State legislators praise bipartisan cooperation

Sen. Mark Obenshain gestures while speaking during the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber Commerce State of the Commonwealth Luncheon on Tuesday. He said state Republicans and Democrats "worked together very well this year." Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — The Virginia General Assembly saw a productive session, local state representatives said Tuesday afternoon.

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, and Del. Michael Webert, R-Rappahannock, gave an update on the legislative session to 30 members of the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber Commerce during the “State of the Community Address” at the Blue Ridge Shadows Holiday Inn.

Obenshain said the recent session was the most “peaceful” he’s seen in his 12 years serving in Richmond. He said he has worked in divided government before, but this year was a little different.

“It was really one of the most peaceful, cooperative and productive sessions I have ever seen before or since I was elected,” Obenshain said. “This year, I think the Senate and the House, both Republicans and Democrats, worked together very well this year.”

This bipartisan cooperation was reflected in passing the commonwealth’s budget, Obenshain said. He noted the budget included no tax increases, no cuts to public and higher education, $129 million in the rainy day fund, restored funding to the State Police and a 2 percent increase to state workers’ salaries.

Del. Michael Webert

“In my 12 years in Richmond, we have disagreed more on the budget than we have agreed on it,” Obenshain said. “This year, we had our budget negotiators in the House and the Senate already in Richmond to make an outline before we even went into session.”

Webert echoed Obenshain’s views on the budget and cooperation.

“If you looked at the news during the General Assembly, there really wasn’t a lot of news,” Webert said. “There was a lot of give and take between the House and the Senate and both parties … we tended to focus on what we could work on.”

Webert added, “The big thing with the budget was both the House and the Senate got together and started talking about education, how to provide money for universities … because of that cooperation between the two appropriation staffs, we were able to finish early for the first time in 15 years.”

Obenshain said that during the session he supported bills to increase charter schools in the commonwealth, expand the DNA database to include certain misdemeanors, legislation to allow Uber and Lyft to operate in Virginia and the “first stand alone statute” to curtail human trafficking.

Webert said that during the session he supported a bill to allow work placement boards to hire companies to place hard to place individuals, like veterans and senior citizens, in jobs. He also said he supported a bill to allow patrons of bed and breakfasts to drink on the porch and for companies to be able to bid on projects while going through a workman’s compensation claim.

After their presentations, the two legislators took questions from the audience. When asked why can’t they take the bipartisan “magic to Capitol Hill” Obenshain replied that even though he believes in miracles “that may be asking for a little too much.”

“We’ve been asking for divine intervention up there for some time,” Obenshain said. “The gridlock there is hurting Virginia like any other state in the country … I’m not a big fan of government shutdowns … I want to see people stand strong for principles, but there’s got to be a better way than closing down the federal government.”

Webert added, “In the commonwealth, we adhere to the process, even when we have budgetary issues, we still figure out a way to keep things rolling … the key difference is between Washington and the commonwealth is we adhere to the process, they keep changing the rules.”

Webert answered a question regarding House Bill 1488, which would allow land owners of a conservation easement to request the land conservation foundation to use mediation under the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act during a dispute over easement interpretation. He said the only part of the bill left over was mediation used under the act would be inadmissible to court.

After the question and answer session, Obenshain told the Northern Virginia Daily that he hopes he can bring new investments and projects to Shenandoah and Warren counties.

“We cannot legislate jobs, but we can legislate the environment where job growth happens,” Obenshain said. “What we’re going to try to is develop the tool box for those counties to grow.”

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com