You asked for it...
Since no one commented on the suggested topic of my open thread, you can learn about what's going on from the LG...
On February 6th the 2007 session of the Virginia General Assembly reached "crossover." This is the ceremonial mid-point of the annual legislative session -- the date by which the Senate and House of Delegates must complete work on bills introduced by their own members.
Crossover is usually one of the longest days of the legislative session, with hundreds of bills considered during final committee meetings and very long floor sessions. This year was no exception. The Senate spent six hours in its longest floor session this year. The House of Delegates did not adjourn until much later, well into the evening hours.
In last week's edition of The Bolling Report I reported that the Senate's Committee on Finance had rejected the so-called Republican compromise transportation plan and had adopted an alternative transportation proposal that included massive statewide tax increases. This alternative proposal was sponsored by Senator John Chichester and Senator Russ Potts
The Chichester/Potts bill set up a potentially divisive battle with Chichester, Potts and Senate Democrats on one side and the vast majority of Senate Republicans on the other side. At the last minute Senator Chichester and Senator Potts asked that their alternative transportation proposal be returned to the Committee on Finance and not voted on by the full Senate.
The decision to forgo a floor fight on this issue appeared to be influenced by two factors: 1) a desire to avoid a potentially bitter battle between Senate Republicans, who have historically stood united on important issues such as this, and 2) a desire to avoid an adverse parliamentary ruling that could have prevented the bill from moving forward.
At issue was whether or not the Chichester/Potts substitute was "germane" to the underlying bill it was attached to by the Committee on Finance. Germaneness is an important parliamentary principle which requires that committee amendments relate to the general purpose of the underlying bill and that they do not unreasonably expand the general purpose of the underlying bill.
In this case the Committee on Finance had added the Chichester/Potts substitute to an underlying bill introduced by Senator Potts that was much narrower in its focus than the committee substitute. Because of this, I had been asked, as the presiding officer of the Senate, to determine if the committee substitute was germane.
After completing extensive research on this question I had decided that the Chichester/Potts substitute was not germane to the underlying bill it was attached to. As such, I was prepared to rule that the substitute was not properly before the Senate and order its return to the Committee on Finance.
To avoid this ruling, and to avoid a bitter floor fight among Senate Republicans, Senator Chichester and Senator Potts chose to voluntarily recommit their substitute to the Committee on Finance. The good news is that a vote on the Chichester/Potts substitute, which would have seriously harmed our efforts to reach any agreement on transportation funding this year, was avoided.
However, the critical questions remains, where will the transportation debate go from here? As noted in last week's edition of The Bolling Report, the House of Delegates has passed the Republican compromise bill and has sent it to the Senate. The Senate will now have to act on that bill.
If the Senate continues to insist on massive statewide tax increases and refuses to use any of the state's existing revenues for transportation it will be very difficult to forge a transportation agreement this year. However, if the Senate reconsiders its position and takes a more reasonable approach it may still be possible to make some progress in addressing our transportation challenges.
In other action during crossover, the Senate and House of Delegates each approved a series of amendments to the Executive Budget that had been submitted by Governor Tim Kaine. While the budgets adopted by the Senate and House of Delegates are comparable in most respects, they have adopted differing budget priorities in some areas. For example:
The Senate budget includes a 3% pay raise for state employees and public school teachers, while the budget adopted by the House of Delegates includes a 4% pay raise for state employees. (The House budget includes a 3% pay raise for public school teachers.
The Senate budget includes $3.4M to expand pilot programs for the pre-kindergarten initiative recommended by Governor Kaine (the Governor had proposed $4.6M for this program), while the budget adopted by the House of Delegates includes no money for the Governor's pre-kindergarten initiative.
The Senate budget includes $9M in funding for projects to reduce combined sewer overflow in Richmond and Lynchburg, while the House of Delegates included no new money for these projects.
The Senate budget includes $3.9M for an algebra readiness program that had been proposed by Governor Kaine, while the budget adopted by the House of Delegates included no funding for this program.
The Senate budget includes $14.7M for so called non-state agency grants, while the House budget includes $22.5M for similar grants throughout the state.
There are a number of other differences in the budgets adopted by the Senate and House of Delegates. These differences must be resolved by a Committee of Conference before the end of the General Assembly session on February 24th.
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