Vogel’s View – March 12, 2012

Senator Jill Vogel

Legislative Update
March 12, 2012

The 2012 General Assembly session formally adjourned Saturday night after a long day debating final bills.  The last of my bills had been acted on earlier in the week, including SB 446 which would establish a 7-member bi-partisan redistricting commission to redraw legislative districts after the 2020 Census.  It was a significant measure and reflects my view that redistricting should be a non-partisan process.  It leads to less polarized and more competitive elections, as well as improved representation and better government.  Local governments, county registrars and constituents continue to complain about the gerrymandered results of last year’s Senate redistricting process.  Editors from newspapers around the state endorsed my bill, including the Richmond Times and the Washington Post.  In addition, the League of Women Voters, AARP, Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Business Council, Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Virginia Interfaith Center and Virginia Organizing were strong partners in endorsing and promoting the bill.  Despite the widespread support, the bill died in the House.  I intend to continue with the cause and with 9 years before the next process, I am confident that we will eventually prevail.

Most votes the last week of session were on bills in conference.  Bills are referred to conference committee when the House and Senate pass different versions of a measure. Three members from the House and three from the Senate are appointed conferees to resolve the inconsistencies and reach an agreement on the final bill. That compromise is either accepted or rejected by the legislature and if the conferees cannot reach an agreement, then the bills die.

I have served on many conference committees over the last several days, but one in particular left an impression.  In conference, we had to reconcile differences in proposed compensation for Thomas Edward Haynesworth.  I met Mr. Haynesworth last week and his story is remarkable.  He is 46 years old and spent the last 27 years of his life in prison for crimes he did not commit.  Despite unbelievable odds, he is currently a free man, in the process of being exonerated and employed in the Office of the Attorney General in Richmond.  I struggle thinking that there is no way to return those years to him, but in collaboration with Mr. Haynesworth, we adopted a measure that provides him compensation and retirement sufficient to supplement his income.

Other action we take on bills at the end of session includes votes to accept or reject recommended changes by the Governor.  After a bill passes and is sent to the Governor, he may either sign the bill, veto the bill or send the bill back with changes.  The General Assembly had a remarkably productive session in terms of the sheer breadth of bills enacted.  At the beginning of last week, more than 800 bills had been approved and sent to the Governor.  He had signed 166 bills and many more were sent back with recommended revisions.

I regret to report that when we adjourned on Saturday night, we still had not passed a budget.  It is certainly unprecedented and marks the first time in Virginia’s history that one legislative body simply failed to pass any budget at all. Despite hundreds of hours spent by staff and legislators hammering out solutions, the Senate Democrats held to their commitment to refrain from a budget vote.  It is certainly their prerogative and not uncommon to vote against a budget if a member has major substantive objections.

That said, the failure to produce a budget this session is not about a genuine budget dispute.  Instead, the refusal to vote is a protest by members in the Senate who wish to have changes made to committee assignments.  It certainly seems legitimate to request committee changes, but it strikes me as a terrible precedent to tie that to a budget vote. Senate leadership may entertain the request, but not in exchange for a budget. For that reason, we made history this year and adjourned without a Senate budget for the House or the Governor to consider.

As a result, the Senate voted to ask the Governor to call for a Special Session to address the budget. The current plan is to continue the negotiation and hope for a positive vote later in March.

This will conclude my regular weekly legislative updates.  It has been a great honor to represent you this session and I appreciate the overwhelming amount of support and input I received from people around the district.  The feedback, good and bad, is valuable and I take it seriously when I struggle over the tough calls.  Frankly, there are times that I don’t quite agree with my own vote, but there are hundreds of views to consider, life and death issues at stake and unbelievably tough choices.

I owe thanks to Tricia Stiles, my legislative aide, who did a tremendous job managing our Richmond office.  Congratulations to the Senate pages from our district who just returned home after nine weeks, Paul Griffin of Winchester, Helen-Ann Gable of Upperville and Madeleine Jahnke of Middleburg.  Finally, special thanks to my husband and my children.  I am happy to report that I am having a baby next month and after three boys, it’s a girl. We are excited and happy that she will not come during session!!

Regular work will resume in our district office this week and we are always glad to hear from you.  You may contact us at 540-662-4551 or by email at triciastiles@senate27.com or jillvogel@senate27.com. Also, please visit our website at www.senatorjillvogel.com.