City gets legislative mixed bag

Published 11:47 pm Wednesday, February 6, 2013

City leaders are celebrating successes in the General Assembly for some of the measures they prioritized this year, but other bills have died or are still working their way through the legislative process.

In an important development for traffic and public safety, Delegate Chris Jones has placed an amendment in the House of Delegates’ budget that would direct the Virginia Port Authority to undertake a study to investigate improvements and relocations to the Commonwealth Railway mainline.

The study is the first step in getting some relief from the effects of increased rail traffic moving products to and from the Port of Virginia. It has been a legislative priority for the city for several years, but this is the most progress that has been made.

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“This is really wonderful news for the city of Suffolk,” Intergovernmental Affairs and Special Projects Manager Sherry Hunt said in a work session presentation to City Council.

Another measure would provide a partial exemption to the Western Tidewater Regional Jail from the state’s federal overhead recovery program. The state currently recovers money from most of the jails in the state that house federal inmates because the state helped build most of the jails in the state. But the beds at WTRJ housing federal inmates were build with federal and local dollars, Hunt said.

Both House and Senate budget amendments have been submitted that deal with the jail issue.

“I am very pleased that these two very important priorities for the city have been included in the House budget,” Jones said in a press release Wednesday. “I look forward to working with the Senate to ensure their inclusion in the final budget that passes the General Assembly this year.”

Mayor Linda T. Johnson thanked Jones for his work during Wednesday’s work session.

Suffolk’s and others’ opposition to uranium mining also made a difference, because the Senate patron of the bill to allow uranium mining withdrew it this week, Hunt said. That means uranium mining likely will be banned in the state for another year.

“We have to be mindful the bill could appear again next year,” she said.

In addition, Gov. Bob McDonnell has submitted a budget amendment to restore local aid money in the coming fiscal year’s budget.

However, some of the city’s hopes have not come to fruition in this General Assembly session.

A proposal that would consider localities for enterprise zone benefits based on the economics of particular census tracts, and not on the entire community, met with opposition from localities that currently have enterprise zones. Legislators have proposed creating a work group over the summer and presenting a budget amendment next year.

The governor’s transportation plan also was briefly discussed.

“The best this does is plugging the maintenance hole,” Johnson said. “It does not give us the construction dollars we so desperately need.”