As this year's General Assembly session moves closer to its conclusion, its results become a little bit clearer with each passing day. Senators and delegates are moving quickly toward completing work on legislation, as conference committees meet to iron differences between the House and the Senate on individual bills.
Even when the House and Senate pass the same bill, the language in the bill passed by each respective body may not always be identical. That's where conference committees come in.
If a bill passes the House and is then passed by the Senate (or vice versa), it goes straight to the Governor for his review. But let's say that the Senate passes a bill and the House approves the same bill but makes slight changes to it. And, let's say the Senate doesn't really like the House's amendments. Then, a conference committee is appointed to negotiate the differences between each chamber's versions of the bill.
During the final week of the General Assembly session, conference committees are everywhere. The most well known conference committee deals with the budget. That conference committee has six delegates and six senators working to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. But most conference committees are half that size, with three senators and three delegates appointed to resolve differences on legislation.
During most sessions, there are dozens of conference committees appointed. They do most of their work in the closing days of General Assembly sessions. More often than not, they succeed in ironing out the differences between House and Senate versions of the same bill.
The above-referenced conference committee on the budget has been working to negotiate the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Commonwealth's two-year spending plan. Early indicators are that fees are the biggest differences between the two plans.
When then-Governor Kaine introduced his final budget, he made a lot of news by proposing a 17% increase to the state income tax. What received less attention was a series of fee increases on a wide variety of services. Just as the House overwhelmingly rejected the income tax increase, it did not build its budget on the fee hikes proposed by former Governor Kaine. So in the closing week of the session, you can expect to hear a lot about "fees" when you're reading news accounts of the budget negotiations.
Passed by a vote of 69-28 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate, House Bill 787 is on the way to the Governor's desk for signature. I was delighted to co-patron HB 787. Passage of this measure makes it the policy of the Commonwealth to support oil and natural gas exploration, development, and production 50 miles or more off of the coast of Virginia.
The development of Virginia's offshore energy reserves would mean thousands of new jobs and hundreds of millions in tax revenue. It is vital in the economic times that legislators take steps to create jobs and implement revenue generating policies. This action brings with it tremendous opportunity for our Commonwealth to begin investments that will reduce reliance on foreign sources of energy, while also helping to strengthen our economy.
A recent study on the issue, produced in 2005 by a professor at Old Dominion University, estimated that offshore natural gas production off of the Virginia coast would, over a 10-year period, likely create 2,578 new jobs, induce capital investment of $7.84 billion, yield $644 million in direct and indirect payroll, and result in $271 million in state and local taxes. The numbers were based on a conservative projection of the possible cubic feet of natural gas existing in the targeted area offshore.
By signing this bill into law, Governor McDonnell fulfills one of his campaign pledges to support such measures which will help us move toward energy independence and create jobs to get our economy moving again.
HOLLYWOOD ON THE JAMES
For those outside Capitol Square, this session will likely be remembered for the much leaner budget it produces and - ultimately - for the potential of higher speed limits on select portions of Virginia's Interstate Highways. But for those who frequent Capitol Square, this session will likely be remembered for the much leaner budget it produces and....Wayne Newton and Sissy Spacek and Erik Estrada!
Yes, a few celebrities have descended upon the Capitol this year. We haven't had enough star-power to hold our own reality series, but it's been pretty interesting even so. Erik Estrada was the latest to visit, and he was promoting funding for the Internet Crimes Against Children task forces. When Wayne Newton was here, he was promoting state recognition for the Patawomeck Indian Tribe, of which he is a descendant. And Sissy Spacek was here to promote Virginia as a location for making films and television programs.
All three created a stir at the Capitol, as legislative aides, secretaries, visitors, and elected public officials sought to have their pictures taken with the famous. Fortunately for us, all three were patient and gracious with their time, and ready to smile for the camera.
A few friendly faces from home came by to see us in these closing days. It was great to see Tom White from Mechanicsville, Don Ingerson of Roanoke Cement, Bob Long of Richmond, Jeff Sili of the Caroline Board of Supervisors, Sumpter Priddy of Ashland, students from the Chesapeake and Maggie Walker Governor's Schools, Elaine Smith of Sandston, and Rick Collins of Providence Forge.
Hard to believe, but there's just one week left before the scheduled conclusion of this year's session. I'll be back next week with my final newsletter from the Capitol for 2010. Please remember I can always be contacted at my District office at via telephone 804-730-3737, via mail PO Box 819 Mechanicsville, VA 23111, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org