits, taxpayers with incomes of less than $50,000, are eligible to receive the same tax refund as others. This proposal would benefit 149,000 working Virginians.

  • Amendments to strike language that restricts the Commonwealth’s ability to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and use proceeds from it to address the negative effects of climate change in the Commonwealth. Virginia’s participation in this initiative is critical to the environment, as the Commonwealth is one of the states most affected by climate change and stands to benefit greatly from taking action.

  • Amendments to reverse the unnecessary restriction on state funds for critical healthcare currently provided to Virginia women.

During this session, SB 1768 was passed, which made it a violation to drive a motor vehicle in a highway work zone while holding a personal communications device. The Governor’s amendments to the bill incorporate language from another bill which will make it unlawful to drive a motor vehicle while holding a personal communication device at the same time on all roads in the Commonwealth. This amendment clears up any possible confusion about the definition of “highway work zone” but more importantly, will help address the growing problem of distracted driving and help to reduce injuries and fatalities caused by it. States that have passed distracted driving laws like this have seen a 16 percent decrease in traffic fatalities within two years of the law being adopted.

Amendments to SB 1025 would increase the required length of chained dogs’ tethers to at least four times the length of the animal’s body or 15 feet long, whichever is greater. In addition, agricultural animals would no longer be exempted from this requirement. The legislation as passed by the General Assembly also requires animals to be provided with adequate food, water, and shelter, as well as ensuring that tethers are not excessively heavy or at all painful to the animal. This is a step in the right direction towards improving animal welfare throughout the Commonwealth.

I-81 corridor safety improvements: The manner in which the Governor proposes we raise these funds for I-81 and other important interstate infrastructure is threefold: 1) $76 million from an increase in truck registration fees by bringing Virginia’s rates more in line with those on the I-81 corridor; 2) $142 million from an increase in the road and diesel tax for heavy trucks phased in over 3 years; 3) $60 million from a 2.1 percent regional fuel tax along the I-81 corridor. Much of the money will go towards the I-81 Corridor Improvement Fund ($150.8 million), but I-95 ($39.2 million) and I-64 ($27.6 million) will see improvements too. And, importantly, $20 million will go into the Northern Virginia Transportation Fund which lost money last year with the Metro funding bill. The rest goes towards various interstate corridor improvements throughout the Commonwealth. I-81 is an important commercial corridor with a big effect on our economy and safety.