- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2012

RICHMOND — The General Assembly on Tuesday advanced bills that would infuse more money into the state’s transportation system, while the Senate failed to approve a measure passed in the House that would make it easier to fire teachers.

Tuesday, known as “Crossover Day,” marked the unofficial midpoint of the state’s legislative session. From this point forward, aside from bills dealing with revenue, debt, appropriations and the Virginia Retirement System, both chambers can act only on legislation that has passed the other chamber.

Despite attention on bills in the House focusing on reproductive rights, a series of other bills were advanced during a marathon legislative session.

The House of Delegates approved a scaled-back version of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation proposal, which among other things includes a provision that would gradually increase the share of the state’s sales tax devoted to roads.

The bill’s patron, L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William Republican, defended the bill against Democrats’ objections that the bill moves money away from the state’s general fund.

“This bill brings real reform,” he said. “The general fund is the people’s fund. People send taxes here to do the work of the commonwealth. … I would say to you that transportation is a key thing and a key priority of the state.”

Delegate Vivian E. Watts, Fairfax Democrat, said she agreed that the general fund was the people’s fund but that the proposal shifted money away from education.

Sen. Frank W. Wagner, Virginia Beach Republican, said Tuesday that he was “embarrassed” by the conditions of Virginia’s deteriorating roads before the Senate approved its version of the bill. A major provision of the bill, pushed by Mr. Wagner, would index the gas tax to inflation.

“We have failed in transportation,” he said. “We have failed miserably in transportation.”

“We can’t live with this,” he continued. “We can’t sustain economic development. We can’t move our people around.

“It’s a start, ladies and gentlemen, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

But toward the end of the Senate session, a proposal to do away with teachers’ continuing contract status failed on a 20-18 vote.

Under the legislation, the probationary period for teachers would be extended from three to five years, after which they would be given three-year term contracts, with annual evaluations.

Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, had supported the measure, calling it “pro teacher, pro kid and pro family.”

“I know it’s difficult for local school boards to deal with teachers who just aren’t pulling their weight,” he said.

Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax, though, called it a “brochure bill.”

“It’ll discourage any real talented teacher from coming to anywhere in the state, except for perhaps Northern Virginia,” he said.

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