RICHMOND — Funding for school construction projects. Health care. Payday lending.
These are just some of the issues Tazewell legislators are trying to push through the General Assembly this year.
Abusive-driver fees and Transportation
Delegate Anne B. Crockett-Stark, R-Wytheville, and Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, D-Tazewell, have agreed on the elimination of unpopular abusive-driver fees instituted during the 2007 legislative session.
The fees increased penalties for numerous driving offenses, enforcing them only on Virginia residents.
Simply repealing the fees without replacing them with any other form of income would create a hole in the budget where the fees were originally.
Pucketts plan, Senate Bill 411, would repeal the abusive-driver fees but would also increase the motor fuels tax rate by $0.025 per gallon. The plan would also refund any abusive-driver fees paid, with interest.
No one likes to pay extra, Puckett said. This way everyone will have to pay. Not just Virginia residents.
There are more transportation bills being considered by the General Assembly this session.
Commercial driving is the subject of two bills filed by Delegate Danny C. Bowling, D-Oakwood. If passed, House Bill 1221 would require commercial drivers to take DUI tests after being involved in an accident and House Bill 1224 would require all commercial drivers to take random drug and alcohol tests.
All three legislators agree payday lending is an issue.
Bowling is co-patron of the Payday Loan Act, House Bill 1351. The bill would strictly regulate the practice of payday lending. It would require the creation of an Internet-accessible database to be searched by payday lenders needing to ensure applicants eligibility for receiving loans.
Crockett-Stark said she is listening to the pros and cons on every side. Puckett said some legislators were discussing a 36 percent interest rate cap.
I favor having a market for the people who need this service and I want it to be available, but not abused, said Puckett.
Health care is a topic of conversation around the U.S. and Crockett-Stark is aware it affects those in Southwest Virginia.
In my district, not only those on fixed incomes, but also young families, are finding their incomes or salary increases eaten up by health care costs, Crockett-Stark said.
I dont think socialized medicine is the answer, Crockett-Stark said. It would weaken the health care services we have. It has done that in other countries.
We need to work on interest rates, continue to work on Medicare and Medicaid costs and people need to talk to their federal and state representatives, Crockett-Stark said, noting that she doesnt have the exact solution.
If I knew the answer to this, I would be the U.S. hero, she said.
On the subject of education, Crockett-Stark and Puckett filed identical bills, HB 566 and SB 408. The bills dealt with the Literary Fund, determining the method by which school districts take out low-interest loans for construction projects. If either bill passes, the loan limit would be raised from $7.5 million to $14 million.
You just cant build a school with $7 million dollars anymore, Crockett-Stark said.
Crockett-Stark says the fact that a republican has filed in the House and a democrat has filed in the Senate is a good sign.
It helps move the legislation along if it has bipartisan support in both houses, Puckett said. It doesnt always happen like that, though. The bill has to have some merit.
House Bill 1223
Bowling is chief patron of House Bill 1223. If passed, the bill would require the Virginia Employment Commission to have one regional office in each planning district in Virginia.
This would give everyone access (to the commission), because the planning districts were made a certain size for a reason, Bowling said. Some people in Southwest Virginia need that help because they dont have computers, or if they do, all they can get is a dial-up connection.
According to the VEC Web site, the commissions goal is to boost economic growth by coordinating job placement, policy development, temporary income support and work force information, and by providing transition and training services.
Tazewell lawmakers have until March 8 to make decisions and vote on issues that affect the lives of Southwest Virginians.