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Prepared Remarks of Gov. Mark Warner's State of the Commonwealth

We ask for your support of our Healthy Virginians initiative, which is intended to stem the alarming rise of obesity and other preventable illnesses in our people. Our Healthy Virginians program targets state employees with new incentives to promote wellness.

It gives renewed emphasis in our schools to a proper diet and physical fitness. And we will establish new measures in the Medicaid program to encourage better prenatal care and promote healthier lifestyles.

Healthy Virginians is another smart, low-cost initiative and I urge you to support it.

I also urge your approval of a series of medical malpractice reforms proposed yesterday by a legislative study committee.

We will continue the difficult work of providing better care to those elderly and frail Virginians in assisted-living facilities. We have proposed legislation to increase and strengthen the state’s oversight of these facilities. And again, I urge you to join us in this effort.

Last year, tragedy struck Wise County when a boulder dislodged in a mining operation rolled onto a house and crushed a young child. In response, I am proposing, along with legislators from Southwest Virginia, legislation that strengthens safety requirements around coal mines and dramatically increases penalties for violators.

We also continue to place a high value on our natural and historic resources.

In Virginia, the days when environmental protection is somehow seen as a barrier to a strong, competitive economy are over.

During the past two years we have committed over $70 million to the water quality improvement fund, celebrated more than 250,000 acres of voluntary conservation easements, developed a comprehensive framework for water supply planning, and proposed bold new water quality and nutrient control regulations.

Although we have increased spending on natural resources by 34 percent since 2002, clearly there is still much that needs to be done.

Nowhere is this more true than with respect to the Chesapeake Bay. While the state must increase its efforts, we will not meet our goals by 2010 without a greater commitment from the federal government. On Monday, I met with the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, which I am pleased to chair. And I can report tonight that our fellow Chesapeake Bay governors are determined to press Washington for a greater federal commitment to saving this national treasure.

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To carry out all of these important initiatives, we’ll depend - as we have for so long - on the best, most dedicated state workforce in America. I urge you to approve the 3 percent raise that I have proposed for our state workers.

Finally, let me conclude where I began: talking about our men and women in the Virginia National Guard and our public safety officers.

In Virginia, I am pleased to report that violent crime dropped by more than 5% from 2001 to 2003, the most recent year for which data is available. And in 2003, we had the lowest rates for property and violent crime in 30 years.

We couldn’t achieve any of this progress without our public safety officers. Recruiting and retaining the best law enforcement officers is one of our highest shared priorities.

Our budget builds on the progress we made last year by providing the resources needed for new troopers to combat gangs and to patrol our highways. We will also establish a new intelligence-gathering facility at the Virginia Emergency Operations Center.

To continue the fight against illegal drugs, we will propose legislation to make the illegal distribution of Schedule III and IV drugs a felony, rather than a misdemeanor as it is now. And we will propose to extend the Commonwealth’s prescription monitoring program for drugs like OxyContin from Southwest Virginia to the entire state.

Our budget also proposes 36 new Commonwealths’ Attorney positions to help put criminals where they belong - in jail.

We also include 20 additional forensic specialists, and we have proposed legislation to create a Forensic Science Advisory Board. Both of these steps will help to preserve Virginia’s first-rate crime lab.

Finally, in October of last year, a judge in Fairfax dismissed murder charges against John Allen Muhammad, one of the snipers who terrorized Virginians in 2002. The charges were dismissed not because Muhammad was innocent, but because the judge ruled on a technicality that Muhammad's right to a speedy trial had been violated. Under current law, prosecutors had no opportunity to appeal.

While I respect the judge's decision, I do not believe a single judge should be the final word on such important matters, and I urge you to adopt legislation giving the Commonwealth a right to appeal such rulings.

As we protect public safety, one of my most important responsibilities - and honors - is to serve as the Commander-in-Chief of Virginia’s National Guard. Throughout its history, the Virginia Guard has played an indispensable role in responding to national disasters and supporting our nation’s regular forces.

But today, the Virginia National Guard is under severe stress. Its members have been subject to long deployments overseas. Many families have been left to cope without a breadwinner. And there is little on the horizon to suggest this will change.

As Chairman of the National Governors Association, I will be working with my fellow governors during the next year to achieve two things: first, to ensure that this nation provides the resources necessary to recruit and retain the strength levels needed in our state guard units, and second, to ensure that they are always adequately armed and equipped when they are put in harms way.

They put their lives on the line to keep us safe, and we must give them the resources they need!

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Tonight, I have spoken of the enormous progress that Virginia has made since we first met here three years ago. By making the right choices on our budget - and by putting politics aside - we have built the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous future.

We can and we will achieve even greater progress this session.

The agenda I have outlined tonight is an ambitious one, particularly for a short session. It will keep Virginia’s budget balanced. It will strengthen our schools ... continue our work to reform transportation ... and create new economic opportunities for the people of this Commonwealth.

But as with everything else we’ve done, keeping Virginia on the right track will require us to work together ... to abandon petty politics ... and to put Virginia first.

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Fifty-nine years ago in this very same chamber, Winston Churchill, one of the greatest leaders in history, spoke of how much can be accomplished when people put aside their own particular interests for the broader public good.

Churchill was here in America to advocate for a lasting trans-Atlantic alliance in the aftermath of World War II. While that issue is certainly different from the challenges facing us today, his words to that joint session of the Virginia General Assembly still have enormous relevance. He said:

"We should stand together....We should stand together in malice to none....in greed for nothing.... but in defense of those causes which we hold dear. Not only for our own benefit....but because we believe they mean the honor and the happiness of long generations of men."

Ladies and Gentlemen: This is our last year together in this ancient and magnificent Capitol building. The interior of the Capitol will soon undergo major renovations in preparation for America’s commemoration of Jamestown 2007, the 400th anniversary of our nation’s founding.

So as we begin our last session in this building together, let us resolve to make it one of the best in Virginia’s history, to honor the ideals on which this Commonwealth and this nation were founded.

Let us resolve to take Churchill’s sentiment to heart in our own time, and in our own circumstances.

Let us resolve to stand together with "malice to none" and "in greed for nothing" for future generations of Virginians.

Thank you and God bless the Commonwealth of Virginia.


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