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The Comstock Connection
Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dear Friend,   

Tuesday was "Crossover" here in Richmond, or the mid-point of the legislative session.  Crossover is when the House of Delegates must complete its work on the nearly 1,300 House Bills that were introduced this session and send them over the Senate.  Today the House will begin considering all bills that were passed in the Senate.


If you are in Richmond during the legislative session, which goes until March 10, please stop in to see me.  My office is room 407 in the General Assembly Building. 

2012 Legislation Update
Below are some of the bills I have introduced or sponsored that were passed by the House and will soon be considered in the Senate.  We are continuing to work to keep Virginia #1 for jobs and support our communities, while keeping spending under control and focusing on your budget priorities.  I will keep you posted on the progress of these and other bills and issues of concern to our District throughout session.

                                                     Jobs Bills
HB 216, Retail Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Data Centers:  This bill, which will provide tax incentives for data centers, passed with strong bipartisan support. The data center industry is expected to grow by hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years and we want to keep Virginia a top destination for these centers. With possible federal cuts looming and our government contracting community facing threats, we need to continue to diversify our economy by focusing on private sector commercial markets where we have a competitive advantage.  HB 216 will keep Virginia competitive in attracting and retaining jobs and capital investment in the ultra competitive data center industry.  It also will let the business community know that high tech innovation is welcome in our pro-growth, pro-jobs Commonwealth.  It passed unanimously yesterday in the House.

HB 551, Extending the Telework Tax Credit:  This bill will extend the Telework Tax Credit, which I passed last year, through December 31, 2015.  The Tax Credit is already being utilized by over 174 employers and we will continue to work with our business community and state and local officials to promote the tax credit to more businesses.  The bill passed unanimously in the House yesterday.

HB 996, Electronic Certification: This bill will allow small businesses that are women and minority-owned to apply for certification electronically.  This is a more efficient way for these businesses to be certified and is one more way that we can keep Virginia the #1 place to do business.  It passed unanimously and has been referred to the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee.  

 HB 1013, Extending the Capital Gains Tax Exemption:  I introduced this legislation to extend the current capital gains exemption for new tech investments in the Commonwealth.  This bill passed with broad bipartisan support when it was first introduced two years ago during the 2010 legislative session, and this extension was passed unanimously in the House and passed in the Senate Finance Committee unanimously today.

                                          Transportation Bills
HB 545, VDOT Incident Management:  I introduced this bill to allow VDOT vehicles to drive on a portion of the highway other than a roadway at, en route to, or from the scene of a traffic accident.  Congestion related delays can cost millions. This will help relieve traffic congestion at the site of a traffic accident, allowing VDOT to reach the scene sooner and clear blocked roads more quickly.  This bill was passed unanimously in the both the House and Senate and will be sent to the Governor.

HB 599, Northern Virginia Transportation District: I sponsored this bill to require the Commonwealth Transportation Board, in cooperation with VDOT and local governments, to objectively evaluate all Northern Virginia highway and transit projects and provide a quantitative rating as to the ability of each to cost effectively reduce traffic congestion.  This is a straightforward approach to addressing the core of Northern Virginia's traffic woes - congestion.  This will help ensure that tax dollars are being spent on highway and public transit projects that will do the most to relieve traffic congestion.  The bill passed 64-36 yesterday in the House. 

 HB 1248, Transportation Plan:  Yesterday we voted on the Governor's proposal to make several reforms in order to fund transportation.  The bill passed 63-35 in the House. Under the plan, the state will allocate more revenue to transportation and dedicate money to maintenance projects:
  • 1 percent of general fund revenue growth of 5 percent will be dedicated to transportation
  • The amount of year-end surpluses dedicated to transportation has been increased to 75 percent
  • Increasing the dedicated transportation allocation of the existing sales and use tax from 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent, phased in over eight years, with the additional revenue dedicated for highway maintenance and operation
  • Creating transportation construction districts and the Transportation Improvement District Fund to identify, construct, and fund certain transportation projects, including the authority to issue revenue bonds
  • Authorizes the Commonwealth Transportation Board to sell naming rights for the Commonwealth's transportation infrastructure to private entities.  The Commonwealth Transportation Board will establish rules, fees, and revenue projections for this program.   
  • To help start funding transportation adequately, the Governor has also dedicated an additional $110 million from the general fund, just one-eighth of one percent of the total budget, to transportation over the next two years. 
                                      Educations Bills
HB 321, Educational Improvements Scholarships Tax Credits:  This bill will provide tax credits to for donations to private school scholarship programs.  This program was modeled after a successful program that Florida has had for 10 years as well as a program in Pennsylvania.  It will provide our most needy students with the opportunity to choose a school where they can excel with the help of private businesses and contributions.  It will also save the state money and improve our public schools.

HB 1063, Starting School Before Labor Day:   I sponsored HB 1063, which will get rid of the so-called King's Dominion law and allow local school boards to set the school calendar and determine the opening of the school year, and eliminate the post-Labor Day opening requirement.  I have heard from many constituents over the last two years about wanting to be able to start school before Labor Day, like most localities in Virginia are able to do, as well as surrounding states.  This will allow each locality to decide the best time to begin the school year.  It will give all our students an equal opportunity to learn and perform better on standardized tests.  The bill was endorsed by the Governor, the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, and the Virginia School Board Association.  This bill was passed in the House with a strong bipartisan vote of 76-23 and will soon be heard in the Senate Education and Health Committee.

                                         Quality of Life Bills
HB 83, Information on Breast Density:  I sponsored HB 83, which will require the Board of Health to establish guidelines requiring all mammogram reports to include information on breast density. This will inform women with dense breast tissue, as determined by the physician, that supplementary screening tests may be beneficial, depending on individual risk factors.  This bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate and will soon be signed by the Governor.  A story about the bill was recently featured in the Washington Post.

HB 549, Child Support Assistance: This bill, that I introduced, will require the Division of Child Support Enforcement of the Department of Social Services to publish a list of parents who are delinquent in the payment of child support.  In Virginia there are 236,000 children who haven't received $2.6 billion that they are owed in child support.  This is a great burden on those families and children denied this support and puts additional burdens on our state budget. This bill will help locate delinquent parents and enhance enforcement of child support obligations. It passed with strong bipartisan support in the House with a vote of 90-7 and will soon be heard in the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.  

HB 1106, Insurance Coverage for Autistic Children: Early this session we passed emergency legislation, which the Governor has signed, to license behavior analysts and assistant behavior analysts who treat children with autism.  This bill clarifies legislation that we passed last year, HB 2467, which mandated health insurance coverage for autism and behavior analysis.  However, the Board of Medicine was not authorized to regulate the licensure of behavior analysts, which this bill addresses.  It was passed with broad bipartisan support in the House and the Senate and the Governor has already signed it into law.  

                                                  Crime Bills
HB 546, Gang Crimes:  This bill cracks down on the heinous and growing practice of gang crimes expanding into human trafficking and prostitution.  I introduced this legislation at the request of the Attorney General's office and a gang investigator with the Fairfax County Policy Department after observing, over the past months and years, the growth of gangs such as MS-13 operating prostitution rings in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria. These traffickers are forcing minor girls as young as 12 into these criminal enterprises.  These unspeakable crimes against young girls and children must be attacked with the full force of the law.  This will provide law enforcement with the necessary tools to arrest and charge offenders for criminal street gang activity involving prostitution.  It passed unanimously in the House yesterday.

                                                  Veterans Bills
HB 384, Hiring Preference for Virginia National Guard Members:  This bill will give members of the Virginia National Guard a hiring preference for state jobs.  This bill builds from last year's successful efforts to give veterans a hiring preference for state jobs.  It passed unanimously in the House and will soon be heard in the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee.  This and other bills further Governor McDonnell's goal of making Virginia the most veteran and military friendly state in the nation.

HB 548, Higher Education for Active Duty Military:   I introduced this bill at the suggestion of a George Mason University employee to require higher educational institutions to implement policies that help provide accommodations for students called to active military duty to complete their college degrees.  This bill was passed unanimously in the House and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health.

HB 719, Special Hunting and Fishing License for Disabled Veterans:  This bill will allow a veteran with a permanently disabled service-connected disability to purchase a lifetime hunting, fish, or combined hunting and fishing license at a discounted rate.  The bill passed unanimously in the House and will soon be heard in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 922, Real Estate Tax Exemption for Disabled Veterans: This bill will allow disabled veterans to receive a property tax exemption.  The bill passed unanimously in the House and has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

HJ 91, National Women's History Museum:  I introduced this resolution asking Congress to support the establishment of a National Women's History Museum in Washington, D.C.  A site has been selected and private funds have been raised, but Congress needs to allow the property near the National Mall to be purchased at fair market value with private funds.  No federal money is involved in this project.  This resolution passed 94-2.

HJ 92, Anti-VAT Tax Resolution:  I introduced HJ 92 again this year to urge the Virginia delegation of Congress to oppose any legislation that would levy a value-added tax (VAT).  A VAT tax is levied when an individual buys a good or service for consumption and the tax manifests as a higher purchase price.  In Europe that VAT tax ranges from 5-20% or more.  A VAT tax levied on top of all the income, payroll, and other taxes we already pay mean less money for hard working taxpayers to house, clothe, feed, and educate themselves and their children.  In a fragile economy, this would be another job killing tax.  Many in Washington are looking to this to raise more revenue.  This resolution recently passed in the House with a strong bipartisan vote of 75-18.

HJ 145, Preeclampsia Awareness Month:  I sponsored this resolution to designate May as Preeclampsia Awareness Month in Virginia.  Impacting approximately 5-8% of all births in the United States, preeclampsia is a condition with no known cause.  We hope that this resolution will raise awareness of preeclampsia, its symptoms, and help find a cure so that fewer women and children will suffer.  It passed unanimously in the House and will soon be heard in the Senate Rules Committee.

HJ 198, Commending Alan G. Merten:  I joined many of my colleagues from Northern Virginia in sponsoring a resolution commending Dr. Alan Merten on his many years of service as the President of George Mason University.  He became President in 1996 and is retiring this June.  The resolution passed unanimously in the House and in the Senate.

Finally, we have worked on all of these matters on a bipartisan basis, while rejecting over $2 billion of proposed tax increases supported by some Democrats in the House.
Transportation Announcements
495 HOT Lanes Brings Nearly $450 Million in Small Business Contracting
Last week, the Governor announced that the construction of the HOT Lanes on 495 have awarded nearly $450 million in contracts to small and disadvantaged businesses.  Since the project began in 2007, VDOT, Transurban-Fluor, and design-builder Fluor-Lane have focused on increasing small and disadvantaged business participation in the construction of the HOT Lanes.  They have engaged 134 Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) companies and 149 Small, Women and Minority (SWaM) owned companies.  So far the construction has supported 11,800 jobs and is expected to generate $2.7 billion in economic benefit for the Washington Metropolitan Area over the 2008-2013 period, according to a study by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.  Once completed, the project is expected  to accelerate business growth and increase property values throughout the region. 

Commonwealth Transportation Board Saves Nearly $26 Million
Recently Governor McDonnell announced that the Commonwealth Transportation Board has sold more than $124 million in refunding bonds at a true interest cost of 1.38%, saving $25.8 million over the next 16 years.  The CTB was able to lock in lower costs while tax-exempt rates are at historic lows.  This will allow us to continue to stretch our available transportation dollars to provide the most benefits possible to Virginia taxpayers.  
Save The Dates:
Please share your thoughts with me on legislation that is coming up in the General Assembly this year by emailing or calling my office or by filling out my 2012 Legislative Survey.  You can always contact my office at[email protected] or 804-698-1034.  

Thank you again and I look forward to working with you and seeing you in the District. 
Barbara Comstock

Paid for by Friends of Barbara Comstock.