We are rapidly approaching crossover for the 2023 Session of the General Assembly. Crossover is the date by which the House must finish work on House bills and the Senate must act on all Senate bills. The bills then cross over to the other chamber for consideration. Crossover is next Tuesday, February 7. After that date, the Senate can only consider House bills and the House of Delegates can only consider Senate bills. Beyond memorial and commending resolutions, there is one exception, the budget.
Right now, we are in the throes of writing the budget. On Sunday, the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee will release the Senate budget. Likewise, the House Appropriations Committee will produce its own version. Both the Senate and the House will vote on their versions of the budget on Thursday. After that, just like every bill, the two budget bills will go to the other body for consideration. The last few weeks of the session are spent in negotiation. The bottom line is that while we have some major issues to consider, over the next couple of weeks, the budget dominates conversation.
As I have written before, the budget really sets forth the priorities and is, to a large extent, a moral statement of the General Assembly each year. Where the state spends its money is a good indication of what is important to the people who write the budget. This year, we have huge choices to make. The most critical decision will be whether we do as the Governor has asked and cut taxes by $1 billion or whether we fund the needs of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Going into this budget, we knew that we were $400 million short of funding the Standards of Quality in education. We knew that we were several hundred million dollars short of funding our mental health priorities. We knew that we had needs in nearly every other sector, including higher education, transportation, public safety, and natural resources. Now we find out the administration has shorted local governments another $201 million in K-12 education funding.
The choices, in my view, could not be more stark and our priorities more clear.
As we are spending late nights to finalize a budget, my priorities remain the same. I want to make sure young people across the Commonwealth have the opportunity to prosper and be prepared for the next level of education or the workforce, so I will work to invest more money in K-12 and higher education. I want to make sure that people’s health care needs are met, so I am focused on building the workforce to provide much needed healthcare services throughout Virginia. In all the talk of tax cuts this year, we should not forget that we are a low tax state. We are in the bottom half of states with an income tax and with a corporate tax. Nor should we forget that the budget compromise last year resulted in over $4 billion in tax cuts. We have a responsibility to fully fund our obligations.
In the meantime, we are down to brass tacks on bills. We have been working at a rapid pace to hear every Senate bill in committee and get them to the floor. The House is going through a similar process. Not only is the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee meeting around the clock in order to get the budget ready by Sunday, but the other subject matter committees are working diligently to clear their dockets. On Wednesday of this past week, the Judiciary Committee, which I co-chair, met for about five hours working through dozens of bills. The bills are numerous, but each one represents a priority of a legislator, advocacy group, or constituent. So it is important that we give each bill, and each sponsor, some respect.
For me, it has been a busy week. My Senate Bill 1382, which is aimed at slowing the number of assault weapons on the street, passed the Senate with bipartisan support. SB 1484 to make it a misdemeanor to possess a firearm on the campuses of our public colleges and universities won bipartisan committee support this week and now heads to the full Senate for a vote. My bill to give localities the authority to adopt safe stop legislation to promote bicycle safety also passed the Senate with bipartisan support this week.
The Senate has also been hard at work this session protecting the right to abortion access in Virginia, including defeating bills to ban all abortions and to ban abortions after 15 weeks. My colleagues and I defeated the last remaining piece of legislation on Friday, one that would have affirmed that life begins at conception. The patron, Senator Amanda Chase of Chesterfield County, offered an amendment to replace conception with fertilization. However, we are not just playing defense. The Senate will be voting next week on Senate Joint Resolution 255, of which I am a co-patron, as a first step to enshrining reproductive freedom into the state Constitution and on a bill that protects menstrual health data. The Senate is standing firm with the vast majority of Virginians on this issue.
This week also saw a preliminary consideration of the Governor’s appointees. For over twenty years I have served on the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, which considers those appointments. In fact, I chaired the committee from 2020 through mid-session of 2022. In general, governors have to rise or fall by their appointments. Under Virginia law, governors make the appointments, however the General Assembly has to confirm them. I heard from enough of my constituents that I removed a nominee for the University of Virginia Board of Visitors and the nominee for the State Health Commissioner from the resolutions that were ultimately approved by the Committee. Final consideration of those resolutions in the Senate will occur early next week.
It continues to be a high honor for me to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. If I may be of service to you or answer any questions, please contact my office at (804) 698-7525 or email@example.com.