Focus on jobs, education and reform

Published 9:52 pm Thursday, February 9, 2012

By Delegate Chris Jones
Guest Columnist

As we continue to advance in the 2012 session, we are getting to the point where major legislation is passing out of House committees and being acted upon by all delegates on the floor of the House.

My focus continues to be on legislation that helps Virginia businesses create jobs and opportunities, improves the educational opportunities for all and supports reforms to make our state government more efficient and effective. This week, the House advanced a number of important measures that will support open competition on public contracts, improve our public schools, and uphold the integrity of elections in the Commonwealth.

 

Fair and Open Competition in Government Contracting Act

On Jan. 31, the House passed HB 33, a bill that prohibits mandatory project labor agreements and guarantees full and open competition in bidding on public contracts. It is estimated that a mandated project labor agreement can raise the cost of a project by 10 to 20 percent, so prohibiting these mandatory agreements will help ensure Virginia gets the most out of our taxpayer dollars on infrastructure projects.

This legislation also ensures all of Virginia’s qualified contractors and their skilled workforces, regardless of labor affiliation, can compete on a level playing field for Virginia projects.

This measure will keep the government neutral with respect to a qualified contractor’s relationship with labor unions in all projects. This will increase the creation of Virginia jobs, increase competition, and provide our taxpayers with more miles of transportation and infrastructure solutions for every dollar we spend.

Legislation similar to HB 33 passed the State Senate this week, indicating that this bill will likely pass the General Assembly and be signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

 

‘Opportunity to Learn’ reform bills

The House passed two important K-12 public education reform bills that were a part of Gov. McDonnell’s “Opportunity to Learn” agenda.

First, the House passed House Bill 1061, which will reduce the number of high school diplomas available from seven to three. This will add rigor and relevance to Virginia earned diplomas and ensure that Virginia students are either career-ready or college-ready upon graduation.

Another bill that passed the House, HB 1063, would allow a local school division to establish its own starting date for the school year. While the bill did pass, I opposed this bill, because I believe the current law is appropriate and working in the manner intended. Currently, a local school division can apply for and receive a waiver from the General Assembly to start the school year prior to Labor Day, and 77 out of 132 school divisions already have received a waiver. Furthermore, this bill could have a potential negative impact on Virginia jobs and tourism.

A study by Decide Smart found that the repeal of the current law could result in the loss of $100 million in salaries and wages alone. I believe strongly that part of my job as a legislator is to “do no harm,” and this legislation will do more harm than good.

 

Protecting the integrity of the electoral process

On February 1, the House passed HB 9, a bill to protect the integrity of our electoral process by requiring a voter to present a valid ID before casting a ballot.

Currently, a voter who does not present a valid ID at the polling place can simply sign an affidavit and vote. The current provisions do not provide local Electoral Boards with any mechanisms to prevent a fraudulent vote cast by a voter who doesn’t show a valid ID.

Should House Bill 9 become law, voters who do not present a valid ID would be required to sign an affidavit before casting a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots will allow local Electoral Boards to verify the vote cast is a valid vote before being counted.

Let me be clear: This bill does not deny anyone the fundamental right to vote. Instead, this measure simply gives our local Electoral Boards a tool to prevent a fraudulent vote from being counted.

Delegate S. Chris Jones can be reached at 804-698-1076 or via email at Delcjones@house.virginia.gov.