Solid accomplishments on each of state government’s core responsibilities marked this year's "Short" Session of General Assembly.
We balanced the budget--as required by the Virginia Constitution--at $1 Billion less for the General Fund than the original 2014-2016 budget adopted last year. The reduction reflects the continuing effects of the sluggish economy both within Virginia and across the country. We also eliminated $33 million in debt, rejected $11 million in fee-increases proposed by Governor McAuliffe, held firm against the proposed expansion of "Obamacare," and invested in public education, higher education, and public safety, while targeting funds to be spent for transportation. Here are the budgetary highlights:
Our State Police bore the brunt of drastic budget cuts in recent years, so we began to redress a growing concern for the wellbeing of our principal law-enforcement agency. The budget provides a 1.5% pay increase for State Police and also all state employees, $4 million to rollback previous cuts to State Police, and a 2% pay increase for state-supported local employees.
Assembly also we adopted reforms to ensure that 40% of funding for transportation projects is devoted to infrastructure repairs--especially bridges and pavements; 30% to localities for local projects; and 30% for crucial statewide projects. In the Richmond District alone this will mean an increase in total of funding from $38.8 to $65.9 million--with localities gaining larger decision-making powers for construction projects.
Also, we appropriated $124.5 million for healthcare “safety net” programs to assist 29,000 seriously mentally ill Virginians, and $6 million--nearly doubling the previous figure--for operational funding for Free Clinic services.
My own work this Session was necessarily focused on my duties as chairman of the Finance committee of the House. Whereas the Appropriations committee spends taxpayers’ monies, the Finance committee, by handling all bills having to do with revenues and taxes, in effect raises a goodly sum of the monies in our General Fund. It was in the Finance committee that costly proposals for tax increases and more spending--at a time when our economy remains fragile--were defeated.
Two issues generated the most debate in the House this year.
House Joint Resolutions (HJR) calling for a Convention of States to compel the federal Congress to balance its budget, etc., drew statewide attention--and participation. My own House Caucus devoted two days of private debate to the issue. In the end, patrons of these resolutions in both the House and Senate withdrew their proposals--in each chamber falling just short of a majority of pledged votes. Assuredly this is an issue that will be back on the agenda next year.
Dominion Power sought--and gained--legislation to exempt the company from oversight of the State Corporation Commission (SCC) for the next five years, in exchange freezing the base-rate charged to Dominion customers for electricity service. Dominion--with Appalachian Power Company (APCO) included by amendment--claimed it needed the exemption to shift from coal-generated to other forms of electrical power. My objection is that the SCC exists precisely to oversee public utilities, so that an exception spanning a full half-decade, while perhaps freezing rates for a while, could be followed by a sharp rise in charges.
I introduced 14 bills and two study resolutions, one of which--the long-term effects of the application to lands of industrial waste--was a high priority for both Goochland and Powhatan counties. In the end, my insistence on a leading role for the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) at William & Mary was rejected by the Senate, which preferred a leading role for Virginia Tech (and other agencies favorable to sludge-producing industries). Accordingly, I declined to yield, believing that no study would be better than a study weighted against our citizens’ and counties’ concerns. So both my resolution and a senator’s resolution were tabled.
My decision was supported by local officials. Goochland Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Lascolette was deeply engaged in the debates, and she generated broad support for my House Joint Resolution 506. No doubt I will advance the same proposal next year.
My other principal legislation was approved, including House Bills (HB) 1286, to allow citizens to receive state income tax refunds by check rather than debit card; and HB1444, to enhance insurance coverage for services provided by optometrists, ophthalmologists, and some opticians; and HB1475, to encourage expansion of natural and propane gas services to prospective customers.
My HB1329, to allow reciprocal recognition of other states’ concealed carry permits, passed the House 65-35 and the Senate, 29-9, but was derailed by a last-minute insistence by State Police that implementation costs would be prohibitive. We will revisit this important issue next year, too.
My HB 1828 protected the Land Conservation Tax Credits program by lowering--at a significant savings to the state budget--the total amount of credits to be issued each year.
My House Joint Resolution 504, to have the Department of Education study ways to reduce teacher-turnover in our schools--a turnover which is costing many school divisions able, senior instructors, especially in mathematics and the sciences--was passed in the form of Senate Joint Resolution 218 patroned by Senator Janet Howell.
As usual, hundreds of constituents sent me emails, regular mail, called by 'phone, or were able to come by the General Assembly Building for a personal visit. Every message was reviewed and taken into account as my votes were cast. Also, when possible, I tried to make sure that everyone receives at least an acknowledgement of their message--especially of email. And, every message helped me execute my fundamental duty as a legislator: to represent the people's interests and to conduct the people's business.
Our counties were diligent in advancing their respective interests, as well. I heard from Chesterfield supervisors Art Warren and Steve Elswick, and the county’s legislative liaison, Mary Ann Curtin, was a regular visitor to my office. Fluvanna Supervisor Mike Sheridan was able to visit as well, and Powhatan’s Commissioner of the Revenue Jamie Timberlake made his annual appearance. County administrators Pat Weiler, Becky Dickson, Jay Stegmaier, and Steven Nichols from each of our four counties were regularly in touch on behalf of their respective boards--Powhatan, Goochland, Chesterfield, and Fluvanna, in order. And, new District 2 Supervisor Larry Nordvig of Powhatan spent an entire day with me for Session.
Two especially large contingents of constituents participated in the Powhatan Leadership Institute and Goochland Leadership Enterprise class of 2014, respectively. By planning ahead to allow for a full hour together, we were able to discuss the process by which a bill makes its way through committee to either passage or dismissal, and by attending a committee meeting these energetic citizens were able to witness the dialogue and debate by which every side of an issue is given voice--hence, why an honorable compromise is often an achievement of the unique genius of the American system of governance.
Farm Bureau presidents Max Timberlake, Powhatan, J. Sterling Jones of Goochland, and Howard Nester of Chesterfield ably advanced their important organization’s interests. And, Chesterfield Education Association (CEA) was again well represented by Don Wilms and colleagues. All told, some eighty constituent-groups called on my office to discuss issues of importance of them.
Once again I was pleased that the Speaker of the House chose one of several outstanding candidates from the 65th District to serve as a House Page for 2015. Jonathan Kenney, son of Shaun and Melissa Kenney of Kents Store, provided me and other delegates with important assistance while also maintaining his school work.
And I was pleased to have several students from our high schools spend some time with me--for example, Skyler Zunk, a student in the excellent Government class taught by Renee Serrao of Cosby High School, “shadowed” me for a full day at the Capitol.
Assembly returns to Richmond on April 15 for the one-day Veto Session in response to any actions on our legislation by the Governor. Now I look forward to seeing constituents at numerous civic groups’ meetings already scheduled. And, because 2015 is an election year for all House seats, I hope to see many of you again on the campaign trail between now and November.
Cordially,R. Lee Ware, Jr.
As an historian, and also as the delegate for a large constituency of black citizens, with many of whom I have enjoyed long years of warm friendship, I accepted at once the invitation extended by a Member "from across the aisle" to offer some reflections on Black History Month.
It is fitting that we set aside time each year to recognize and to affirm the achievements of Virginians--and Americans--who happen to be black. After all, there was a time when the experiences and the accomplishments of blacks were assigned a subordinate place in the narrative of American history. So today, permit me to offer a word of congratulations especially to our fellow members who as blacks rightly take an especial pride in serving as Members of the oldest continuous legislative body in the Western world.
I extend these congratulations also, of course, to all Virginians who are black--and with them to all Virginians, without regard to racial considerations.
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In his immemorial summons to the American people, Martin Luther King, Jr. defined a dream that of course included full participation in the political and economic life of the nation for all Americans, but let us today pay particular attention to his precise words:
"I have a dream," Dr. King declared, "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Owing in no small part to the lives and labors of the black men and women in this room today—and to their pioneering predecessors--our Commonwealth, and our nation, have advanced a long way toward the realization of that dream.
Race remains important--of course. Yet it is now by no means the primary determinant in our lives, socially, economically, or politically. Much has been accomplished by Virginians in the half-century since the great civil-rights milestones of the 1960s. Yet much remains to be achieved.
One of my own dreams, for example, is that there will come a day when a majority of the honorable delegates among us today who happen to be black are members of my own political party. When that day comes--when race is not at all a factor in the minds of any of our voters--then, then we will have erased yet another hyphen in the self-definition of the Virginian—and of the American, people.
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There would have been no America that we can imagine, and surely there could have been no Southern culture worthy of the name, without our black brethren. I say brethren, because it is indisputable that religion, and specifically Christian faith, is inseparable from the experience of black Virginians, and that an undying devotion to the faith of the Christian, and a courageous appeal to the obligations of Christian love, are among the principal contributions of blacks to Southern life.
Recently two celebrations have occurred in my own community of Powhatan that wonderfully illustrate this point. One celebration was of the ongoing restoration of Belmead Plantation. The other was the annual Martin Luther King Youth Day Community Breakfast.
Belmead was the plantation home of Philip St. George Cocke, the son of one of Thomas Jefferson's closest friends and a general in the Army of the Confederate States. After the War, Belmead was purchased by Katharine Drexel, daughter of a wealthy Northern industrialist. She had converted to the Roman Catholic communion--my own communion--and in time became one of the first American women to be canonized by the Church as a saint. And with the wealth from her family, and with the faithful labors of The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the religious order she founded, Belmead--home once to a slaveowner--became, for many decades, a school for the education of the children, and the grandchildren, of former slaves.
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MLK Youth Day was hosted by Little Zion Baptist Church--a “black church”--and was held in the building of Powhatan United Methodist Church, a "white" church. Over 200 men, women, and children, black and white--and Indian, too--came together to remember Dr. King's original dream and to enjoy the fellowship of a dream that has largely become a living reality of our community.
As I will state in a Resolution about the event, In every tradition that manifests a revelation of the eternal there is a summons to accord equal respect to all individuals within the hierarchical communion that is crowned by the Divine, and without regard to the ephemeral considerations that often enough prevail in social, political, or economic matters; and
"…within the Graeco-Roman and Christian traditions from which the American order derives, the highest expression of the bond of fellowship finds expression in the declaration that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.""
This is the belief—and it is emphatically a religious belief--that was central to the summons proffered to the American people by Martin Luther King, Jr. And it this appeal, broadened of course to embrace men and women without regard not only to race but to religion, that is the justification for the observance of Black History Month.
One day, I hope, there will be no need for a "black history month." That day will come when we will have achieved Dr. King's dream—when we will have crafted the national narrative that so effectively embraces all of us that no consideration whatsoever will be given to color, and none to "race"--except the human race.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the House,
Exactly 150 years ago today armies of hundreds of thousands of men were huddled in their winter quarters. Most were exposed to the elements, and most camps were merely extensions of battlefields. Two nations were fighting to the death for principles in a catastrophic collision.
Today, whichever side each of us may adjudge to have been in the right, probably all of us recognize the sacredness of the farmfields and woodlands, the rivers and seas, on which the American Iliad—the War Between the States—was fought.
Richmond of course was then the capital of one of the contending countries. And, Virginia was the site of fully 123 of the 383 significant battles fought during the four cataclysmic years of 1861-1865. Forty-one of our counties and seven of our cities contain sites of major battlefields of the War.
In 2006, anticipating the sesquicentennial of the War, the General Assembly established the “Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund.” To date, over $12 million in grants have been awarded by this fund to preserve 6,500 acres of hallowed ground. Just last year, through our splendid Department of Historic Resources, $2.2 million was spent to save 1,263 acres of Virginian battlegrounds.
Leading the way in the preservation of these lands is the Civil War Trust. Organized in 1987, the Trust in the 27 years since has—through private donations coupled with grants from the several States—preserved 20,504 acres of battlefields in Virginia alone.
All told, The Civil War trust has saved for posterity a total of 38,552 acres in 20 states. Since 1999 the Trust has saved more than four times as much land as has The National Park Service. (As an aside, please permit me to quip that, since it was the national government that turned our private lands into battlefields in the first place it will not surprise Virginians that private hands, and private treasure have led the way in preserving these sacred sites for future generations.)
Today, we are privileged to have with us, in the Gallery, the president of the Civil War Trust, Jim Lighthizer. This evening, we all are invited to a reception and dinner being hosted by the Trust across the street at the Library of Virginia.
Join me, then, please, in welcoming Jim Lighthizer to the House of Delegates, and let our round of applause testify to our abiding admiration for his indomitable labors in behalf of the places made holy by the lives—and too often the deaths—of our forebears.
Before we vote on this and other well-intentioned bills for education, let us pause for a moment and ask ourselves if adding more state mandates and regulations to our teachers’ and principals’ duties will truly benefit the schooling of our children.
Regarding the Standards of Learning (SOLs) —we’ve heard a lot about the need to unshackle teachers and pupils from testing-focused instruction.
Just so, this bill, and other bills to follow, though well-meaning, could have in being implemented the effect of both burdening our teachers and distracting them from their highest priority: instructing our children.
The Code of Virginia (at Section 22.1-298.1 C & D) already burdens our educators with a too-long list of state-mandated programs.
After 32 years in the classroom, including two years in administration, and as a former member of the State Board of Education, I urge you to hesitate to compound the labors of our teachers as they would have to integrate yet more mandates into a coherent order for their daily duties.
It is a pleasure to be back with you at Goochland Elementary School for this landmark day for the 5th grade class. Your graduation today brings you to the next stage, the next chapter of your lives. Earlier this year, I had the chance to observe many of you and your teachers at work. Seeing the learning atmosphere and accomplishment made it a rewarding morning for me.
This morning I want to take you back 90 years to the graduation at a three-room grade school in tiny Centerton, in central Indiana on a day very like today. A boy named John, who’d grown up on a farm nearby – a farm with no electricity or running water – got dressed in clean overalls for the big event.
Here’s how John described the occasion: “My dad gave me something that day that would shape my entire life: my work, my marriage, my goals, my philosophy. It was a card on which his Dad had written out his creed. At the top, it read: 'Seven Things to Do.'
Those seven things:
John played basketball in the barn with his three brothers and went on to be an All-American player at Purdue University in Indiana.
When he left Purdue, John taught high-school English. He especially followed his Daddy's guidance about drinking deeply from good books.
Some of the wisest, funniest, and best-travelled people who have ever lived have written their stories. Those stories are found in books that are here in the Goochland Elementary School library, or just up the road at the Goochland Public Library. They are waiting for you to discover, and I hope you will make it a priority to discover them. Ask your favorite teacher, or Mrs. McCay, or your Mother or Daddy; they will have a good recommendation, and a long summer is right ahead. "Drink deeply from good books."
“Make each day your masterpiece.” John followed that advice in his classroom, in his 50-plus year marriage, and on the basketball practice court. John coached high school and college basketball, very well. He would start practice by explaining to his players how to wear socks, then he would teach his players how to shoot free throws (John once sank 134 free throw in a row during his playing days), and he taught them to master the full-court press. His teams, whether small and athletic, or led by a tall, dominant player, were trained in the daily masterpiece of John’s practices.
John viewed his practices and the teams he shaped and molded as a chance to – "Help others."
Help others John did across four decades of coaching and advising young men. When the lists of the greatest coaches of all time are drawn up, they always include John’s name. His UCLA Bruins’ teams won an unrivalled 10 national championships and once compiled an 88-game winning streak. His full name, as many of you have guessed, is John Wooden.
When people asked John Wooden how he achieved what he did – the first man to make the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, for example – he pointed to the creed taught to him by his father, Joshua Wooden. And he pulled out a card he carried with him from the day of his grade school graduation, a day much like today:
Congratulations to you graduating fifth graders. May you build solidly on the foundation that has been laid by your parents and your Goochland Elementary School teachers - - the foundation upon which you now have the skills to begin to construct your life.
Good morning, Virginia Republicans.
Your presence here on a late spring Saturday is testimony to your commitment to righting the ship of state and to candidates who pledge the same. I am Deegate. Lee Ware from the 65th House District, and I bear greetings from Chesterfield, Goochland, Fluvanna, and Powhatan counties in central Virginia.
As we meet late in spring, there are signs too, that it is late in the Republic. The need of our time is for leaders who cherish the sturdy political principles of our past and will champion them bravely and cheerfully in the days ahead.
The men who will shortly appear on this stage, each of whom offers himself for our nomination to the United States Senate from Virginia, know the urgency of the fight to sustain the rule of law, a sane and balanced budget, an energy policy that taps our own abundant natural resources, and judges who will interpret the Constitution - - not spin confections of their favorite ideological flavor.
These candidates know, too, that it will require diligent, steady work to restore America’s standing as a dependable and respected presence on the world stage.
It is an honor to join you as we select our standard-bearer for 2014. Unlike the man he will replace come January, our next Senator from Virginia will not vote for Harry Reid as Majority Leader nor support President Obama with his votes 97 percent of the time.
So, let us hear these men today, measure their merits, and make our selection - - and emerge from this assembly wherever we sit and for whomever we vote as a united party prepared to labor together and to fight as our nominee will fight – happy warriors for our convictions, for our Commonwealth, and for the country we hold dear.
Any gathering of citizens devoted to preservation of the liberties that are uniquely ours as Virginians, and as Americans, is to be commended. In a famous assertion often attributed to Jefferson, but probably uttered by an Irish contemporary of his, we are reminded that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
Tonight, the Convention of States (COS), a nation-wide endeavor, comes to Powhatan, and I both welcome you to our county and congratulate you upon undertaking labors that cannot but contribute to the wellbeing of our Commonwealth and, one may hope, our country.
One of my own political lodestars, Edmund Burke, a contemporary of our Founders, urged his Irish and English countrymen to remember that it is the "little platoons," that is, the small communities, in which the virtues necessary to liberty are established, cultivated, and maintained. The COS meeting this evening is just such a "little platoon."
When he left the Presidency in 1960, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned our parents' generation that there had arisen "a military-industrial complex" that threatened to accrue vast new powers to the national government in Washington. And he emphasized that, "Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together." I have emphasized the phrase, "an alert and knowledgeable citizenry," because the building up of just such a citizenry is what the COS project intends to achieve.
James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 51, predicted that the "mediating" structures, or associations, by which he meant private clubs, organizations, and so forth, would be the most important bulwark protecting the American people from the appetite for power of some of the politicians and bureaucracies in Washington. So I would suggest this evening that we remember that, while political associations and activities are urgently important, still, the genesis and the guardian of our liberties are alike to be found in maintaining the integrity and vitality of our free associations, that is, our private, civic, and religious organizations.
Much of the impetus of the COS endeavor derives from the fact that our national government has amassed a debt that threatens the very wellbeing of our children and our grandchildren--and even the younger among us in the room tonight. So I conclude these welcoming remarks by quoting yet again from the Sage of Monticello, who, well over two centuries ago, remarked, "I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."
May the COS contribute to the great cause of preventing our national government from wasting our labors and encroaching upon our liberties!