The saga of renegade lawmaker Joe Morrissey (I-74) took another bizarre turn this week as he was charged in a four count indictment for forging documents that were introduced into his previous legal proceedings in December. Currently incarcerated on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Morrissey vehemently denied the new charges. On Wednesday evening, he surrendered to Henrico Co. authorities and posted a recognizance bond. Leaders in the House immediately condemned the new charges but did not give any clear guidance as to what, if any, disciplinary actions they may take. Stay tuned. . .
Earlier this week, the Senate Privileges & Elections Committee advanced a slew of legislation on redistricting reform:
- provides for a statewide referendum on the question of whether the General Assembly should amend Virginia's Constitution that would establish an independent redistricting commission. The referendum would be in November 2015. Similar legislation was defeated in a House subcommittee last year.
- Legislation and a Constitutional Amendment that would provide criteria for the General Assembly to observe when redrawing district boundaries and would prohibit the use of election or political data in the redistricting process.
- Establishes a 7 member Redistricting Commission and standards to govern the drawing of new district boundaries.
The Senate P&E Committee also approved a Constitutional Amendment (SJ263) that would allow Virginia's governor to serve consecutive terms. As in years past, the debate in the Committee was focused on the balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches. The sponsor of the resolution, Senator Tom Garrett (R-22), pointed out that Virginia's governors, limited by one term, are essentially lame ducks as soon as they begin their term. Opponents of the resolution stated that a deal to repeal Virginia's constitutional prohibition on two term governors would have to involve the Governor relinquishing at least some of his appointive powers.
Legislation (SB1285) introduced by Senator Steve Martin (R-11) to lower Virginia's corporate income tax was once again passed by the Senate Finance Committee. Martin argued that lowering Virginia's corporate income tax would have a stimulative impact on the economy. The chairman of the Committee, Walter Stosch, questioned the stimulative impact of a corporate income tax cut, citing a JLARC study that found corporate income taxes were not a significant factor in business location decisions. Stosch also questioned the considerable impact on revenues if such a change were implemented.
Senate legislation (SB722
) to block some undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition was defeated on the Senate floor by a vote of 20-19. One Republican, John Watkins of Powhatan County voted with the Democrats and Republican Senator Jill Holtzman-Vogel did not vote. A House version of the bill (HB1356)
is awaiting consideration in a Higher Education subcommittee. The Governor has pledged to veto such legislation.
On Thursday, a House Transportation subcommittee chaired by Delegate Greg Habeeb began consideration of HB1887, the Governor's omnibus transportation bill. Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne portrayed the bill as the next step in series of important transportation bills that began with the historic funding package in 2013 (HB2313) and legislation from 2014 that establishes systematic criteria for evaluating transportation projects (HB2). According to Layne, the impetus for this year's bill is to bring greater consistency and transparency to the project selection process by reducing overlapping and often confusing funding formulas. Layne also indicated that a new funding formula will ensure that new revenue being generated by HB2313 will be distributed more efficiently. The legislation creates the following new allocation formula that will be implemented in FY2021.
1) 40% of money not earmarked for ongoing projects or other specific projects will go the rehabilitation of structurally deficient bridges and deteriorating pavements ($228 million).
2) 30% will go to projects of statewide significance identified under the objective criteria outlined in HB2. Transportation projects from all districts will compete against one another. The Secretary of Transportation indicated that draft project scoring criteria will be released in March and considered by the Commonwealth Transportation Board in June. ($171 million)
3) 30% will go a construction district grant program. Localities within a transportation district will compete for funds using objective criteria. ($171 million, 9.6% will be allocated to the Salem District).
The legislation also includes funding for transit projects by dedicating a portion($50 million) of the recent 1.6% wholesale gas tax increase to those projects. Finally, the legislation prevents the Governor from removing members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board for political reasons.
Legislation (HB2775) that would change Virginia's Intercity Passenger Rail Operating and Capital Fund (IPROC) to make commuter rail service eligible for funding was withdrawn by its patron. Currently, IPROC funding is allocated to sustain, improve, and expand Virginia's six daily roundtrip Amtrak Regional trains, including the expansion of rail service to Roanoke.
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee approved rules that would allow ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in the Commonwealth. See more here
On Monday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee made quick work of legislation that would have increased the minimum wage gradually over the next two years. Proponents of increasing the minimum wage argue that minimum wage workers struggle economically and that an increase would increase disposable income, stimulating the economy. Opponents point out that an increase would increase labor costs, forcing businesses to cut hours and jobs. Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota supported an increase in the minimum wage during last year's mid-term election, raising the number of states that have minimums higher than federal rate to 29. Legislation to increase the minimum wage will also be considered in the House but will likely meet the same fate. The causal relationship between increasing the minimum wage and the employment rate is an on-going debate among economists. See morehere and here