Last Friday seems like a universe away. The revelations and allegations over the past week have been difficult to process for all of us -- and I can't even imagine the pain that this has caused the African American community and those who have been the victims of sexual assault. Thank you to the many constituents who have called and sent emails expressing their thoughts and concerns. My prayer for Virginia is that, while extremely painful, we will use what is happening today as an opportunity to heal and bring us together.
Despite all that is going on, my focus is, and will continue to be ensuring that my ~85,000 constituents are represented to the best of my ability in the legislative process.
Cross Over Week
We have now reached the half-way point of the session. Known as "cross-over," this is when the House must act on all of its legislation, and the Senate must do likewise. What survives is transmitted to the other body. On Monday and Tuesday, we literally voted on over 200 measures. While many of these bills are relatively technical, others represent significant changes in policy.
One big proposed change is to prohibit a person from holding a personal communication device while driving (HB1811). The current law, which only prohibits reading or writing an email or text message is extremely difficult to enforce. The shift to "hands-free" will be accompanied by an aggressive driver education and outreach program so that no one should be surprised. I am a co-patron of this bill, which passed the House 69Y-27N. Deaths from distracted driving are set to eclipse the number of deaths from drunk driving. In 2017 alone, at least 208 traffic fatalities were linked to distracted driving compared to 248 fatalities linked to drunk driving.
Another big issue has been whether Virginia should allow betting on professional sports and/or allow casino gambling in certain localities. This is an area where I think we need to be extremely careful and do not support making these decisions in a compressed 46 day session. Rather, I supported the creation of a new Gaming Commission (HB2321), which will be tasked with looking at the pros and cons, as well as any potential unintended consequences, and reporting back to the General Assembly with their findings.
Finally, many of you have asked about the status of redistricting reform. I strongly believe that we must take the politics out of the redistricting process. I favored
the approach proposed by OneVirginia2021 (SJ274), which would have created a citizen-based, non-partisan redistricting commission. While that measure failed, I also support SJ306, which creates a redistricting commission composed of eight citizen and eight legislative members. SJ306 passed the Senate and is now being considered in the House. I opposed a measure introduced in the House (HJ615). While there are several problematic aspects to the propose amendment, the one that gives me the greatest concern is a clause stating that every effort should be made to preserve "parity" between the two political parties. To me, enshrining political parity is the opposite of what redistricting reform ought to be about.
If you have been tracking an issue and want an update, please send me a note!
Now, for some much needed good news! Yesterday, a bipartisan compromise was announced to provide relief to the 26% of Virginia taxpayers who would pay more in state taxes as a result of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). A key aspect of the debate has been to make sure that we actually understand who is paying more taxes. Of the 26%, ~40% make under $50K and would see the highest average tax increase (~4%). The next hardest hit groups make between $50K and $125K (35% of those paying more and a 3.5% increase) and between $125K and $250K (24% and 2.5%).
The compromise raises Virginia's standard deduction for single filers from $3K to $4.5K and for joint filers from $6K to $9K. This is long overdue anyway, since Virginia's standard deduction hasn't been raised since 2005. The change benefits all tax brackets, but helps those at the lower ends by making the entire system more progressive. The other major component is a one-time refund this October of $220 and $110 for joint and single filers, respectively. Again, this will benefit all tax payers, but is designed to help those most impacted by TCJA. Any remaining revenue as a result of the TCJA will be held in a Tax Reform Fund or Reserve Fund. Click here for additional details.
Most importantly, the bill includes a conformity clause that will enable tax payers the certainty they need to file their returns and start receiving their refunds. Because the bill needs to be enacted as emergency legislation to go into effect before July 1st, it requires an 80% vote by both the House and the Senate to pass. While the bill isn't perfect, it is fair and represents a reasonable step forward. I intend to vote for passage when it comes up next Monday.
As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve you in the House of Delegates!