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Virginia Delegate

Reflections on Recent Supreme Court Rulings

The King v. Burwell ruling issued Thursday should be extremely concerning to everyone who values the rule of law over the wants or desires of individuals. This is the most prominent principal on which our nation was founded to protect us from tyranny and an abusive government. In Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion he rightfully stated, “The Court forgets that ours is a government of laws and not of men. That means we are governed by the terms of our laws, not by the unenacted will of our lawmakers.”

The fact is the plain language written in the Affordable Care Act stated that only those that were receiving coverage through a state run exchange could receive subsidies. Certainly had the Supreme Court ruled differently Congress would have needed to act to offer some type of reasonable alternative to the individuals impacted. During the 2015 Session, House Republicans passed proactive legislation that would have put our laws in a posture to allow those currently receiving subsidies to gain less expensive insurance coverage that they could afford. The measure passed the legislature but was ultimately vetoed by the Governor.

Every year the General Assembly passes laws where the patron or supporters may have intended for it to work one way, but the language of the legislation as passed and signed by the Governor requires that it actually be applied differently than the legislature may have intended. All of my colleagues would agree that this is something we should try to avoid; hence why our founders had the foresight to develop a legislative process that involves numerous hurdles that can be cumbersome and hard to overcome at times. However, even with this process in place mistakes happen, we are only human. When this occurs do we rely on the courts or the agency administering the new policy to make assumptions about what we may have meant? No, we go back the next year and try to change the law to more closely align with our intentions.

When our court system and leaders think it is acceptable to interpret laws based on what we want them to be or what we think they should have been, rather than what they are, it creates a slippery slope. If the court or an executive can essentially change the law without the legislature taking the action, it negates the need for the legislative body. In turn, once you don’t need the legislature, you really don’t need the judicial system either. That natural progression ensures that you are well on the way to a dictatorship or an oligarchy. To be absolutely clear, I’m not suggesting we have reached that point, but decisions like this could certainly lay the first block of the foundation.

Regardless of your party affiliation or whether or not you support the Affordable Care Act, I hope you consider the potential implications of this ruling beyond the merits of the policy being considered. I pray that we aren’t able look back 50 years from now and pinpoint this ruling as the turning point in our representative democracy.

I am also certainly disheartened by the Supreme Court’s decision in the same sex marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges. I still believe that marriage should be a union between one man and one woman.

Unfortunately the Supreme Court has made their decision, and as a nation governed by the rule of law we must respect their authority and comply with the law.

Now the battle must turn towards protecting religious liberties. We have already seen numerous challenges to those who do not wish to abandon the principals of their faith to facilitate a union that they believe their faith calls them to oppose. Religious leaders should not be forced to marry same sex individuals, nor should a baker be required to make a cake for a same sex wedding. I intend to vehemently oppose any effort to require individuals to abandon their faith in order to avoid prosecution or financial ruin.

Solid Mix From the 26th

As you may have read, the Governor signed the budget bill this week. This is the first time since 1998 that the Governor signed the budget bill without proposing any amendments or vetoes. The money committees and budget conferees from both chambers are to be commended for their hard work in putting together a budget that nearly everyone was happy to support.

This budget calls for $1 billion less in general fund spending compared to last year’s budget. It eliminates over $11 million in fees and $33 million in debt that was originally proposed by the Governor. Additionally, the budget does not include Medicaid expansion, but it does provide some additional assistance for those individuals in the most need. Finally, we were able to provide the resources for a pay raise for our state employees and other state supported local employees, including the state portion of a pay increase for our teachers.

Governor Vetoes Bridgewater Precinct Bill

Governor McAuliffe has vetoed HB 1699, a bill that I carried this session correcting the split precinct in Bridgewater. I am extremely disappointed in the Governor’s decision to veto this legislation. This bill came at the request of Rockingham County and had the full support of all local stakeholders. It would have been beneficial for both voters and taxpayers.

House Bill 1699 was a modest request that would impact only 22 voters in Rockingham County. It was a common sense measure that would have removed a source of potential confusion and error among voters and poll workers, while eliminating the additional expense that the Rockingham County registrar’s office must incur.

Instead of assisting our locality, Governor McAuliffe decided to play politics with this legislation. It was by no means an overhaul of district lines (as the Governor would like you to believe); it simply made a slight technical adjustment to ensure all individuals currently within the Town of Bridgewater would have been able to vote for the same representatives. While it will be an uphill challenge in the State Senate, I hope we can override the Governor’s veto.

Though he vetoed HB 1699, I am pleased to report that he has signed HB 1700, HB 1701 and HB 2314 into law. To my knowledge, he has not yet taken action on my bill strengthening our parental notice requirements for student surveys (HB 1698).

Sunshine, Warm Weather… Potholes???

Spring is finally here, bringing with it warm weather, outdoor activities, and the potential for rough roads. As you may know, spring is also the start of “pothole season.” Because we have had a very wet winter with heavy snow and rain, you may notice a lot of potholes in the roads this spring.

If you see a pothole you may report the problem to VDOT by calling 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623). VDOT will investigate each report and will schedule repairs as soon as possible. As always, you can also contact my office and we would be glad to reach out to VDOT on your behalf.

Save the Dates!

On Friday, May 8 I will be holding my 4th Annual Sporting Clays Shoot at the Flying Rabbit in Mt. Crawford. You don’t need to be a pro, just come out and have a good time! As we have done in the past, we will serve lunch following the shoot and offer prizes for all levels of shooter. The shoot will begin at 11:30 AM.

Also, you can mark your calendar for the evening of Wednesday, June 17. My good friends, Doug and Gayle Driver, have graciously agreed to host a reception at their home in Broadway. I have already confirmed that Senator Obenshain plans to attend, and other special guests will be announced at a later date.

Session Wrap Up Newsletter

We have reached the end of the 2015 General Assembly session. We are scheduled to adjourn Sine die tomorrow, February 28, and we expect to do so on time if not sooner.

This session I believe both parties are to be commended for striking a bipartisan tone and getting the job done. We have worked to provide our school systems more flexibility to educate our children, adopted efforts to make our campuses and communities safer, and continued to only advance policies that foster an environment for job creation and business growth.

Yesterday, both chambers passed the budget conference report. Completing work on the budget early is certainly a rarity, but due to the cooperation between the Republican led House and Senate we were able to accomplish this task. This is in stark contrast to the way things are done in Washington.

This was a budget that I was pleased to support. Since the House and Senate budget were relatively similar to begin with, most of what the House had adopted remained in the final conference report.

While I don’t want to rehash what we already discussed, I do want to provide a few additional updates that are worth noting.

First and foremost, the budget remains a conservative and structurally sound budget. It pre-pays $129.5 million for the 2017 rainy-day fund deposit, restoring the balance to roughly $429 million. The budget does not raise taxes on hardworking citizens, nor does it raise fees as originally proposed by the Governor. The budget did, however, retain the additional compensation for our state employees, providing a 2% pay raise. Additional funding was also included to continue to address compression issues with our salary structure to ensure new hires are not making more than veteran employees with the same job.

This budget is also good for local governments. It restores the $30 million in funding cuts adopted by the supplemental budget to address the shortfall. It also offers a 2% pay raise for state-supported local employees, as well as the state portion of a 1.5% pay raise for our teachers. This is the second raise offered for our teachers in the last three years. As mentioned previously, the budget deposits $193 million into the teacher retirement fund to ensure solvency and save our localities over $30 million in anticipated costs.

Finally, this budget offers additional support for our most vulnerable citizens, especially in the area of mental health. This includes funding for targeted services to roughly 22,000 seriously mentally-ill patients, including a prescription drug benefit. New support is also provided for children’s psychiatry and crisis services as well as six new drop-off centers for crisis intervention services. In addition, the budget provides a total of $9 million for housing and homelessness, with a portion of this funding targeted specifically for rapid rehousing efforts for our veterans.

Now that the budget is complete, it will be sent to the Governor for his consideration. We will return to Richmond in April to address any amendments the Governor may offer to the budget.

My Legislation                                                                                                                                    I was pleased to have five bills pass this session that I chief-patroned, along with 19 bills I co-patroned. Among the bills I carried, HB 1698, HB 1699, HB 1700, HB 1701 and HB 2314 have all received final approval in the General Assembly and will be sent to Governor McAuliffe to sign into law. To view the list of the legislation I co-patroned, please click here.

Survey Results
Thanks to everyone that participated in my legislative survey this year! The General Assembly addressed many of the issues on which I had requested your input. I certainly considered your thoughts when casting my vote. To view the survey results online, please click here.

A Special Thank You
I just wanted to take a moment to thank our intern this session, Micah Smith. Micah is a James Madison University student that made the trip to Richmond every week to help out in our office. He was a great worker that I know has a bright future ahead. He contributed significantly to the work of our office, and helped to ensure all business was handled in a prompt and professional manner.

Even though we are finishing up in Richmond, I still had a good many visitors stop by my office since my last update. Lisa Hensley and Melinda See came to discuss animal related legislation that they felt passionately about. A large contingent of JMU students came to the Capitol last Wednesday. This included member of the Student Government Association, as well as students in Dr. Lili Peaslee’s Public Policy Senior Seminar Course and former Delegate (Professor) Pete Giesen’s Virginia Politics class. That night it was great to join the entire group at the JMU Alumni Dinner. It was certainly a group of intelligent and motivated students. I also met with EMU Social Work students last week to discuss various legislation that they had an interest in.

Yesterday, in between floor sessions, I had the privilege to attend a swearing in ceremony at the Capitol for a class of Conservation Police Officers. Among the class was a local officer, Justin Chambers. I commend Justin for his commitment to serve the Commonwealth!

Since our schedule is so unpredictable in the final days of session, unfortunately I missed personally meeting with several folks. However, Chad was able to speak with a large group of Rockingham 4-H’ers and our Extension Agent, Dara Booher. He also met with Tim Jibson on behalf of the State Employees Association.

Thanks to everyone that came to Richmond this year!