A summary of the 2013 General Assembly Session. These items reflect the Virginia Chamber's 2013 Legislative Priorities.
Virginia General Assembly Passes Historic Transportation Funding Bill
One of the Virginia Chamber's "Key Principles of Virginia's Blueprint for Success" is Infrastructure and Connectivity. This year, the Virginia Chamber outlined as a top priority the need for long-term, dedicated and sustainable funding to address the Commonwealth's critical infrastructure needs.
The Virginia General Assembly took a major step forward on Transportation funding this year by passing a historic package that will generate $880 million a year to address Virginia's critical transportation infrastructure needs. The plan will also ensure that we have a transportation system that serves our mobility needs and fosters economic growth and development.
The transportation plan passed includes:
- Gas tax. Replaces the 17.5 cents per gallon gas tax with a 3.5% wholesale tax paid by distributors and a 6% wholesale tax on diesel.
- Sales tax. Increases the statewide sales tax on most items from 5% to 5.3%.
- New car purchases. Raises the sales tax on motor vehicles from 3% to 4.3% and raises the minimum titling fee to $75.
- Alternate-fuel vehicles. Creates an annual fee of $100 on alternative-fuel vehicles.
- General fund. Increases the amoung of general fund money dedicated to fund transportation from 0.5% to 0.675% of the sales tax.
- Internet Purchases. Uses a substantial portion of future sales tax proceeds generated from internet purchases (if Congress passes the Marketplace Equity Act) for transportation. If the Act fails to pass, an additional 1.6% tax will be applied to the wholesale gas tax.
- Regional Funding. Creates a regional funding mechanism for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to fund transportation projects in those respective areas.
"This plan reflects a great deal of compromise between Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate," said Barry DuVal, President and CEO of the VA Chamber. "Although the plan does not contain one hundred percent of what either side hoped for, the compromise will greatly benefit the Commonwealth as a whole. I applaud members of the General Assembly for their willingness to advance this issue of importance to Virginia's business community."
Virginia Chamber's Tort Reform Package
One of the major components of the Virginia Chamber's 2013 Legislative Agenda is Tort Reform. We worked throughout the Summer and Fall with the Virginia Alliance for Tort Reform to develop systemic legal reforms which would improve the Commonwealth's economic competitiveness.
Virginia's business community scored an important win during the 2013 General Assembly Session with the passage of a tort reform package that enacts meaningful tort reform measures that will will lower the costs of litigation and improve the overall business climate. These measures include:
Depositions Used in Admissions and Summary Judgment Motions. Will allow depositions to be used to form the basis of admissions and summary judgment motions limited to non-DUI punitive damage parts of a claim. This is important because businesses are being subjected to punitive damage claims on an increasing basis - particularly as a pressure tactic related to other parts of a lawsuit. Depositions will now be allowed to knock out meritless punitive damage claims through summary judgment motions. Depositions will also be allowed to form the basis for Admissions. This will also help businesses defend against baseless and frivolous cases.
Venue Reform. Perhaps the most significant change will help businesses limit lawsuits in jurisdictions that do not have any meaningful connection to the cause of action. Under current Virginia law, companies can be sued in any locality they "regularly conduct substantial business." This means that even if an accident occurs in one county, a suit can be brought in a more plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction even if there is no connection to that location. With the proposed change, there must be a "practical nexus" - or meaningful connection - between where the lawsuit is filed and the cause of action.
Trespassing. Virginia common law says that property owners owe no duty of care to trespassers except in very limited circumstances. Legislation codifies Virginia common law and precludes efforts to change duty of care owed to trespassers.
Nonsuit. Provides that if notice to take a nonsuit is given to the opposing party during trial, the court may assess against the nonsuiting party reasonable witness fees and travel costs of expert witnesses.
Education and Workforce Development
Virginia's economic well-being is inextricably linked to the education and skills of its citizens. The Virginia Chamber supports initiatives that better align educational development, beginning with early childhood education programs, and workforce training programs with the skill requirements and workforce needs of businesses.
To better compete in a global economy, the Virginia Chamber supported the following educational priorities during the 2013 General Assembly Session:
- Worker Retraining Tax Credit. Will provide an increase in the Worker Retraining Tax Credit from $100 per year per employee to $200 per year per employee for regular retraining and $300 per year per employee if the worker retraining involves a STEM or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Applied Mathematics) discipline.
- Improve Teacher Performance. Establishes the Strategic Compensation Grant Initiative and Fund, which provides local school divisions with grants that may be used as incentives to improve teacher and school performance.
- Early intervention services for reading and mathematics. Requires local school divisions to provide early intervention services to students in kindergarten through third grade who demonstrate deficiencies in reading and math.
- Teach for America. Help close the achievement gap among students in low-income areas by creating a two year provisional license for participants in Teach for America.
- Budget amendments to fund initiatives to attract, recruit and retain individuals to teach STEM subjects.
- Budget amendments to support early childhood development and readiness programs.
Medicaid Reform and Expansion
On Saturday, February 23rd, the General Assembly passed an $87 billion budget. Included in the Virginia budget is an amendment to reform and expand the Medicaid program. The Virginia Chamber supported reforming the Commonwealth's largest health insurance program and extending health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Virginians.
Over the next five years, Virginia's citizens and businesses will be forced to pay taxes of more than $10.2 billion. In addition, health care providers, the most stable sector of our economy, will face $11.7 billion in Medicare reimbursement cuts. The taxes and cuts were intended by the Federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) to pay for Medicaid reform and coverage extension in the Commonwealth. If Virginia does not opt to extend coverage in Virginia, we will be subsidizing it in other states. The hidden tax for subsidizing uncompensated care in the Commonwealth is already borne by businesses as the primary purchaser of health insurance. By choosing not to reform Medicaid and extend coverage, Virginia businesses will bear this cost as well as subsidize care elsewhere. Reducing the number of uninsured will curb the cost shift to commercial insurance and thereby lower the insurance premiums paid by employers.
The following bills will have a positive impact on the business climate in VA:
Business One Stop Shop--Requires the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to integrate their online forms with the already established Virginia Business One Stop website. With Business One Stop, business owners can submit all their paperwork electronically, from permits to applications. This bill streamlines the process, allowing business owners to spend more time on their business instead of filling out paperwork.
Virginia Workforce Council--Expand the Virginia Workforce Council's scope of inquiry and recommendations to more broadly address the entire spectrum of workforce development.
- HB1385 protects employees right to a secret ballot.
- The VA Chamber worked to defeat both HB1729 and SB816. These bills would have created onerous record keeping requirements for employers.
Unemployment Insurance Reform
In 2012, the Virginia Chamber worked with the Virginia Employment Commission and the Commission on Unemployment Compensation to reform Virginia's unemployment insurance laws. As a result, in 2013, the General Assembly passed SB775 and SB776, making Virginia's unemployment insurance laws consistent with Federal requirements.
The passage of these bills saved Virginia businesses $1.4 billion.
The Virginia Chamber included in its 2013 Legislative Agenda the position to support a constitutional amendment to allow Virginia Governors the opportunity to seek a second consecutive term.
Senator Tom Garrett carried our bill, SJ276, in the Senate. SJ276 would have allowed a Governor elected in 2017 and thereafter to succeed himself in office. The bill was PASSED by the Senate on Monday, January 28 on a 25-15 vote; however, the bill was killed in a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee.