Torian Recaps Legislative Session

By Keith Walker

Published March 22, 2012

WOODBRIDGE, Va. –Guns, money, transpor­tation and ultrasounds were what people wanted to talk about during a re­cent legislative update in Woodbridge.

Dels. Mark L. Dudenhe­­fer, R-2nd, and Luke Torian, D-52nd, joined Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller, D-36th, at the Dr. A.J. Fer­lazzo Build­ing late last week to give residents a wrap-up of what did and didn’t get done in this year’s session of the Virgin­ia General Assembly. Audience members wrote their questions on index cards and John Karh­nak, of the Woodbridge Potomac Communi­­ties Civic Association, which sponsored the town-hall-style meet­ing, read the questions to the legislators.

The budget was one of the things that didn’t get done, and people were concerned about that.

The House of Delegates passed a budget, but the Senate couldn’t get the votes to pass one of its own.

The budget bill was dead­locked along party lines; there are 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats in the Senate and Lt. Gov. Bill Bol­ling isn’t allowed break ties on budget votes.

Audience members were concerned legislators put local budgets at risk by leaving Richmond without passing a state budget.

Local governments fret over putting their budgets together without knowing how much money they’ll be getting from the state.

Puller reassured the audi­ence of about 40 that a bud­get would get done. It hasn’t been unusual in recent years for the lawmakers to leave Richmond without a budget, she said.

“Several years over the last five to seven years, I think three or four times — maybe even more than that — we did not get a budget until May or June,” she said.

When a session of the General Assembly ends without a budget, legisla­tors are called back to pull one together, Puller said.

“It has happened many times over the last few years, but local govern­ments somehow manage to get their budgets put to­gether. The teachers still get paid and the state finally does pass a budget which they will be doing in the next month or so,” Puller said.

Dudenhefer, who was the chairman of the Stafford County Board of Supervi­sors before being elected to the House of Delegates, said he sympathized with local governments.

“I know that they’re in a panic trying to put together a local budget,” he said.

He said drawing up a budget should be the main focus of legislators in Rich­mond so that local gov­ernments didn’t have to scramble at the end of the fiscal year.

“They will always adapt, but that doesn’t make it right,” Dudenhefer said of the General Assembly’s fail­ure to produce a budget.

Torian said everyone in­volved with the budget was keenly aware that there are deadlines that need to be met.

“I believe by the end of the month we will be called back to Richmond and hopefully we’ll have a bud­get to vote on,” he said.

In this year’s session, the General Assembly repealed a law that limited gun purchases people could make per month to just one.

Audience members asked about the need to buy a gun every day, which will be allowed when the law goes into effect on July 1.

Dudenhefer said only four states have laws limit­ing how many guns can be bought in a month, and said he saw the law as a matter of constitutional rights.

He went on to say that when the one-gun-per­month law went into ef­fect in the 1990s, databases weren’t as available and people weren’t easily reg­istered as multiple-gun owners.

“The arguments to keep it in effect I think aren’t valid, especially considering the new technology,” Duden­hefer said of the law.

“It’s like a lot of issues. It’s a matter of personal freedom,” he said. “We’re a country of freedoms and to me this is a freedom that’s been taken away,” he said.

Torian said he was con­founded over the issue.

“I’m not a gun person,” Torian said. “I support the Second Amendment. Peo­ple have the right to bear arms, but one of the things I don’t understand is why one needs the ability to buy a handgun every day of the week.”

He said his concern is that he didn’t know what the “consequences” of re­pealing the law would be.

Puller cited a survey by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which she said showed that 65 percent of people in Virginia didn’t ap­prove of repealing the bill.

“People felt very much happier when the bill was in place than they do now,” Puller said.

The questions that came in about transportation mostly involved the U.S. 1 corridor.

Puller said the first study in her memory to improve U.S. 1 was done between 1994 and 1999 when the Federal Highway Admin­­istration said it needed a transit study before any work could get done.

Puller said since then she has introduced several bills to widen U.S. 1 through­out her district. The bills passed, but no money was forthcoming from the state.

“I’ve carried the tran­sit bill, I think five times. It would pass, but not get funded, so it might as well not have passed,” she said.

This year, a bill to improve U.S. 1 between Alexan­dria and Quantico Marine Corps base was passed and funded, Puller said.She’ll be looking for guidance.

“We are asking the local governments what they want to have happen,” Puller said. “None of the transportation things will pass if they don’t have the approval of the local gov­ernment.”

Dudenhefer agreed, say­ing state and local legisla­tors had to cooperate on fixing problems on U.S. 1.

“We certainly need to get together with the local gov­ernment here and come together with a combined plan that we can push,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. We didn’t get where we are overnight and we’re not going to fix it overnight.”

Before it was amended, a bill introduced in this year’s session of the Gen­eral Assembly would have required women who are having an abortion to un­dergo a trans-vaginal ultra­sound rather than an exter­nal, or “jelly on the belly,” ultrasound.

The bill gained national attention.

While Dudenhefer sup­ports the right to life, he said the initial bill went too far.

“This thing got out of hand — and I’ll be the first to admit it — as to how ultrasounds are done,” he said of the proposal to use trans-vaginal ultra sounds. “When all this other stuff came up, it scared me to death and immediately after some long discus­sions that part of it was removed.”

Dudenhefer said he agreed with the bill that ul­timately passed.

“What the bill does is it al­lows the person who’s hav­ing the abortion to see the ultrasound,” he said. “This just says that the doctor has to offer to show it to the woman. I don’t think that that stands in the way of anyone having an abortion. I think it may give some the opportunity to have a sec­ond thought about it. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.” Dudenhefer went on to say that he had a “serious issue” with abortions but that abortion rights are “the law of the land.” Still, he recognized that the issue raised emotions on both sides.

“It’s just as an emotional subject for people who be­lieve in the rights of the unborn, as it is for people who believe it’s an infringement on the rights of women,” he said.

Puller said that she thought if the state requires ultrasounds it should pay for women to get them.

“If a woman is going to be told that she has to have something by the state, we’re going to demand that the state pay for it,” Puller said.

Torian said having an abortion should be left to “a woman, her doctor and her faith.”

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