2003 scorecards: Lawmakers, who's on first?

The Virginia General Assembly's 46-day session is the shortest in the country. Still, that didn't prevent legislators from introducing another 2,825 bills this year, as if there weren't enough laws already on the books. Of those, 1,646 passed both the House of Delegates and Senate and are headed to Governor Mark Warner for signature or veto.

So how did local legislators Senator Creigh Deeds (D), Delegate Mitch Van Yahres (D), and Delegate Rob Bell (R) do in the bill-carrying frenzy that sweeps over Richmond?

Deeds leads the local pack with his introduction of 40 bills. "I carried more than I should," he admits. "I've got a big district."

He's particularly proud of a bill that authorizes disciplinary action for physicians, even though "It got sucked up into a Republican bill, so you won't see my name."

Another bill Deeds sponsored that also was incorporated into a Republican bill calls for an Amber Alert system to get the word out rapidly when a child is abducted.

Deeds was a patron of bills that help out abused spouses they don't have to pay the legal bills of their abusers; the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries now it can charge a $3 fee for use of its property; and regional jails– they can charge a fee for their services.

Sophomore Delegate Rob Bell came in second as patron of 35 bills. "Last year I only introduced two or three," he says. "I was a true freshman, literally trying to find my way around the building, trying to keep my mouth shut and not say the wrong stuff."

Bell was more ambitious this session: He got 16 of his bills passed while juggling the joys of new fatherhood. (His son, Robbie, was born January 23.) "None of them will transform the Commonwealth," he says, "but every one will make somebody's life better."

A strengthened ban on dogfighting will make it easier to prosecute such "sporting" events, much to the relief of animal lovers at the SPCA who are sick of dealing with abused dogs. Bell's emergency custody bill will "have a major impact on people with head injuries," who may not be able to make informed decisions about their treatment.

And Bell particularly likes his bill that requires jail time for anyone who drives drunk with children although that got tacked onto a Senate bill.

His prediction for getting Warner's signature? "I can't imagine any of these three getting vetoed," says Bell.

Reflecting his background as a prosecutor, Bell carried 10 bills dealing with criminal law, including for the second year in a row, a bill toughening the penalties for Peeping Toms that didn't make it out of committee.

Bell was co-patron of 60 bills, edging out Deeds' 59. Why so many? "It ranges from things you wish you'd thought of first to things you do as a courtesy to other lawmakers for bills you don't find repulsive," explains Bell.

That included acting as co-patron along with 63 other Republicans– for Delegate Richard Black's parental consent for abortion bill, which Bell says he's long supported.

Bell joined forces with Democrat Deeds for several bills affecting wineries, and both legislators note there are quite a few wineries in their districts.

However, Deeds says the biggie wine bill and highlight of the session for him is the Hanger bill that allows interstate shipment of wine. "That one's the best for improving the economy of the agricultural segment by bringing revenue and creating jobs," Deeds says.

Veteran legislator Van Yahres carried the fewest bills and the bills with least chance of success in a Republican-dominated, no-new-taxes legislature– including a proposal to increase Virginia's 2.5-cent cigarette tax, the lowest in the nation.

That one was DOA, and Van Yahres says he's not disappointed that his attempts to raise revenue flopped so resoundingly. "My tax bills are forerunners of what's to come," he says. "I will do the same next session. We're going to be short $700 million next year."

As for bills that did pass, Van Yahres mentions his comprehensive water supply plan although he withdrew it in favor of a Senate water supply bill that passed both Houses. "This is important after what we went through with the drought last year," he says.

Another Van Yahres bill will make it easier for Fridays After 5, Charlottesville's downtown musical events, to pave the way for private take-over by not requiring an alcoholic beverage permit for each event. And he's pleased that his resolutions that VDOT consider roundabouts at intersections, and that hospitals eliminate the disposal of usable medical supplies in support of the Medical Equipment Recovery of Clean Inventory (MERCI) program both passed the House.

Of the 23 years Van Yahres has headed to Richmond to represent House District 57, 2003 does not rank as his favorite session.

"It was contentious," says the always quotable legislator. "I don't think we accomplished very much. We hurt a lot of people we shouldn't, and we'll feel it for a long time," particularly in mental health care and Medicaid, "already one of the worst [programs] in the country."

Deeds echoes Van Yahres' disgust with this year's General Assembly. "It left me with a dull feeling," he says. "We still have the same problems and sidestepped the budget shortfalls" that will affect education.

And Deeds sees nothing to brag about that the Assembly managed to balance the budget. "The budget is always balanced in Virginia except for one year under Jim Gilmore," he says. "To say we did that is not a big deal, and to say we did it without raising taxes is disingenuous. We added $100 million in new fees."

Republican Bell is more sanguine about this year's session. "In times of recession, you're not going to have major programs in terms of tax cuts or new spending. We did a lot of small things right."

 

SIDEBAR- Batting averages

 

Senator Creigh Deeds
Senate District 25

 # of bills carried: 40

# of bills passed: 25

Success rate: 63%

Co-patron: 59 bills

 
Senator Creigh Deeds

PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO

 

Delegate Mitch Van Yahres
House District 57

 # of bills carried: 20

# of bills passed: 10

Success rate: 50%

Co-patron: 50 bills

 
Delegate Mitch Van Yahres

PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO

 

Delegate Rob Bell
House District 58

 # of bills carried: 35

# of bills passed: 16

Success rate: 46%

Co-patron: 60 bills