Just a few days ago the General Assembly reconvened, as constitutionally required, to consider the governor's amendments and vetoes to legislation passed back in February. In addition, we started the important process of redistricting.
The House of Delegates put together a plan which garnered bipartisan support, passing 86-8. The bill was then sent over to the Senate and Senate lines proposed by the Democratic leadership were added. Unlike the broad bipartisan support received by the House plan, Senate Democrats were unable to earn a single Republican vote after proposing lines which fail to maintain the constitutional requirements that districts remain contiguous and compact while keeping communities of interest intact.
Just in Hampton Roads alone, the proposed Senate lines split Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, stripping the region of a Senate district by moving the 8th senate district to western Richmond. Our region is home to the largest East Coast port, numerous military installations, and three of the top 10 tourism localities in the commonwealth. The region's GDP is over $80 billion each year, ranking 35th nationally. Over the last decade, the region has grown to over 1.5 million residents, strengthening our economic engine and continuing to be the home to hundreds of thousands of military service members and their families. Now more than ever, we need strong representation in the Virginia General Assembly to fight for our share of transportation funds and economic-development incentives, protect military families, and assets, and keep taxes low!
Last Friday Governor McDonnell vetoed the bill, citing the lack of contiguous and compact Senate districts to keep communities of interest intact. He urged both the House and Senate to come up with districts that addressed his concerns. Monday morning the House of Delegates did just that. Their Privileges and Elections Committee unanimously passed a new redistricting proposal, having made improvements to their previous plan. It is now time for the Senate Democrats to propose a fair and legal plan, just like our colleagues in the House.
Now I'll move on to a few important bills that were successfully amended by Gov. McDonnell.
Despite little support from the Democratic Caucus, we were able to secure enough votes to protect the governor's amendment restoring the state's half of the $15 million BRAC Encroachment Fund. After a hard fight, we were able to continue our commitment to the Navy and protect our military assets.
Physical Education Mandate
The governor vetoed the state mandate of 150 hours of physical education. Although I supported the bill's original passage, the unfunded mandate that this requirement would have passed down to the state's schools was unacceptable. I hope to develop a better solution on this important issue next year.
Under the new federal health-care law, states are required to set up health-care exchanges. Since these programs will be funded by state and federal dollars, we approved the governor's amendment which states that no insurance plan sold on the exchange can cover abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and health of the mother.
The General Assembly approved important and needed amendments to the autism-treatment coverage bill, which will ensure patients are receiving treatment from board-certified therapists in applied behavior analysis.
In the governor's budget amendments, he included an additional $7.4 million for our state's sheriffs and $3 million for overtime pay for state police. Both changes were approved, allowing for better public safety statewide.
The governor requested that my bill, SB 1282, be amended so more companies could take advantage of our new container tax credit. We approved reducing the per container credit from $50 to $25 to facilitate larger participation.
As we continue through the redistricting process I will be sure to keep you apprised of any new and important developments for our city and our region.
Jeffrey L. McWaters