Gen­eral Assem­bly pre­view: While bud­get mat­ters are sure to dom­i­nate the 45-day ses­sion gavel­ing in this week in Rich­mond, lo­cal law­mak­ers weigh whether to re­vive pre­vi­ously failed mea­sures on their pri­or­ity is­sues.

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Dave Ress | Staff writer

Some­times, suc­cess in the Gen­eral Assem­bly is a mat­ter of try, try again. Some­times, dis­cre­tion is the bet­ter part of valor.

In a short, 45-day ses­sion where bat­tle lines are al­ready drawn over what to do with an ex­pected $1.2 bil­lion wind­fall from changes in fed­eral tax law, de­cid­ing whether to keep push­ing an is­sue af­ter a de­feat isn’t al­ways an easy call.

With just 450 of an ex­pected 3,000 bills filed so far, many leg­is­la­tors are still mulling which bat­tles they’ll fight when the leg­is­la­ture con­venes Jan. 9.

Del. Brenda Pogge, R-Norge, has de­cided to try again with a mea­sure al­low­ing Vir­gini­ans to item­ize de­duc­tions on state tax re­turns even if they take the stan­dard de­duc­tion on their fed­eral re­turn. But she’s not go­ing to rein­tro­duce a pro­posal on an is­sue she cares about deeply: ser­vices for chil­dren with hear­ing im­pair­ments.

Her bill last year aimed to help deaf chil­dren who en­ter kinder­garten with no for­mal lan­guage skills be­come lit­er­ate in English by third grade. She also wanted to make it eas­ier for par­ents to choose be­tween hav­ing chil­dren learn Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage or get cochlear im­plants that help them pick up sounds.

Both op­tions stir strong pas­sions. Those feel­ings erupted dur­ing a state Se­nate com­mit­tee hear­ing, lead­ing the panel to put Pogge’s mea­sure on ice.

And that’s where it can re­main, as far as Pogge is con­cerned, af­ter her con­tin­ued ef­forts to bring both sides to­gether.

“Maybe some­one else can try,” she said.

The tax chal­lenge that Pogge wants to tackle is the big is­sue over­hang­ing the 2019 ses­sion, and it is mak­ing state Sen. Monty Ma­son, D-New­port News, re­think strat­egy for one of his most heart­felt ini­tia­tives of re­cent years.

Taxes are an is­sue be­cause of the rise in the fed­eral stan­dard de­duc­tion.

If Vir­gini­ans who’ve been item­iz­ing their de­duc­tions opt to take big sav­ings on their fed­eral taxes by tak­ing that big­ger stan­dard de­duc­tion, they would see state in­come taxes rise — bring­ing about $950 mil­lion ex­tra into state cof­fers this year and next, the state tax depart­ment es­ti­mates.

And tax pol­icy will be the cen­tral theme of this year’s ses­sion, Ma­son told a re­cent town hall at Kiln Creek El­e­men­tary School in New­port News.

The is­sue is who should get what kind of re­lief. Gov. Ralph Northam and Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors want to tar­get a break for lowto moder­ate-in­come Vir­gini­ans by mak­ing the earned in­come tax credit fully re­fund­able. Cur­rently, it is used to cut or com­pletely off­set a tax­payer’s bill — but if that bill is less than the credit, the tax­payer doesn’t get that dif­fer­ence.

House Republicans fa­vor Pogge’s idea about item­iz­ing, as well as a higher stan­dard de­duc­tion, both of which they say will help mid­dle-class Vir­gini­ans. Se­nate Republicans haven’t weighed in yet, ex­cept to say they don’t like Northam’s idea.

The bat­tle over taxes mat­ters for one of Ma­son’s pri­or­i­ties, his five-year cam­paign to make the neigh­bor­hood as­sis­tance tax credit more widely avail­able.

The idea, which Ma­son first heard about from Wil­liams­burg’s Child De­vel­op­ment Re­sources, is to cut the per­cent­age of a char­i­ta­ble do­na­tion that can be claimed as a tax credit from 65 to 50. That would al­low char­i­ties to spread their lim­ited cred­its around to more peo­ple, in the­ory help­ing them woo more donors. The United Way of the Vir­ginia Penin­sula sup­ports the idea.

But Ma­son isn’t sure this is the year to push the is­sue, given the bil­lion-dol­lar tax de­bate the leg­is­la­ture faces — and the risk that fed­eral tax changes might make it harder to item­ize do­na­tions, which could put a damper on giving.

“Some­times, the hard­est thing here is to be pa­tient,” Ma­son said.

Still, they per­sist

Hamp­ton Roads leg­is­la­tors, though, of­ten set a stan­dard for per­sis­tence as well as pa­tience.

Which is why Del. David Yancey, R-New­port News, plans to in­tro­duce a mea­sure to tighten reg­u­la­tion of high in­ter­est rate loans, as he has ev­ery year since his first elec­tion in 2011 — and con­tin­u­ing a tra­di­tion set by his pre­de­ces­sor, Glen Oder.

The late state Sen. John Miller, D-New­port News, tried for each of his eight years in of­fice to crack down on high in­ter­est rate loans, with­out suc­cess. It took him five years of cam­paign­ing to do some­thing about child­hood obe­sity to con­vince the Gen­eral Assem­bly to re­quire a min­i­mum amount of ac­tiv­ity a day for el­e­men­tary school pupils.

Del. Marcia “Cia” Price, DNew­port News, will try again with leg­is­la­tion es­tab­lish­ing a new crim­i­nal of­fense of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism, but with nar­rower def­i­ni­tions and clearer stan­dards about who could be charged. She’s also work­ing with Gov. Ralph Northam on a bill to set clear stan­dards for draw­ing leg­isla­tive dis­tricts, af­ter a sim­i­lar ef­fort died last year.

So Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suf­folk, is try­ing again to make it a felony for a bail bonds­man or em­ployee to have sex with a de­fen­dant or of­fender. The is­sue here is that a bail agent can re­voke the de­fen­dant’s bond, so the sex may not re­ally be con­sen­sual. (HB 1845)

And while Del. Mike Mullin, D-New­port News, struck out last year with a mea­sure di­rect­ing school of­fi­cials to try other means of dis­ci­pline for as­saults when no­body is in­jured be­fore call­ing po­lice, he still thinks too many mi­nor of­fenses in school end up with the po­lice called and a youth in court or be­hind bars.

This year, the former prose- cu­tor, who spe­cial­ized in ju­ve­nile and do­mes­tic abuse cases, wants to tackle the is­sue by declar­ing that dis­or­derly con­duct — dis­rupt­ing school op­er­a­tions — is not a crime when it oc­curs in school or on a school bus (HB 1688)

Lo­cal is­sues will drive plenty of leg­is­la­tion, too.

The death of 11-year-old Heaven Watkins, beaten to death in her new home in Nor­folk, led Mullin to pro­pose re­quir­ing so­cial work­ers to check out of state records when in­ves­ti­gat­ing child abuse al­le­ga­tions. Min­nesota of­fi­cials had re­moved Heaven from her mother’s home be­fore the fam­ily moved to Vir­ginia. Her mother has pleaded guilty to felony homi­cide and felony child abuse.

Del. Joe Lind­sey, D-Nor­folk, wants to cap the le­gal fees sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines pay in cases in which the fed­eral Ser­vice­mem­bers Civil Re­lief Act re­quires a lawyer be ap­pointed.

Del. Jay Jones, D-Nor­folk, wants to make a tax credit for land­lords who ac­cept Sec­tion 8 rent sub­sidy vouch­ers avail­able in Hamp­ton Roads. It is now avail­able only in the Rich­mond metro area.

Men­haden, the oily fish used for food sup­ple­ments and an­i­mal feed, will once again be an is­sue for Del. Barry Knight, R-Vir­ginia Beach.

They are the only species where the Gen­eral Assem­bly, rather than the Vir­ginia Ma­rine Re­sources Com­mis­sion, sets catch lim­its. Last year, Knight tried, but failed, to have the leg­is­la­ture adopt a sharp cut in the cap. This year, he’s try­ing again, with a bill that re­peals the cur­rent cap and di­rects the state to adopt the lim­its set by the At­lantic States Ma­rine Fish­eries Com­mis­sion. (HB1769)

Sen. John Cos­grove, R-Ch­e­sa­peake, has a bill aimed at a long­stand­ing dis­pute over Sen­tara’s in­ter­est in set­ting up an emer­gency depart­ment 2.5 miles from Ch­e­sa­peake Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter. His mea­sure, sim­i­lar to one he in­tro­duced last year, would make it harder for Sen­tara to do so by re­quir­ing state reg­u­la­tory ap­proval for an emer­gency depart­ment within 35 miles of an af­fil­i­ated hos­pi­tal.

At the same time, the whole sys­tem of state ap­proval for new med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties will likely be chal­lenged by other bills.

Se­nate Republicans also have promised a se­ries of mea­sures, ve­toed last year, aimed at al­low­ing lower-cost in­di­vid­ual health in­sur­ance cov­er­age than the stan­dard Af­ford­able Care Act poli­cies.

As part of that pack­age, state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Vir­ginia Beach, plans a bill to ban the sur­prise bills pa­tients get when they go to the E.R. and learn only af­ter the fact that a hos­pi­tal might be in their health plan’s net­work, but the doc­tors in­side are not. Out-of-net­work doc­tors can bill pa­tients for the dif­fer­ence be­tween their charges and what in­sur­ers cover, which can amount to tens of thou­sands of dol­lars

He also hopes bet­ter dis­clo­sure will help peo­ple avoid big bills for med­i­cal tests, when doc­tors send those to lab­o­ra­to­ries out­side an in­surer’s net­work.

“Some­times, the hard­est thing here is to be pa­tient.”

— State Sen. Monty Ma­son

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