Last week marked the midway point of the 2016 General Assembly session, known as “Crossover.” Each chamber has completed its work on our own members’ bills, and those that passed have moved on to the other chamber. There have been a number of controversial issues and some unexpected bipartisan solutions reached this session.
A major compromise deal restored Virginia concealed weapon permit reciprocity with other states, and created a new system for State Police to perform voluntary background checks to be completed in conjunction with purchases at gun shows. The final part of the deal makes it a felony for anyone subject to a domestic violence permanent protective order to possess a firearm while the order is in effect.
Additionally, there was a compromise reached concerning I-66 inside the Beltway. Under pressure from legislators, the administration agreed to proceed immediately with widening I-66 from two to three lanes from the Dulles Connector Road to Ballston with design commencing immediately and the new lane being open for traffic as early as 2019. Prior to this compromise, there was only a promise that this new lane might be considered in 2020 after tolling operations began in 2017. Both of us saw that as unacceptable and voted against this concept last November as members of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. We are pleased to report that the $140 million appropriation necessary for immediate widening was included in both the House and Senate biennial budgets released this week.
Proposed reforms to Virginia’s charter school laws have also been hotly debated this session. The authority to approve charter schools has historically been vested in local school boards under the Virginia Constitution, and an amendment to it was proposed that would transfer charter-granting authority from these local school boards to the State Board of Education. It is interesting to note that while Virginia only has nine public charter schools, two of these nine are in Loudoun due to openness that our local school board has shown concerning charter school concepts brought forward by parents. Other school boards, however, have been less open to the concept of approving charters. The charter school reforms considered by both houses consisted of two bills: first the constitutional amendment bill, containing simple language proposed for inclusion into the Virginia Constitution, and second, the implementing bill, containing more detailed language governing how the Board of Education would consider charter school applications if the constitutional amendment was approved by the voters. The House approved the constitutional amendment, HJ1, on a narrow 52-47 vote, with Del. Randy Minchew voting yea, but did not approve the implementing bill, HB 565 on a 46-53 vote with Del. Minchew voting nay. Both the Senate companion to HJ1, SJ3, and the Senate companion to HB 565, SB734, failed in the Senate on identical 19-21 votes with Sen. Wexton voting nay on both bills.
House and Senate bills that will radically alter the rules concerning the conditional zoning (“proffer”) system in Virginia have passed the House and Senate this session. In Loudoun, the proffer system has been used since the early 1980’s to help offset the capital costs of new infrastructure (roads, schools, etc.), the need for which is generated by the proposed development. In Loudoun, the proffer system has allowed the County to manage growth while balancing the financial burden between developers and the taxpaying public. Neither of us supported these bills in our respective houses of the General Assembly. Given that the House and Senate versions of these bills differ in many ways, both remain works in progress post-Crossover.
Finally, as lawyer-legislators, we both hope that we will see a resolution over the impasse concerning the appointment of new Virginia Supreme Court justice. A highly-qualified Fairfax County Circuit Court judge, Jane Roush, was given an interim appointment on the Virginia Supreme Court last summer by Gov. McAuliffe, but that appointment only lasted until Feb. 13 and the House and Senate have not been able to reach agreement on whether she will be appointed to a full 12-year term on our commonwealth’s highest court.
We look forward to seeing all of you back home in Loudoun.
State Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33rd)
State Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th)