It is my hope that your new year is off to a strong, positive start. Here at the General Assembly, we have been in the midst of a fast-paced, short (45 day) session. There have been challenges and successes, and I am confident that progress has been made to help Virginians.
In this update, I will provide you with important information on the budget (as it currently stands), legislative topics of interest, some highlights from my legislation, photos from my meetings with constituents and other events, as well as general community information.
2019 General Assembly Session
As a reminder, session started on January 9th and will last approximately 45 days (expected adjournment on February 23rd). The House and Senate meet in their respective chambers daily at 12 noon. You can visit the Capitol in person to witness the day’s proceedings in the Gallery or you can watch from home or work by visiting: https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/house/chamber/chamberstream.php
You can also watch committee meetings on the live-stream as well.
Another important website is http://lis.virginia.gov/, where you can find information on bills, legislators, committees, as well as the daily meeting schedule.
If you ever have questions about the legislative process or how to access bill information, you are welcome to contact my office at 804-698-1169 or email@example.com
The House Appropriations Committee met on Sunday, February 3rd to provide an overview of the committee approved budget and on Thursday, February 7th, the House passed the budget. In general, it provides extra funds for teacher and state employee pay, more funding to reduce the likelihood of tuition increases in our public colleges and universities, as well as a down payment on high-tech education initiatives for Amazon and the technology business sector.
Highlights of the House budget bill:
Adds 5% raises for teachers (the House added 2% to the 3% raise as the Governor proposed), which takes effect on January 1 instead of July 1
Allocates $36 million toward hiring additional school counselors to reduce the counselor to student ratio throughout the state
Includes $3.2 million in funds for additional REVIVE! Kits and naloxone spray used for the reversal of opioid overdose
Provides $8.8 million in funding for the acceleration of STEP-VA mental health crisis services as well as $7.9 million for 254 additional nurses and psychiatrists at state mental health facilities
Provides $3 million of TANF funds to the Federation of Virginia Food Banks
Creates the Tech Talent Investment Fund to increase the number of computer science and STEM degrees with $27.9 million in funding
Provides $5.2 million for the Tuition Assistance Grant program (TAG) to increase assistance awarded to full-time students attending private, non-profit colleges and universities
Includes $74 million for a mandatory deposit into Virginia’s water quality funds
This legislative session, the House of Delegates introduced 1,568 bills and the Senate introduced 1,101. VPAP has an interesting infographic on House and Senate bills that have passed so far. Given that this is a “short” session, the first half has moved quickly. While many bills are important and will impact the daily lives of Virginians, here are a few topics that have caught significant attention:
On January 24th, a bipartisan group of legislators came to an agreement to clean up large coal ash ponds in Chesapeake City and Prince William, Chesterfield, and Fluvanna counties. The agreement requires more than 27 million cubic yards of coal ash to be removed from unlined ponds in areas adjacent to major waterways. At least 25% of the ash will be recycled for beneficial use, such as concrete or building materials, while the rest will be safely disposed in modern, lined landfills. Additionally, there are limits to the amount of removal costs that can be recovered from ratepayers in any given year and minimized transportation impacts of closure activities on nearby communities. The legislation passed the House, 95-3, and I supported it.
Equal Rights Amendment
I was proud of the outreach and efforts of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) advocates from around the Commonwealth. They had a phenomenal showing at the General Assembly this session. I co-sponsored both the House and Senate resolutions and was disappointed that, despite bipartisan support, it did not pass. Thank you to the many constituents from my district who contacted me or came to visit me in the Pocahontas Building.
Even though the ERA did not pass, I am pleased that the House budget allocated $495,000 to support efforts to commemorate the centennial of Women's Suffrage in 2020.
Several gambling bills in both the House and Senate were introduced this session. Many argue that Virginia runs the risk of losing money for gambling to other states, with projects such as the Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s riverfront casino in Norfolk in the works. In the House, the bill that ultimately passed establishes a Gaming Study Commission comprised of five members from the House, four from the Senate, three citizen members, and three ex-officio members. It is tasked with studying the existing gaming industry and proposals to expand casino gaming, online betting and gaming, as well as tribal gaming and horse racing. The goal is to complete the Commission’s work by January 1, 2020 in order to have stronger, holistic, and comprehensive legislation during future sessions. Other states with prevalent and widespread gambling programs report that they wish that they had undertaken a similar study period as the one proposed in Virginia before embarking on their multiple gambling programs.
Protecting the Rights of LGBTQ Community
This session, I was grateful for the bipartisan support of LGBTQ legislation. These bills sought to protect our LGBTQ friends and neighbors from discrimination in both housing and public employment. They were scheduled to be heard in House General Laws Committee, on which I serve, but unfortunately, they were not added to the subcommittee agenda for a vote. It was disappointing that these bills did not receive a full and fair hearing. The Senate approved similar legislation, as it has in years past, so there is a chance these bills could be heard again after crossover to the House. I will continue to advocate for and support legislation that protects the LGBTQ community and thank the many advocates from the 69th district who come to the Capitol every year. Visit Equality Virginia’s website for a full list of bills and their current statuses.
The House, on Monday, February 11, voted to pass the Senate bill on tax conformity, which had been agreed upon by the administration. The bill (SB1372) conforms Virginia and federal tax regulations. Its passage and anticipated signature by the Governor in seven days means that citizens will be able to file their taxes knowing what the rules are. Most everyone will receive a rebate. The bill raises the Virginia standard deduction by 50%, which will provide tax relief to some tax filers, including millions of Virginia tax payers earning less than $50,000 per year. Additionally, a one-time tax credit of up to $110 will be provided to each taxpayer ($220 to married couples filing jointly), depending on how much income tax one owes or has paid. While many Virginians will receive this benefit, there has been criticism that it does not help low-income working families as much as higher earners. You can read an overview from the Times-Dispatch here.
Brief Update on My Legislation
This year, I introduced 15 pieces of legislation as well as 4 constitutional amendments and resolutions. You can view all of my legislation here. I am pleased to report that 10 of my bills and 2 resolutions have passed the House.
Protecting Taxpayers when Procuring High Risk Contracts (HB1668)
A Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report found that state agencies are spending billions of dollars on contracts with third parties each year and that most of the state agencies could do a much better job of developing contract documents that protect the state’s interest and taxpayer dollars. This bill, which passed the House, will require high-value, high-risk contracts to be reviewed by legal and subject matter experts before they are finalized. It will also develop guidance for agencies to follow when staffing high-risk contracts. You can read more about the JLARC report here.
Allowing Localities to Tax or Ban Plastic Bags (HB1669)
Virginia taxpayers spend millions of dollars a year to clean up litter. VDOT estimates that it spends $6 million a year picking up litter on the roadways. Plastic bags are a major source of contamination during the recycling process. From a PBS report, I learned that 30% of all plastic, which includes bags, are used only one time before being discarded. This, coupled with a shrinking recyclables market due to China’s embargo, is a major waste management and environmental problem. Cities, municipalities, and companies across the nation have announced that bans or reduction of use are on the way. At the request of many constituents and advocacy groups, I introduced a bill to authorize any locality to impose a tax of five cents per bag on disposable plastic bags provided to consumers by certain retailers. Revenues from the local tax would be collected by the Tax Commissioner and distributed monthly to the locality imposing the tax to be used by such locality for the mitigation of pollution and litter. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass (10-12), but there was an acknowledgement from some committee members that this is a known problem that needs to be addressed.
Addressing Virginia’s Eviction Problem (HB2054)
This bill came at the recommendation of the Virginia Housing Commission, of which I am a member. It, along with 5 other pieces of legislation, resulted from a special workgroup focused on alleviating Virginia’s eviction problem. The bill requires landlords to provide their tenants with written leases. In the event that a landlord fails to comply with the requirement, then by law the terms under which a tenant is renting will include the following:
A lease of 12 months, with no automatic renewal;
Rent to be paid in 12 monthly installments
While the intent of the law is to protect tenants when landlords fail to provide a lease, the bill takes a balanced approach – stipulating that if the rent is not paid by the fifth day of the month, then the landlord is entitled to charge a late fee. You can read more about our work on reducing evictions in Virginia here.
Serving the Commonwealth on a Board or Commission
There are nearly 300 boards, commissions, and councils in Virginia. The Secretary of the Commonwealth, directed by the Governor, makes about 700 appointments each year. Qualified citizens who are willing and interested in serving the Commonwealth are sought. Your service and contributions can help to ensure that the Commonwealth is working efficiently and for everyone.You can find more information about how to apply and what positions are currently open here.
The Virginia Festival of the Book
Virginia Humanities is producing its 25thannual Virginia Festival of the Book, March 20-24, 2019. Join writers and readers to promote and celebrate, reading, literacy, and literary culture in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. This is the largest community-based book event in the Mid-Atlantic region, attracting more than 20,000 people. All programs are open to the public and free to attend, except for a few events. Visithttps://www.vabook.org/for more information.
One special project is,Finding Wisdom, which includes the creation of nearly 10,000 posters printed by letterpress featuring quotes, sayings, and aphorisms. The printer is Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., the inaugural Frank Riccio Artist in Residence.You can learn more here.
It is a tremendous delight and privilege to serve you in the General Assembly. If you have questions about the legislature, connecting with a state agency, or getting more involved in the community, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 804-698-1169 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if I can be helpful in any way.
Also, if you have not completed my 2019 legislative survey, here is the link where you can do so: http://www.betsycarr.org/constituent-survey/.
Betsy B. Carr