Senate Republicans unveil 2011 agenda

Senate Republicans are calling for fiscal responsibility, a freeze on new taxes and stronger immigration laws as part of their agenda for the 2011 legislative session.

The Virginia Senate Republican Caucus announced its agenda at a press conference Tuesday.

“These are not new ideas,” said Sen. Thomas K. Norment, R-Williamsburg. “The ultimate objective is very simple – to obtain transparency.”

While Republicans control the Virginia House of Delegates, they are a minority in the 40-member Senate. Norment is the Senate minority leader.

Norment presented the agenda alongside 17 of the 18 GOP senators and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the Senate’s presiding officer. (Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian, was absent.)

An “overarching tone of unprecedented cooperation” would drive the Senate’s 2011 session, said Norment, who has served in the upper chamber since 1992.

The Republicans’ agenda includes seven legislative goals and principles:

1. “Putting Virginia’s fiscal house in order.” The caucus aims to stop what it sees as costly budget increases. Senate Bill 1353, sponsored by Norment, would require state budget writers to identify any budget item “that represents legislation that failed in either house.” Norment called his bill “a step toward ensuring more accountability.”

2. “Stopping higher taxes.” The caucus opposes new taxes or tax increases.

3. “Creating jobs by strengthening Virginia business.” The group called for a constitutional amendment to protect a person’s “right to work” without union representation. The GOP caucus also wants to ensure secret ballots in union elections. “Workers shouldn’t have to declare their opposition to or support of unionization,” said Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Glen Allen.

4. “Strengthening federalism.” The caucus supports the proposed “federal Repeal Amendment,” which would make it easier for states to reject federal laws.

5. “Streamlining government.” The senators said they back fellow Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s efforts to consolidate or eliminate some state boards, agencies and departments.

6. “Enforcing immigration laws.” The caucus wants to require Virginia’s public contractors to electronically verify whether employees are legally eligible to work in the United States.

7. “Preventing taxpayer funding for abortion.” The group called for legislation to have Virginia opt out of a federal health care mandate requiring abortion coverage.

Bolling praised the caucus’ agenda. He said it would counter the “excessive overreaches of the federal government.”

Senate Democrats have not announced their legislative agenda for the session.

Here are some of the bills supported by the Senate Republican Caucus:

• Senate Bill 1125, sponsored by Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Glen Allen. It states that in labor union elections, “the right of an individual employee to vote by secret ballot is a fundamental right that shall be guaranteed from infringement.”

• SB 1202, by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg. It “prohibits any qualified health insurance plan that is sold or offered for sale through a health benefits exchange established or operating in the Commonwealth pursuant to federal health care reform legislation from providing coverage for abortions.”

• Senate Joint Resolution 280, by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville. It calls for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution “that permits the repeal of any federal law or regulation by the vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures.”
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