Friday, January 11, 2013

My Legislative Agenda for the 2013 Session (Part 1)

Sen. Mark Obenshain

I'd like to introduce you to a few of the bills I'm carrying this year, and to invite your comment.

Defending Property Rights

Last year, we won a signal victory with the ratification of the Virginia Property Rights Amendment, on which I have labored in the Senate since 2007. But we can't rest on our laurels, as eminent domain abuse isn't the only way that government sometimes tramples on property rights. Sometimes zoning and land use ordinances are stretched almost beyond recognition, but the truth is that it's hard for an individual to fight the government. And not just that, but costly, too.

I'm introducing legislation that will level the playing field for citizens who choose to stand up to City Hall. The bill will allow judges—upon a showing of good cause—to shift to the locality some of the expense that would otherwise fall on a citizen who proves in court that he or she was right all along. This legislation is one more way that we can ensure that property rights are taken seriously here in Virginia.

Standing Up for Victims

It's almost beyond comprehension that in this day and age, people are still being bought and sold into modern-day slavery, but tragically, the problem of human trafficking is all too real. In recent years, the General Assembly has acted to help curb and interdict human trafficking here in Virginia, but there's still more that we can do.

One simple step that we took previously involved the posting of notices providing the number for the Human Trafficking Hotline in adult establishments. This year, I will be carrying legislation to require such notices to be posted at truck stops as well. Over the past year, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center has received nearly 1,500 hotline calls from Virginia, including more than 400 urgent tip or crisis calls. Making sure that victims of trafficking are aware that there's a number they can call for help is a simple but meaningful step, and I'll be working with my colleagues on several other initiatives to crack down on the horrific modern practice of sexual slavery as well.

I am also introducing legislation ensuring the confidentiality of the addresses of concealed carry permit holders who have taken out protective orders. You may have seen that, to make a political point, several newspapers have published maps pinpointing the homes of concealed carry permit holders. Here in Virginia, we've had large daily papers publish similar lists.

I have a problem with the idea of newspapers publishing those lists in the first place, but whether you agree with me on that or not, I hope that you will agree that individuals who have entered a protective order against an abuser need to have their name and address shielded from disclosure. We provide address confidentiality for and exempt from the Freedom of Information Act identifying information about victims of abuse in a variety of venues, and this ought to be one of them. Victims of domestic abuse in particular may choose to be armed for their own protection, and whether you like concealed carry or not, I don't think anyone wants a person's decision to exercise that right to inadvertently reveal their address to an abuser they may have escaped.

Making Transportation Funding a Priority

The vast majority of transportation funding in Virginia comes from dedicated revenues – taxes and fees on motorists (most notably the gas tax) that flow directly to the Transportation Trust Fund. Unfortunately, the fund has proven far from inviolable, raided on multiple occasions to pay for unrelated projects.

With some advocating for higher taxes to fund transportation – either in the form of a gas tax or sales tax increase – it's all the more important to be able to offer assurances that revenues raised for transportation are actually spent on transportation. That's why it's time to put transportation revenue in a "lockbox," like we do with lottery revenue (for education) and select other revenue streams. Taxes levied specifically to pay for transportation ought to be spent on transportation, plain and simple, and my Transportation Lockbox Amendment will do just that.

But securing the funding we have is just the start. The reality is that we need to put a greater priority on transportation spending. That's why I'm proposing that we dedicate the bulk of any future budget surpluses to transportation.

This is un-appropriated money – money we don't budget for, that we don't expect to have. Due to the wise fiscal management of Governor McDonnell and a Republican General Assembly, we have enjoyed healthy budget surpluses each of the past three years, totaling over $1.4 billion. Unfortunately, only $20.9 million of that $1.4 billion went to transportation needs, this at a time when many are looking to raise taxes to raise additional money for transportation.

Right now, we have a variety of formulas directing surpluses to a long list of different funds. But if we say that transportation is a top priority—and nearly everyone does—then there comes a time to treat it like one, and, once our deposit into the Rainy Day Fund is out of the way, dedicate the remainder of any surplus to transportation.

Further Initiatives

In a few days, I'll share some further legislative priorities, including a bill equipping prosecutors with a powerful new tool for investigating violent crime, innovative measures to ensure the integrity of the ballot, a bill protecting the religious freedom of students involved in campus organizations, and important educational reform legislation designed to ensure that every child in Virginia, regardless of zip code, has access to a high quality education.

As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and concerns about any legislation or budget items pending before the General Assembly, and hope that you will not hesitate to share your thoughts with me!