Only one week remains of the 2019 Session the General Assembly. Bills are being heard and meeting their fates at an ever quicker pace. Multiple meetings are scheduled at the same time. Legislators, staff, interested citizens, and lobbyists are all running around trying to protect their turf or see that their interests are being met.
This past week, any legislation dealing with revenues had to be considered by both houses and put into conference if the two chambers had any disagreement over the language of the bills. Conference committees generally are made up of three senators and three delegates. The most significant conference committee appointed every year is on the budget. Seven members of each chamber achieve that coveted assignment. Unlike past years, broad agreement exists already on key elements of the budget. Over $900 million of the surplus will be returned to citizens over the biennium through larger tax returns and in a one-time payment later this year.
Even with the rebates, this budget invests considerable new money into a number of priorities. The budget will include a 5% pay increase for teachers and significant expenditures on mental health services. The full funding of the earned income tax credit, as the Governor proposed, is no longer under consideration. That proposal would have helped those who struggle the most financially.
As the conference committees do their work, one of high interest to my constituents involves I-81 (SB 1716). I am hopeful the discussions may still identify a funding stream for improvements. If agreement is reached in conference, I predict the source will be a mix of statewide and regional revenues, perhaps a regional gas tax or some sort of tolling mechanism.
For some time, I have put some focus on making sure the judgeships are funded in the 16th Circuit, which includes Charlottesville and Albemarle, and in the 25th, which includes the Counties of Alleghany, Bath, Highland, and Rockbridge; and the Cities of Covington, Buena Vista, and Lexington. I can report that the General Assembly has funded a new circuit court position in Charlottesville. Judge Claude V. Worrell has been elevated from the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (JDRC) to Circuit Court. Anyone who has paid attention to the news the last few years knows that Charlottesville has seen a number of highly publicized court cases. Those cases have put stress on the local court system. Including the resources for the Circuit Court position was a critical need, and I am glad it is funded.
In the 25th Circuit, particularly in the counties of Alleghany, Bath and Highland, we have not had a resident Circuit Court judge for some time. As a result, we have had to rely on substitute judges. At times, judges from Augusta have filled in to hear cases. One of my goals was to get a resident Circuit Court judge for the Alleghany Highlands. The selection of judges is the prerogative of the majority party, but I have worked across the aisle to try to address this need. Yesterday Ed Stein was elected to the Circuit Court position, so on July 1 we will have a resident Circuit Court judge in Alleghany.
Likewise, we have been served by substitute General District Court judges since Judge Mooney retired. His position has finally been funded and Chris Russell, the Commonwealth’s Attorney from Buena Vista, has been elected to serve in that position. Other judgeships have been filled, including the election Rockbridge County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Billias to a General District Court judgeship. Susan Read was appointed as a new JDRC judge in the 25th District. Gil Berger and Darby Lowe were appointed to JDRC judgeships in the 16th.
There is just a week to go, and the days are busy. If I can be of service to you or if you have concerns about any of the remaining bills before us, please let me know by calling (804) 698-7525 or emailing [email protected]. It continues to be a great honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia.