Special Session 2021

The passage of the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) this past spring gave us an unprecedented opportunity here in Virginia. The Commonwealth was allotted $4.3 billion to address the lingering health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

The Governor called the General Assembly back to Richmond for a Special Session this past week for two purposes, the first of which was to consider the Governor’s 18-page plan to spend the ARP funding. The proposal was developed by the Governor, with consultation from the House of Delegates and the Senate. Two months ago, the Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee requested Senators to detail their spending priorities. Of the other 39 members, 21 responded to provide their input, including only five members of the Republican caucus. As a result, the proposal was developed primarily from input from Democrats. However, the views of every Senator who responded were considered in the development of the budget proposal.

The Governor’s proposal was a product of all this work and included major investments to bolster the Unemployment Trust Fund, to expand broadband, to promote tourism, and to replenish the Rebuild Virginia program. The legislation also funded many proposals to address the current bed crisis at our state psychiatric hospitals and other public health initiatives, while also ensuring bonuses for members of our law enforcement community. The Governor also included additional utility assistance for Virginians who are still struggling, money to support financial aid at colleges and universities, and an allocation to improve ventilation systems in our schools.

This past week, the House and Senate voted on the budget proposal. The House of Delegates did not permit amendments and passed the budget as it was introduced. The Senate took a different approach and adopted several amendments, including equalizing the bonuses between deputy sheriffs and state troopers, requiring DMV to open offices to walk-in customers, and others that were more technical in nature.

As with every budget proposal, the differences between the two versions had to be worked out by a conference committee made up of equal numbers of delegates and senators. I again was fortunate to be named as a budget conferee. I really enjoy this work.

The conferees met this past Friday and agreed to a budget that will meet the needs of Virginians. Like most budget conference reports, this one is a compromise. Of the ten amendments adopted by the Senate, the conferees only agreed to five. Of those five, only one posed by Senator Hanger to provide a higher reimbursement rate for home health care was agreed to without any changes. The final budget will raise the one-time bonus for deputy sheriffs from $1,000 to $3,000, instead of the $5,000 put forward by the Senate. The final version also includes bonuses for correctional officers. Senator Petersen‘s amendment to require the DMV offices to open was modified to provide DMV 60 days to do so rather than 30 days. The final version also sets aside $800 million to address any possible future waves of the virus. Every budget is a compromise, and this one is no different.

The House of Delegates and the Senate agreed to the conference report yesterday. The final version is available here.

The second purpose of this Special Session is to appoint judges, primarily eight members of the Court of Appeals. We have been working diligently to fulfill this responsibility, and I expect those judges to be elected later today.

It continues to be my honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. Please feel free to contact me at district25@senate.virginia.gov or by phone in Charlottesville at 434-296-5491 or Hot Springs at 540-839-2473.