Service in the General Assembly is about getting things done. Politics is a necessary part of this work, because to be able to serve, you have to be elected, and to be elected, you have to be engaged to a certain extent in politics. But the process is not about politics.
From the beginning of this session, I have been concerned that the Governor was setting us up for a repeat of last year’s extended session. You will recall that last year at the end of the regular session, the Senate was in a position where we had agreed to some tax cuts but not all that the Governor wanted. The Governor, and his allies in the House of Delegates, insisted on more tax cuts. The result was that we were months late on finalizing our budget. Local governments and all of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia had to wait until June before the budget was complete. The result was a compromise between the Senate position and the Governor’s position.
This year, the Governor has insisted on another billion dollars in tax cuts, after the roughly $4 billion we adopted last year. Our leadership has gone to him and asked that we be allowed to complete the session in a normal fashion, within 46 days, and let the campaign be about his position in support of tax cuts. That seems like a reasonable position to me. If his tax cuts are defensible, let the campaigns for control of both houses of the General Assembly be run on that issue. However, it appears that we are in fact being set up for an extended session.
My view is that it is simply irresponsible to think about cutting taxes when we have things we are, by law and responsibility, supposed to fund. We are $400 million below our required funding of the Standards of Quality for K-12 education. College tuition is too high because the state government refuses to fund higher education at an adequate level. We have hundreds of millions of dollars in unmet need in mental health. We simply have to take care of our current responsibilities and then determine whether tax cuts are appropriate. At present, it appears we are at loggerheads and, unless something changes, my guess is that when the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn sine die, on February 25, we will be faced again with an extended or special session. That is not the way to run state government, at least not in Virginia.
The proof of the things I worry about are in the conduct of both the House and the Senate. The House has passed bills in support of the Governor’s tax cuts. That means their budget will spend about a billion dollars less than the Senate budget will spend. In the Senate, the legislation encapsulating the Governor’s tax cuts is still alive but it will not pass. We are set up for a stalemate.
In the meantime, it has been a busy week for me. The bills I introduced are moving through the process. Some of those bills include:
- SB 1287 would allow the governing bodies of the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County to ask the voters to approve a one cent sales tax increase. If the referendum passes, the extra money will be used for school construction. SB 1287 passed the Senate with bipartisan support and now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.
- SB 1289 seeks to help address the school bus driver shortage. The bill allows employees to return to work 6 months after they have retired. Current law requires a 12-month break in serve. I had requested that in certain circumstances that the break in service be reduced to 3 months, but the bill was amended. The compromise is necessary because the Virginia Retirement System fears it would violate IRS rules with such a short break in service. SB 1289 is awaiting final action on the floor.
- SB 1293 authorizes localities to pass ordinances allowing for an “Idaho Stop” and a “Delaware Yield” for bike riders. The bill, which will improve road safety for cyclists, has passed out of committee and is headed to the floor.
- SB 1298 that gives propane users the right to get an emergency refill in certain circumstances has passed the Senate. Too many people struggled to get propane tanks refilled during the winter storm last January. I am hopeful this consumer-friendly bill is well received in the House of Delegates.
- SB 1300, which requires the Department of Education to establish trauma-informed care training for our teachers, passed out of the Education and Health Committee and was re-referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.
- SB 1306 allows judges in the 25th Circuit to move trials to Rockbridge County. Due to the high profile nature of some cases, there are space and safety concerns in the Buena Vista courthouse. The bill is headed to the House.
- SB 1307 would place a non-voting faculty member and a non-voting staff member on the UVA Board of Visitors. We need to codify their membership to ensure their much-needed voices at the table. The bill has also passed the Senate.
- SB 1382, a ban on the possession and purchase of assault weapons, has passed through two committees and is now headed to the floor. In addition to banning weapons manufactured after July 1, 2023, the bill restricts the purchase of any assault weapons to those over the age of 21.
- SB 1484 seeks to prohibit the possession of firearms on public college and university property. Although almost every public college and university in Virginia restricts firearms on campus, UVA Police Chief Tim Longo spoken urgently about the need to codify these restrictions. Law enforcement is limited in their options to respond to violations of the existing administrative policies. The bill is awaiting action in the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.
Action remains on so much more, including the numerous budget amendments I am carrying. This is a busy session, and I continue to be thankful for the opportunity to serve. If I may be of any assistance to you or answer any questions, or if you have thoughts about a bill, please let us hear from you at 804-698-7525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.