The 2021 Session of the General Assembly is winding down. We only have a week left in the regular session, which is anything but regular this year. We are in a pandemic, and we had to go through extraordinary means simply to meet for the normal 46 days. Technically, we are in special session, and as I dictate, ice spills down on Richmond.
The Senate is still meeting at the Science Museum, about two miles away from the Capitol, so I drive in traffic every morning to get there. The House is still meeting virtually, so many members are conducting business from their homes.
As I have stated before, the last couple of weeks of the session are spent reconciling differences between House and Senate bills, including the budget. Last year, I had a much larger role in budget negotiations, and I was appointed again this year to be a member of the conference committee that works out the details of the budget. My priorities as a budget conferee align with my priorities as a legislator.
- We must adequately fund public education so that children in every corner of the Commonwealth have an opportunity to learn and succeed. Our teachers still are not paid above the national average – they deserve to be paid what they are worth. We need to explore ways to get our kids back in the classroom and provide additional resources to help those students who may have fallen even further behind.
- I want to build out a system of public mental health care so that people, no matter where they live, can access the services they need when they need them.
- Virginia’s public colleges and universities are among the best in the nation. We need to ensure they have the resources to attract the best talent while remaining accessible. This is key to building a strong economy.
- Finally, I would be negligent to not highlight the pressing needs as a result of this pandemic. One of the key aspects of vaccine distribution – the limited supply of vaccines – is not something the state can control. We are receiving more doses, but it is not enough to meet demand. But we need to improve upon the process and the coordination. Everyone wants to return to normalcy, and administering the vaccine to anyone who wants it is critical to doing so.
- Economic impacts from the pandemic continue to be felt throughout the Commonwealth. We need to adequately fund the Virginia Employment Commission and look for ways to create economic opportunity for those who have been pushed out of the workforce. So many Virginians are unemployed or underemployed as a result of the pandemic, and we need to find ways to provide short-term assistance and get them back to work.
This week saw a lot of action in the House of Delegates on the legislation I sponsored. Of note, my legislation to eliminate the presumptions against bail passed out of subcommittee this morning. The full committee is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow. The bill amending our standby guardianship statute to include parents who may be concerned about deportation also passed out of committee. My bill to create the Behavioral Health Commission also passed out of committee. The creation of a permanent commission is a necessary step to reform our system and ensure oversight. Here is a full list of the bills I introduced that survived crossover.
While the days are still busy, we have reached the hurry up and wait part of the legislative session as we meet various deadlines. Today we are focused on revenue bills, as those need to be placed into conference before midnight. The bulk of next week will be spent taking final action on all the bills, including putting legislation into conference. Some of the more controversial initiatives – the legalization of marijuana, expanding the Court of Appeals, the creation of a reinsurance program, a constitutional amendment to eliminate felony disenfranchisement – will be going into conference. We have a lot of work ahead of us during this final week.
As always, it is an honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. If you have any concerns or would like to provide input on any of the remaining bills, please do not hesitate to reach me. The best way to contact my office is by email at [email protected]. Due to the weather, our administrative support was out much of this week, but you may also call the office at (804) 698-7525.