The Roanoke College Poll’s Virginia General Assembly Review
Salem, Va. - In January 2013, the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College surveyed Virginians regarding some of the important issues facing the General Assembly this year. With the legislative session officially ended, IPOR presents this report on how the actions of the legislature compare to the sentiments of citizens polled.
This is a general guide only. In some cases the poll questions do not exactly match the details of the legislation that did or did not pass. In addition, public opinion is only one criterion that should be used in evaluating the performance of elected officials. Finally, while several important issues are addressed, they represent small fraction of the work done by the legislature.
· We asked several questions related to transportation, but those questions do not precisely correspond with the bill that passed. A plurality (49%) of residents opposed Governor Bob McDonnell's original proposal. The bill that was passed contained elements of that proposal, but it also differed in some ways. For the past several years when asked for a preferred course of action, Virginians have been relatively evenly split between shifting funds from other areas in the budget, raising taxes designated for roads, imposing tolls on some highways, and leaving the funding system as it is, according to several Roanoke College polls.
· The specifics of the legislation addressed in the January, 2013 poll: A majority of respondents (52%) opposed linking the gas tax to inflation. While the consumer tax was eliminated, the wholesaler tax is indexed to inflation as a percentage of the sales price. A plurality (49%) favored shifting some money to transportation from the general revenue fund (the bill does that), but 48 percent opposed increasing fees for driver's licenses and vehicle registration. License fees are unchanged, but registration fees and title fees were increased. A majority (55%) favored increasing funding for train service. That was included in the package.
· Legislation passed this year will change how teachers are evaluated and awarded contracts. The probationary period was extended from three to five years before a teacher is eligible for a continuing contract, and additional emphasis will be placed on annual performance reviews and student performance. In the IPOR Poll, a strong majority of respondents (70%) favored tying salary increases to performance, while a slimmer majority (54%) favored eliminating tenure for teachers.
· The House of Delegates passed a bill that would permit school systems to begin classes before Labor Day, but a similar bill was killed in the Senate. One-year waivers were included in the budget amendments passed. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of Virginia residents support allowing schools to open prior to Labor Day.
· A very strong majority of respondents (83%) favored requiring voters to present a voter registration card, driver's license or ID card from the Department of Motor Vehicles or be forced to cast a provisional ballot. Legislation passed this year will require residents to present a photo ID prior to voting.
· Legislation increasing penalties for "straw purchases" of firearms and a bill protecting the confidentiality of concealed permit holders both passed in the General Assembly. Several bills were defeated that would have expanded background checks, banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, reinstated the one-handgun-per-month restriction and required reporting of firearms theft. A majority of poll respondents supported background checks at gun shows (86%) and for all private sales (75%) as well as a ban on assault rifles (58%) and magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition (53%).
Texting while driving
· As a result of action by the General Assembly, texting while driving is now a primary offense. Prior to the 2013 session, texting while driving was considered a secondary offense that could only be charged when committing another driving offense. According to the IPOR poll, 82 percent of respondents favored a bill that would make texting while driving a primary offense.
· A majority (61%) also favored making use of non hands-free cell phone while driving a primary offense. No such bill came out of the General Assembly.
· A bill that would have permitted uranium mining was pulled from the Senate. Residents were nearly evenly split between favoring (39%) and opposing (38%) uranium mining in Virginia.
Governor's Term of Office
· Legislation that would have allowed future Virginia governors to run for reelection to a second term of office failed to pass. Allowing governors to run for a second term was favored by 69 percent of respondents.
Drug testing welfare recipients
· Legislation that would have required drug screening for welfare recipients was narrowly defeated in the Senate. This policy was favored by 76 percent of people polled.
Hunting on Sunday
· Several bills that would have allowed very limited hunting on Sunday did not receive majority of votes in either the House or the Senate. A plurality (48%) of those surveyed favored allowing Sunday hunting.
A copy of the January 2013 General Assembly Poll questionnaire and all frequencies may be found on the Roanoke College web site.
- Dr. Harry Wilson
- (540) 375-2415 (office), (540) 992-1333 (home), (540) 293-4206 (cell)