Assembly 2011: Senate votes for cell phone restrictions for drivers and changing budget cycle
On the last day to work on its own bills, the State Senate has passed a number of bills that would restrict the use of cell phones while driving ... and a proposal that would change the state’s budget cycle.
Yesterday was “Crossover” at the General Assembly, the day the House and Senate must finish work on their own legislation and send it across the hall to the opposite chamber.
The Senate approved several bills that would further restrict the use of cell phones while driving. One would make texting while driving a primary offense; in other words, a police officer would have the authority to pull a driver over and ticket them for sending text messages from behind the wheel, as opposed to the current law which only allows a ticket to be issued if the driver is stopped for another reason.
Another bill would make any cell phone use a primary offense for teens. It is also currently a secondary offense.
The third bill would institute a law similar to Washington D.C. that would prohibit drivers from answering or placing a phone call without the use of a hands-free device.
Based on votes in previous years, all three bills are expected to fail in the House of Delegates.
Another bill passed by the Senate yesterday, did so with the help of Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling casting a rare tie-breaking vote on a measure to change the state’s budget cycle. Under the current cycle, the Governor introduces his first budget at the start of his third year in office and another at the end of his fourth, on his way out the door. The bill passed by the Senate yesterday would change this so the Governor presents his first budget at the start of his second year and the next one at the start of his fourth year. Governor Bob McDonnell has been calling for the change since his campaign.
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin.
Martin: It’s something that’s supported by people like Governor Kaine, Governor Wilder when he was working as part of the Warner commission; it's just a common-sense step. The way the system is set up right now, if you’re a new governor who comes in, you take office and then you immediately start having to amend a full two-year budget that you didn’t introduce, your predecessor did, so you know almost nothing about it, he’s had a year to get ready, you have a few days to say 'here are the changes I want.' It's just not a very smooth process for the Commonwealth, and we think, you know, you move it to oddd-numbered years, it just makes it a lot smoother and you get two budgets with one governor overseeing them, as compared to a governor putting out two budgets and one of them is completely in the hands of somebody that he maybe doesn't even know. Obviously, this is Virginia, and we move very slowly sometimes with changes, but I don't think moving it from even to odd would be that big of a sea change; you're just changing by a year. I think what this is really about, it's a simple government reform that makes it a smoother process. Regardless of what party you're in, it's an awkward situation to take office and then be handed a budget written by your predecessor. Your predecessor, first of all, would want to be the guy to steer his own budget through; you would want to have time to get used to the system and maybe just handle some amendments as compared to looking at a whole entire fresh budget, so this is just about making the system a little simpler, a little easier to navigate; we think it would lead to a better budget process.
Republican Delegate Steve Landes serves on the House Appropriations Committee and says the bill will likely have a difficult time in the House of Delegates.
Landes: I don’t think the change would be beneficial for a number of reasons; one, it would really take our process into a new direction, which traditionally has worked fairly well, and I have some real concerns about adopting the budget basically on an election year for members of the House and the State Senate. I think it would politicize the budget process, not de-politicize it, and that's my main concern. By having it the first year of a delegate or a Senator’s term, I think it de-politicizes the process; obviously, we still have to make amendments to the budget, but we put our two-year budget in place and I think that works well now and I don’t see the need for the change.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square