By Susan Hale Thomas (File photo)
The new session of the Virginia General Assembly convenes next week, and could be one of the more contentious in recent memory. Gun control, education and tax reform legislation are among the bills up for debate.
Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe’s package of proposed gun-control measures announced last month shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, the governor said, since gun control was part of his campaign promise.
“As governor, there is no greater responsibility than ensuring the health and safety of the citizens I serve,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “Our commonwealth and our nation have seen too many tragedies as a result of dangerous weapons getting into the hands of the wrong people. These common-sense proposals will keep guns out of the hands of criminals, will keep our communities safe, and will help to build a new Virginia economy.”
The proposed measures would prohibit gun possession by people subject to protective orders, domestic violence offenders and those late on child support payments. It also would curb handgun trafficking and straw purchases by reinstating the “one handgun a month” law.
“We need laws to move us forward, not backward,” said state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30). And Delegate Rob Krupicka said there would be a lot of conversation on the issue this year.
With just a week to go before the opening gavel, Ebbin and Krupicka, who both represent Alexandria in Richmond, both are in the process of filing bills for the upcoming session.
Protecting K-12 education from budget cuts is a high priority for both lawmakers as well as the governor. Ebbin and Krupicka are looking to tax electronic cigarettes as an additional means to chip away at Virginia public school budget woes.
“This year, there’s going to be budget pain all around,” Ebbin said. “I’m hoping to minimize the pain for students and teachers.”
The proposal would tax all electronic cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, and similar vapor products at a rate of 40 cents per milliliter of nicotine. State revenue from the program would go to the Virginia Health Care Fund.
Local governments would be able to impose their own tax based on the nicotine content in e-cigarettes. The local tax rate likewise would be capped at 40 cents per milliliter, with revenue funding child development programs geared toward kindergarten preparation.
Krupicka said it’s time to figure out how to provide more revenue to Virginia schools instead of cutting funding.
“For the last eight years, we’ve added tens of thousands of pupils, but at the same time, we have cut back on teachers,” he said. “The state is not doing its share.”
Because of a growing number of children living in poverty, an increase in English language learners and greater demand for teachers in science, math and reading, Krupicka expressed concern that the state was not in sync with schools’ needs on the local level.”
“The state is not providing support to hire specialists and is not keeping up with the rising student population,” he said.
Krupicka said he will sponsor a bill to reduce the frequency of high-stakes standardized testing in Virginia public schools, which he said the Alexandria School Board supports as well. Such exams can determine penalties, funding reductions, awards, or compensation increases for administrators and teachers.
Other legislation would include a bill to change taxation for service members deployed overseas who lease automobiles put forward by Krupicka. Currently, military personnel are exempt from property tax on cars but they do have to pay taxes on leased vehicles.
A workforce-training bill sponsored by Ebbin would create incentives for workforce training by focusing on successful employment rather than just training to retain a job.
Tax loopholes will be another hot topic in Richmond in 2015. Ebbin said he would be putting forward legislation to eliminate a provision that limits boat owners to paying no more than $2,000 in excise tax, a formula far different from the Virginia’s tax on car sales and ownership of 4.05 percent on drivers.
Ebbin also said he wants to restrict gifts of travel to elected officials to fact-finding and educational purposes.
“Last year I fought hard for ethics legislation that would have forbidden trips on corporate jets for leisure purposes,” he said.