Advances Mark End of Virginia’s Legislative Session

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA 

Office of the Governor Timothy M. Kaine    

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Internet:                www.governor.virginia.gov

GOVERNOR KAINE MARKS CONCLUSION OF SIGNIFICANT LEGISLATIVE SESSION

~ Lawmakers pass historic smoking ban, Renew Virginia initiatives, bills to encourage economic development and address budget shortfall ~

RICHMOND – Governor Timothy M. Kaine marked the end of the 2009 General Assembly session today by highlighting a number of key victories, including a landmark ban on smoking in virtually all restaurants and bars throughout the Commonwealth. Among the notable legislative achievements are several innovative energy industry reforms and the creation of economic incentives as part of Governor Kaine’s Renew Virginia initiative, measures to improve ballot access for servicemen and women overseas, and the crafting of a balanced budget during a global economic crisis.

“I am proud to have worked with the legislature to keep Virginia moving forward, even in an undeniably challenging fiscal environment,” Governor Kaine said. “Despite the economic realities facing Virginia , we have continued to protect the health of Virginians and we have found ways to encourage environmentally-responsible economic development while creating green jobs. We also have addressed a significant budget shortfall in a targeted way that will minimize impact to services while positioning the Commonwealth for future successes.”

Promoting a Healthy Virginia

Governor Kaine led a bipartisan coalition in passing the compromise smoking ban legislation (HB1703 Cosgrove, SB1105 Northam), which will go into effect December 1, 2009 and protect both restaurant workers and patrons from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. It allows for only two narrow exceptions — private clubs and facilities with an independently-ventilated, physically-separated room. Although a number of states with smoking bans exempt bars, Virginia’s smoking ban will be one of the strongest in the region—and the strongest amongst the top tobacco-producing states—because the Commonwealth does not differentiate between bars and restaurants.  The bill is a significant public health accomplishment and is strongly endorsed by numerous health advocates.

In addition to the smoking ban, Governor Kaine led the effort to expand the role of the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation, which will now be referred to as the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth(HB 2456 O’Bannon, SB 1112 Northam). The Foundation will now use private funds and federal grants to combat childhood obesity, as well as prevent teenage smoking.

Advancing Renew Virginia initiative

Governor Kaine also won passage of several bills advancing his Renew Virginia initiative, most notably SB1248 (Northam). The bill promotes energy efficiency by electric utilities by providing cost recovery for their investments in energy efficiency.  This will help reduce carbon emissions by changing the bias in current financing rules that makes it more profitable to construct new generating plants than to invest in energy efficiency.

Another piece of Governor Kaine’s Renew Virginia initiative, SB1339 (Herring), provides tools to expand energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. It sets a bold goal of raising the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 15 percent by 2025, meaning that by 2025, 15 percent of electricity produced in Virginia will be from renewable sources. The legislation allows utilities to set up dynamic electric rates, encouraging customers to shift electric use to times when rates are lower and conserve energy at peak use times when rates will be higher. The bill also increases the rates paid to Virginians whose private renewable energy systems create surplus renewable electricity that is then sold back into the electric grid.

The Virginia Biofuels Production Incentive Grant Program was also reformed to encourage development of biofuel from non-food crops (SB1186 Hanger, HB2001 Cosgrove). Facilities that annually produce one million gallons of biofuel from non-food crops such as winter cover crops, cellulose or algae, are now eligible for a grant of $0.125 per gallon, compared to only $0.10 for fuels made from feedstock.

Governor Kaine also secured $20 million, matching last year’s record funding level, for implementation of agricultural best management practices to combat non-point source pollution, specifically agricultural runoff. Non-point source pollution is a significant source of nutrient pollution in Virginia ’s streams and rivers and the Chesapeake Bay . This budget item has been among the top priorities for the Governor, and is strongly supported by the agricultural and environmental communities.

            Throughout his administration, Governor Kaine has made unprecedented progress linking transportation and land use planning, and HB 2019 (Rust, Bouchard) and SB 1398 (Norment, McEachin) continue this innovative approach. The Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment will now establish standards for coordination of transportation investments and land use planning, and consider commuter choice and transit, rail, and highway solutions for identified corridors of statewide significance for the Statewide Transportation Plan. These changes will help improve the transportation planning process as recommended by the Governor’s Commission on Climate Change.

Protecting and Growing Virginia Jobs

            Governor Kaine also won passage of several bills to encourage economic development in the Commonwealth, most notably HB2550/ SB1119 (Cox, Colgan) that will allow for the financing of major economic development projects through the Virginia Public Building Authority and the Virginia Resources Authority. To qualify as a Major Employment and Investment Project, projects must have a substantial regional impact, create at least 400 full-time jobs, and include a capital investment of at least $250 million. HB2575 (Putney) extends the major business facility job tax credit through 2020, offering a major incentive to qualifying businesses that employ large numbers of full-time employees in the Commonwealth.

Election Reforms

Several of Governor Kaine’s bills made it easier for our servicemen and women to vote while stationed overseas. HB1881 (P. Miller) will allow military and overseas voters and their families to request that their absentee ballot be sent by email. The voted ballot must then be returned by standard mail. SB993 and HB1712 (J. Miller, Janis) will bring Virginia absentee ballots into uniformity with federal ballot requirements, and allows ballots to be received until the close of polls on Election Day. In the November 2008 election, discrepancies between the state and federal absentee ballot requirements led to confusion for some military members serving overseas.

Crafting a Challenging Budget

            Governor Kaine also worked closely with the legislature to craft a budget based on lower revenues caused by the severe national economic downturn. Governor Kaine’s proposed budget included targeted, performance-based cuts designed to minimize impact on services and position Virginia for a strong recovery when the economy improves. In early February, Virginia was one of four states highlighted by the Pew Center on the States as a national leader in addressing the challenges of state budgeting in the current fiscal environment. The Commonwealth’s “tradition of good governance” and data-based, results-oriented approach to budgeting and management were lauded as effective decision-making strategies for addressing current fiscal challenges.

            The Virginia budget is the first state budget in the nation to incorporate funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The expected federal funds will prevent an additional $800 million of spending reductions to key areas, including Medicaid, education, and the state workforce. For example, in the absence of federal recovery funds in FY2010,Virginia would have had to close a $400 million budget hole—the equivalent of the salary and benefit cost for more than 7,000 classified employees. While details and regulations attached to the funding are still being analyzed, Virginia is expected to receive approximately $4.8 billion from the package and will compete for additional grant funding. 

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