News and Notes from the Virginia General Assembly
Legislator of the Week – Senator Jeff McWaters
Each week, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce selects a Legislator of the Week and invites them to highlight key pieces of legislation that is important to the Hampton Roads Business Community. Below is Senator McWaters’ statement on potential changes to the current school opening laws.
“If we legislators want to enact the best possible policies for our constituents, it is our duty to refrain from getting caught up in rhetoric and instead base our decisions on a thoughtful analysis of a law’s implications from every angle and the hard data associated with the policy area.
This is what I have done in considering the bills that would allow schools to open before Labor Day. Fortunately, there is an abundance of testing data that speaks to the issue, and it largely discredits the notion that an earlier start date is essential to student performance and competitiveness.
In Advanced Placement testing, Virginia ranks third out of the fifty states for percentage of students scoring a three or higher (a measure that test organizers consider success). Virginia is only out-tested by Maryland and New York, and virtually all of New York’s schools start after Labor Day. Virginia is clearly quite competitive nationally despite the perceived ‘disadvantage’ we face in starting after Labor Day.
Furthermore, there has been no demonstrated disparity in performance between Virginia schools that already open their doors before Labor Day and those that do not. The available SOL testing data show no discernable difference in performance between schools whose post-Labor Day start date has been waived and those for which it has not.
While the facts demonstrate that opening public schools before Labor Day will have little to no effect on the academic performance of our children, there is ample evidence to suggest that doing so will adversely affect many businesses in Virginia. An economic analysis performed by a third party anticipates an economic loss to Virginia of $369 million dollars if the tourism season is shortened by a week.
Even if you question the validity of these estimates, the economic impacts of changing the school start date are somewhat common sense. Imagine what would happen if a business owner with bank financing has to go to their bank and report that, due to the loss of a peak tourism week, their revenue is going to be 10% to 15% less than anticipated. The implications are far reaching.
Despite the fine intentions behind the push to open schools before Labor Day, the facts demonstrate that the likely results will not align with these good intentions. When elected, I said that I would not pile additional burdens and regulations on already struggling businesses, especially when reputable data show that it will not change student academic performance”.
Senator Jeff McWaters
Special Session Considered
Senator Walter Stosch, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has indicated that state legislators may return this summer to consider tax credits/tax reform and the potential creation of a state health benefits exchange as mandated by the federal health care law.
Tax Bill that Required Mandatory Unitary Combined Reporting Laid on the Table
HB1267, sponsored by Delegate James Scott, would have required businesses with multiple business units was laid on the table and likely defeated this session. The Chambers opposed this measure after receiving feedback from several companies in the region that the combined reporting would have a negative impact.
HB33, sponsored by Delegate Barbara Comstock, prohibits mandatory project labor agreements and guarantees full and open competition in bidding on public contracts. It is estimated that a project labor agreement increases the cost of a project 10 to 20 percent. HB33 passed the House of Delegates and the Senate. The bill was supported by the Chambers.
Gas Tax Indexing Gains Support
Indexing Virginia’s gas tax to inflation could produce $150 million to $200 million a year by 2016/2017 and more in subsequent years. SB639 introduced by Senator Frank Wagner, now contains the component of gas tax indexing. An additional Senate bill sponsored by Senator John Watkins calls for indexing the gas tax. Virginia’s current gas tax is 17.5 cents per gallon and is one of the lowest in the nation.
Pre-Labor Day Bill Scheduled for Vote
HB1063 sponsored by Delegate Bob Tata, allows local school divisions to open before. The bill passed the House on a 76-23 vote and will now be considered in Senate Education and Health where similar legislation was defeated 9-6 several weeks ago. The Chambers oppose HB1063 over concerns of tourism spending losses of $369 million and a loss of 200,000 jobs in the Commonwealth.
SJ3, sponsored by Senator Obenshain, passed the Senate on February 13th to put forward a Constitutional referendum this fall to limit the taking or damaging of private property for public use or economic development. Additionally, companion legislation providing specific definitions for the terms of “lost profits” and “lost access” resulting from such takings were approved (HB 1035-Delegate Joannou and SB 437-Senator Obenshain). HB 5, the companion legislation to SJR 3 is anticipated to pass the House of Delegates prior to Cross Over.
Retail Community United in Support of SB597
SB597, introduced by Senator Frank Wagner, creates a legal presumption to require registration by a dealer for collection of retail sales and use taxes. The bill closes a “loophole” that allows certain internet retailers that are structured a particular way to not collect sales tax, thus, giving an unfair advantage over retailers that maintain a physical presence. The so called “Amazon” bill was passed by Senate Finance on a 15-0 vote. Many from the region’s retail community traveled to Richmond in support of the bill.
Click here for a comprehensive list of bills your Chamber is tracking.