We are now in the throes of the 2022 Regular Session. House committees and subcommittees are starting early in the morning and going late at night. In the Senate, which has fewer members and therefore fewer committees and bills, we are working long hours but fewer than the House. Over 2000 bills are still awaiting final action, including the budget.
The Constitution of Virginia requires our budget to be balanced. This requirement does not prevent us from borrowing money for certain needs, such as capital projects. The law also requires us to set aside money in reserves and the rainy day fund. Due to the growing economy and largess of the federal government last year, we have a record surplus that allows us to address some significant needs.
Under Virginia’s system, the outgoing governor proposes a budget as one of the last acts of his four-year term. Governor Northam put forward his budget proposal in December. As I mentioned earlier, Governor Northam’s proposal included tax cuts. The measure of the session will be how we can balance the needs of the Commonwealth, with the proposed cuts recommended by former Governor Northam and those proposed by Governor Youngkin.
Last week, Governor Youngkin offered budget amendments totaling more than $3 billion. Unlike past governors, he did not propose any method to pay for his amendments, either through revenue increases or cuts to other programs. He left that up to the General Assembly.
For many of us, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try and address some long-standing unmet needs in Virginia.
While the budget is the most important work we still have before us, our committee work is keeping us busy. Despite having a bill limit this year, many legislators have introduced bills seeking to undo much of the work we have accomplished over the past two years. To a large extent, that was a waste of time although I guess the discussions were important to some. In the Senate, we have determined that we are moving forward not backward, so we are not really open to re-navigating many of those issues, including criminal justice and the environment. Nonetheless, we have held lively discussions on these policy issues and provided a venue for people to share their viewpoints.
For example, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, which I chaired, defeated several bills that would have restricted the right to vote and imposed unnecessary and burdensome rules on voters and elections officials. We defeated legislation that sought to end same-day registration (Senate Bill 235), to ban drop boxes (SB 236), to shorten the window for returning absentee ballots – including possibly disenfranchising our servicemen and women serving overseas (SB 460), and to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting while also requiring absentee ballots to be notarized (SB 552). Virginia’s elections are fair, secure, and well-run, and I am committed to protecting the right to vote. We endorsed prudent reforms to increase the frequency of reports from the State Registrar of Vital Records to the Department of Elections on decedents and permitting voters to use their date of birth and last four of their social security number in lieu of a witness when completing an absentee ballot.
The Senate also worked on a bipartisan basis this week to provide a revenue stream for local governments to fund school construction and repairs. We passed my bill to expand this authority to Charlottesville as well as bills to extend the authority to Isle of Wight and statewide. Those bills now head to the House for consideration. Unfortunately, a House subcommittee voted along party lines to kill similar measures this morning, including Delegate Sally Hudson’s bills on behalf of the City and to provide the authority statewide. The subcommittee also tabled a bill to help Prince Edward County. The bills passed by the Senate may meet with the same fate in the House, but we will keep working on it. School divisions throughout the Commonwealth are facing significant school construction and maintenance needs, and providing more tools to our local governments to address the problems should not be a partisan issue.
This week saw a fairly big change for me. On Thursday I became Co-Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary. The volume and rigorous nature of the work of that committee is such that more than one chair was required. I had served as vice-chair of the Committee and chair of the Criminal Law Subcommittee. However, now I will run and organize the meetings. Since one member of the Senate cannot serve as chair to two committees, I will relinquish the chairmanship of the Privileges and Elections Committee. I’ve served on that committee for a long time and enjoy that work. While I will not be chair any longer, I will remain a member and continue to be involved in the work of the committee.
It continues to be an honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. If I may be of service, please do not hesitate to contact me. My office can be reached at (804) 698-7525 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.