One week is all that remains between now and adjournment sine die of the 2020 Session. We are scheduled to adjourn on Saturday, March 7 by midnight. We have accomplished a lot this session, and I guess history will judge the effectiveness of our work.
This past week saw the Senate go into session past midnight for the second time this year. Wednesday marked the deadline for us to put the budget and revenue bills into conference. So any bills relating to revenue that passed the House and Senate with different language had to be acted upon and put into a conference committee through a number of procedural motions. Conference committees are tasked with developing compromises. With midnight fast approaching, the House of Delegates asked for an additional day to complete the work. The Senate refused and instead gave the House three additional hours. The Senate remained in session until after 1:00 a.m. waiting on their final votes.
The result was fairly predictable. Even though we had to go through the machinations of considering and rejecting the versions of the other body, we got the bills into conference and are moving rapidly towards adjournment.
For the first time, I am part of the conference committee that will work out the final details on the budget. Technically I’m only part of the “caboose bill” – the budget making changes in our current fiscal year that ends June 30 – but I will be involved in discussions for the two-year budget as well. Serving as a conferee is an incredible honor and puts me in a position to help shape the final budget and fight more effectively for the budget priorities I have worked on for so many years.
First we want to make sure the budget is fair for all of Virginia. We want to make sure that young people all over the Commonwealth have a pathway for success. This starts with investments in pre-K and K-12 public education. We have to make sure that career and technical education options are available and that higher education is affordable. Every citizen, regardless of where they live, should have access to opportunities to compete for good job opportunities. The bottom line is that if we are going to attract the best paying jobs to Virginia, we have to be workforce ready. It is not good enough to be workforce ready in the wealthy parts of the Commonwealth. We have to provide opportunity in every corner of the Commonwealth.
The second priority is to ensure people have access to affordable healthcare – both physical and mental health services. I am proud of what we accomplished in the Senate budget to expand Medicaid services to provide dental care for adults for the first time. I’m also proud of the work we’ve done to expand mental health services, and particularly this year, the investment we’ve made in long-term, supportive housing. The Senate needs to hold those priorities through the budget conference.
The third priority is to fund the other side of the infrastructure of the economy, transportation, with education being the first. We have to build a transportation network that can support economic growth in all parts of the Commonwealth. We have taken important steps this year through advancement of the Governor’s proposal for investments in passenger rail and other transportation infrastructure. The House and Senate have also maintained $32 million over the biennium in additional funding for broadband, which is critical for statewide economic growth. This is vital for rural areas.
Of course there are local priorities for me as well. We need to make sure that our institutions of higher learning, be it VMI or UVA or the community college system, is funded. My commitment to state parks remains strong, and I will work to hold the Senate’s position on the funding for Natural Bridge State Park and the language for the development of a park in Highland County.
Thank you so much for allowing me to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. It continues to be a high honor for me, and I look forward to receiving your continued input. If you have questions or concerns, please contact me at (804) 698-7525 or by email at [email protected].