Solid Mix: Session Update 1

February 12, 2014

The 2014 General Assembly Session officially began this past Wednesday, January 8. While we have 15 new faces in the House of Delegates this year, in addition to a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, there are several familiar traditions that were honored this past week.

The first order of business was the swearing-in ceremony. While this was my third swearing-in, I can assure you that I still take that oath very seriously. I promise you that I will serve the citizens of the 26th District to the best of my ability. I greatly appreciate the continued opportunity to represent you in Richmond.

Wednesday evening Governor McDonnell gave his last State of the Commonwealth address to the Joint Assembly. He highlighted several accomplishments his office has achieved over the last four years and thanked the citizens of the Commonwealth, staff, and General Assembly members for helping return Virginia to the number one ranking as the best state for business. Virginia’s focus on job creation resulted in 177,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate of 5.4%, a full 2 points lower than when Governor McDonnell entered office. The Governor also highlighted our record budget surpluses, major reforms to our public education system, and the increased investment into our state’s savings account, the Rainy Day Fund. I consider Governor McDonnell a great colleague and friend and thank him for a very productive and beneficial four years. I believe he will be recognized as one of the most effective Governors in recent memory.

This Saturday Terry McAuliffe was sworn in as Virginia’s 72nd Governor, Ralph Northam as the Lieutenant Governor and Mark Herring as the Commonwealth’s Attorney General, respectively. While we will not always agree on the issues, I look forward to working with the new Governor and members across the aisle to find common ground on issues that matter to all Virginians. We must maintain Virginia’s status as one of the best states in which to live and do business. I think most everyone can agree that we do not want the gridlock and constant bickering that we see in Washington to become the norm in Virginia.

Chesapeake Subcommittee Chairmanship

I am pleased to announce that I have been appointed Chair of the Chesapeake Subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. Agriculture Committee Chairman Ed Scott announced the appointment today.

I’m honored to be named Chair of a subcommittee that deals with matters that are of critical importance to many Valley residents, including our farmers. This subcommittee handles legislation related to water quality programs, the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and fisheries. In the past decade, the Commonwealth has made great strides in improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. We need to continue this progress while taking a reasonable and measured approach to protect our resources. In this new role I will continue to remain mindful of the need to limit regulation on our farmers, waterman, and other businesses. With this appointment, I hope to provide a voice for Valley residents that utilize various water quality programs and that are impacted by numerous requirements and regulations that fall under the domain of this subcommittee.

My Legislation

While it’s not set in stone at this point, it appears that I will have eight or nine bills this session, along with several resolutions. In addition, I am chief co-patron on two pieces of legislation and will likely sign on as a co-patron to several measures. While none of my legislation has gone before committee to date, they will all be heard in the coming weeks. I won’t highlight all of my bills in this newsletter, but I would like to touch on a few of the measures.

HB 960: Back to School Sales Tax Holiday Reform

Every August Virginia holds what is commonly known as the “Back to School” Sales Tax Holiday. During the first weekend in August school supplies up to a $20 value per item and clothing and footwear up to a $100 value per item are exempt from Virginia’s sales tax. The idea is to give families some relief from the high costs associated with sending kids back to school.

However, I believe that some much needed changes are in order to refocus the intent of the tax holiday. My bill will narrow the scope of what items are exempt from sales tax during the annual holiday to those items which are customarily used on a regular basis by students during the school day. The current exempt list for clothing and footwear contains items such as bathing suits, lingerie, costumes, and wedding dresses, among many others that are in no way associated with regular school clothing or supplies. This bill will hopefully eliminate these items.

While reducing the permitted clothing list, I’m attempting to add personal computers to the list of tax exempt items. In today’s technological age, students at all grade levels utilize computers and computer supplies on a daily basis. I’m proposing a reasonable cap of $500 on the tax exempt price for personal computers. While I understand that there are many models with a retail price above $500, there are still numerous decent options available under this threshold.

Since it is the “Back to School” Sales Tax Holiday, the idea should be to offer families and students a break on items that are essential to starting the school year back, not for planning a wedding or going to the pool.

HB 780: TANF Purchase Restrictions

As you may recall, last year I successfully carried a bill which prohibits the purchase of certain products and services with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF – Welfare) benefits. These items include tobacco products, alcohol, pornography, tattoos, piercings, and patronage of strip clubs or gambling establishments. I think we can all agree that such items should not be purchased with taxpayer dollars.

While last year’s legislation was a good starting point, I’m proposing a few simple changes to the law that I’m hoping can promote compliance with the new requirement. I recognize that any solution needs to have minimal financial impact, as we need to be careful not to “spend a dollar to save a nickel”. Included in the bill is a provision to eliminate the check payment option. Additionally, I intend to extend the code language to include the purchase restrictions for direct deposit. Currently, the law only applies to electronic debit transactions. Additionally, the bill contains a provision requiring the debit card to contain an insignia that would clearly identify the card as a TANF benefit card. This way, retailers will be able to identify when someone is attempting to purchase a prohibited item or service with a TANF benefits debit card.

While I realize that the vast majority of TANF dollars in Virginia are being spent for basic necessities, I believe that we should have some basic solutions in place to ensure their proper use.

Weekly Visitors

I was pleasantly surprised to visit with numerous constituents last week. Among them, I met with several local veterans representing the VFW, a group of pro-life constituents, and ladies here for the annual Republican Women’s Federation Luncheon. Additionally, I was able to discuss issues of interest with Greg Godsey who represented local bankers, Susan Null of the Harrisonburg Pregnancy Center, and David McGraw who was here on behalf of JMU faculty.

If your in Richmond during the General Assembly Session, I would encourage you to stop by my office. I am on the 5th floor of the General Assembly Building, room 526.

Session Contact Information

We are currently working out of our Richmond office during the 2014 General Assembly Session. In Richmond, we can be reached by phone at (804) 698-1026. You can send mail to P.O. Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218. Please continue to send email to [email protected].