Coming off the 2007 election in which the majority party in the state Senate switched and many committee chairs changed, Gov. Tim Kaine (D) remains confident as he launches into this years legislative session with an ambitious agenda.
Its going to be an interesting session with the election results, Kaine told The Times last week. There are a lot of new relationships, he added, that he expects will take a month or two to get sorted out.
Nevertheless, the governor remains optimistic that he can accomplish much this year. His priorities include:
Mental healthcare is the largest issue in the aftermath of Virginia Tech for this legislative session, Kaine said. He expects bipartisan support for community based mental health services and allocated large amounts of money for those programs in his budget.
Child Services: Kaine is focusing much of his budget on childhood services and, in particular, foster care. These services will prepare kids for a more likely path to success. Virginia doesnt do enough to recruit and retain foster parents, he said, and his budget reflects an increased effort in that area. Currently, Virginia pays foster families 60 percent less than the amount considered minimally sufficient to raise a child from birth to age 11. The governors budget would increase the amount paid to foster parents by 26 percent. It would provide over $36 million in state and matching funds for basic foster care and over $9 million in state and federal matching funds to recruit and retain foster parents.
Education: Kaine stressed his $1.65 billion bond package for higher education be included in his budget. Virginia is in a relatively well off position, he said. We cant afford to stand still on the education investments. The bonds will be used for workforce development, retaining students, research and providing facilities for areas in need such as education, engineering, nursing, business and the sciences.
Kaines budget also includes a $9 million increase in student financial aid.
Smoking Ban: Lastly, Kaine said he will again fight to ban smoking from all Virginia restaurants. The scientific evidence about the health risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke is clear and convincing, he said.
Recognizing the negative health effects and high public costs of secondhand smoke, Virginia must act to protect the workers and consumers in its restaurants.
Kaine also cited a Virginia Department of Health statistic that estimates 1,700 deaths per year are caused by second hand smoke.