During the 2015 General Assembly, I was given the opportunity to write several articles for the Leesburg Today, discussing the Session Highlights. They have been cross-posted here.
Our 2015 session began at high noon on Wednesday, Jan. 14. Our first day was primarily procedural and organizational. Both houses adopted rules of order and standing committees were announced.
As many readers know, the real work in the substantive crafting of legislation occurs in these standing committees, thereby allowing for our work on the floor to be focused on debate and voting rather than on wordsmithing. This year, I will serve on three House Committees, namely, the Courts of Justice Committee, a committee that marks up roughly 25 percent of all bills filed in the House, the Transportation Committee, and the Privileges and Elections Committee. On the Courts of Justice Committee, I serve on the Civil Law Subcommittee, the Judiciary Subcommittee, and the Ethics Subcommittee (more on that later). On the Transportation Committee, I serve on the Transportation Planning and Funding Subcommittee, where I can actively participate in legislative work involving road planning, transit and VDOT oversight, and funding sources. And, finally on the Privileges and Elections Committee, I serve as vice chairman on the Election Law Subcommittee.
This year, I was appointed to serve as the chairman of the House Ethics Subcommittee, and I anticipate that this subcommittee will have an incredibly busy session in light of the many bills filed proposing reforms to our ethics, disclosure, and gift receipt laws. While Virginia has an almost 400-year tradition of honorable and ethical lawmaking, that reputation has been questioned in light of recent events, and I believe that the General Assembly would be shirking its responsibility to the people if we do not enact meaningful reforms this year.
I spent much of December drafting my own ethics reform bill that is filed as HB 1689. My bill abolishes the distinction between tangible and intangible gifts and limits receipt of either to a maximum of $100 per year per member. This limitation would apply broadly to lobbyist-sponsored trips, event tickets, gifts, and meals, but includes an exception for nonpartisan, widely attended events such as the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner where all members are invited and where no lobbying is done. I will report more on the work of the Ethics Subcommittee later in this series.
Our first day of the session also featured Governor McAuliffe’s State of the Commonwealth Address delivered in the House Chamber before a Joint Session of the House of Delegates and Senate. Last year, Governor McAuliffe was a newly inaugurated chief executive of our commonwealth and did not have a detailed legislative agenda. This year, we will see the rollout of those public policy initiatives that the governor hopes to establish as his legacy. After all, Virginia governors are lame ducks from the date of their inauguration and they have little time to waste in fulfilling their legislative plans during their four-year terms. While there will undoubtedly be respectful disagreements between our Democratic governor and the two houses of the Republican-controlled General Assembly, Virginians demand civility and solutions and not Washington-style gridlock between the legislative and executive branches. I have to give Governor McAuliffe high marks for his work in fostering job-creation and economic development in our commonwealth during his first year in office. He is a naturally gregarious and affable gentleman and gifted salesman of the goods and services our commonwealth has to offer.
I will wrap up by acknowledging what a humbling honor it is to serve in the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere. Whenever I enter our Virginia Capitol, I can hear the whispers of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison challenging us to do our best for the good people of Virginia. Also, I remember the admonition given to all Virginia legislators by our George Mason now enshrined as the second paragraph in our state constitution that reads, “All power is vested in, and consequentially derived from, the people and magistrates are their trustees and servants and are at all times amenable to them.”
See you in two weeks.
J. Randall Minchew