2008 Session Roundups: Virginia

For the first time in modern history the two houses of the legislature were controlled by different political parties, leading to gridlock on a number of issues and resulting in a relatively unproductive legislative session.  In fact, the majority of time clocked by legislators this year was in special session.  The regular session has been over since the middle of March, but lawmakers kept coming back to try to reach agreements on crucial issues.

Transportation deadlock:   After a court ruling early in the year that struck down the regional funding mechanism for transportation projects, lawmakers have failed to come to a compromise on how to patch a $375 million hole in the road maintenance budget and also fund needed road building in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.  The governor's plan for $1 billion in statewide tax increases was killed in the House, which prefers either fees generated only in the areas that will get the spending, or a proposal to fund transportation through off-shore oil and natural gas drilling fees.

Judicial Appointments: Virginia is the only state in the country to have judicial appointments controlled by the legislature.  With no codified process for making these appointments the process got bogged down in partisan gridlock.  While a compromise was reached on a handful of vacancies, lawmakers have been unable to come to an agreement on dozens of others, including a member of the state’s supreme court.  With most vacancies unfilled as the legislature recessed, the governor will make the appointments, but they will only last until the winter when the legislature reconvenes.

Consumer Protection

  • Payday Lending Reform:  HB 12 was enacted to further regulate the payday loan business.  The bill limits borrowers to a single outstanding loan, and imposes a 45-day cooling off period if a borrower takes out five loans in an one hundred and eighty day period.  It also caps interest on payday loans at 36% per year.
  • Foreclosure Prevention:  Virginia joined five other states in passing legislation to crack down on foreclosure related scams.  They also passed SB 797, which, as we’ve highlighted, allows borrowers with high-risk mortgages an additional 30 days to attempt to get their loan out of default.

Mental Health: In response to the shooting at Virginia Tech, the legislature changed the standard for ordering someone involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.  Under the new law, HB 499, a judge must only find that there is a “substantial likelihood”? that the person will harm themselves or others.  In the past the state followed the more ubiquitous standard of “immanent danger.”?  The change also comes with over $40 million in additional funds for mental health facility staffing, but anxiety in the treatment community is strong because no one knows how many additional people will be committed under the new standard and therefore what future demands on the facilities will be.

Higher Education: The legislature enacted a $1.5 billion bond issue for capital construction at colleges and state parks throughout the state.  The centerpiece of the spending is $59 million for the planned Virginia Tech Carillion School of Medicine.

Miscellaneous: HB 1017 Codifies Executive Order 35 (2006) creating the Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance. The goals of the Office are to encourage telework as a family-friendly, business-friendly public policy that promotes workplace efficiency and reduces strain on transportation infrastructure. In conjunction with efforts to promote telework, the Office will work with public and private entities, to develop widespread access to broadband services. 

With a polarized political dynamic and newly divided control of the legislature, the stage was set for little to be accomplished and that has come to pass.  Lawmakers tried one last time to reach a compromise on judicial appointments and the transportation issue that dominated the year, but success was not achieved.