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Virginia Political News

Va. Lawmakers Begin 2019 Debates Over Money, Other Issues

The Virginia General Assembly convened January 9 for its traditional short session.

With the GOP holding a slender 51-49 control of the House of Delegates, and 21-19 lead in the Senate, Democrats are hoping to continue their momentum to recapture both bodies.

The big fight which began long before the session opened is over Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed $56,963,585,949 budget. Northam plans to use some of the $1.2 billion extra monies from taxes and reforms in the federal tax code on “investments” in K-12 education, infrastructure, expanding broadband internet in the rural and urban areas, and water quality to help poor and middle income Virginians.

Prior to the opening of the 2019 session, local lawmakers held a series of town hall meetings to talk about the long list of legislative proposals which will be debated during the coming weeks under the roof of the state capitol building.

On January 2 in the Community Room of the Slover Library in downtown Norfolk, Democratic State Senator Lynwood Lewis, Jr., (Dist. 6), held one of the three such gatherings, where a diverse audience of about 50 attended.

Lewis fielded questions about various issues and legislation he and his fellow lawmakers will be debating in the coming weeks.

Gun Control

Governor Northam recently announced seven legislative proposals related to gun control. Last session, the GOP-controlled House and Senate killed most gun control ideas the first day of the session. But in the current session, the GOP is facing a blue wave and further erosion of support.

Among the Democrats’ proposals is the “Extreme Risk Protective Order” which would allow a court to temporarily prohibit someone from access to their firearms if the person has been found to pose a danger to themselves or others.

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It was repealed in 2012, but Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law would “prevent people from stockpiling firearms and transporting them for sale in other states.

Other proposals would keep guns out of the hands of someone under a protective court order; require gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 24 hours; and increase the penalty for leaving firearms unsecured near children.

There are two sponsors for a proposal to ban assault weapons, defining them as any firearm with a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds of

ammunition.

 

Equal Rights Amendment

Sen. Lewis said there is a good chance that the Virginia General Assembly could allow the state to become the 38th state required, finally, to approve the measure and add it to the U.S. Constitution after 40 years. It is coming before the Virginia General Assembly this January. The ERA first came before a House committee in 1973.

He said that those who once sported tee-shirts supporting the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s should pull them out.

Tax Reform

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One of the most complex and controversial items before lawmakers is “conforming” state tax laws with federal ones under the “Tax Cuts

and Jobs Act signed by President Donald J. Trump 13 months ago.

The Democratic Governor and members of the legislature have one view on how the extra money which would be derived from the changes, but

the GOP is challenging them.

At issue, according to Sen. Lewis, is the new Trump tax rule which gives middle and upper income Virginians the incentive of taking the standard tax deductions instead of itemizing federal tax items.

Republican House lawmakers are proposing to allow taxpayers to itemize their state taxes regardless of how they file their federal ones. Right now, if you get a standard deduction from the federal

government, you can’t itemize under the state.

Republicans estimate 2.7 million Virginians would be impacted if they took the standard deduction.

Also, there is proposal to raise the state’s standard deduction from $3,000 for an individual person to $4,000 and $6,000 to $8,000 for a couple.

Democrats back the Governor’s proposal to give some $216 million from the temporary federal tax provisions to low-income taxpayers who qualify for the earned income tax credit, but whose state tax liability isn’t large enough to use the entire amount.

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They also think Northam’s proposal to give teachers an additional 2 percent raise — on top of the 3 percent increase they are due to receive in July under the current budget — represents a crucial

investment in K-12 education that would be financed by recurring tax revenues that have been growing robustly.

Other Items

Lawmakers will be looking at a bill being offered to raise the state’s minimum wage to $11.25. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has proposed to reform the state bail bonding system, and according to Lewis, a bill may be up for a vote this session. He also mentioned there is legislation which would reform the state foster care system which he said was “ disaster.”

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

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