As we begin 2016 and prepare for the Legislative Session, I would like to provide you with a brief summary of recent events at the Capitol as well as information on how to make the most of the legislative session.
The 2016 Legislative Session begins on Wednesday, January 13 and will last 60 days. During this “long session,” both the House and Senate must agree upon a budget for the next biennium, the Assembly's most important work. Throughout the 60-day period, the House and Senate will convene daily at 12 noon to vote on legislation. The gallery in each chamber is open to the public. Seeing the legislature at work is an informative experience for all citizens and visitors of the Commonwealth, and I encourage you to visit. However, if you are unable to witness Session in person, you can view the live stream daily by visiting virginiageneralassembly.gov.
If you have any legislation that you wish to follow or if you would like more information about legislators and committees in the General Assembly, Virginia’s Legislative Information System (LIS) is an excellent resource: http://lis.virginia.gov/. I know some of you will be visiting legislative offices to lobby an issue, interest, or particular bill, and I look forward to seeing you.
If you have any concerns about legislation or questions about the process, please contact my office. You can e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org, call my office at 804-698-1069, or schedule an appointment. I very much appreciate and enjoy knowing how my constituents stand on issues of their concern. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office.
I invite each of you to complete my legislative survey. Doing so will provide me with helpful information on a wide variety of subjects important in the upcoming session. You can request a copy from my office or take the survey online here.
My own introduced bills will cover subjects including non-partisan redistricting, commemoration of the centennial of women’s suffrage, solvency for the Commonwealth’s Literary Fund, a depository for blighted commercial property, expungement of certain offenses, benefits for corrections and parole officers under the Line of Duty Act, formally incarcerated citizens rejoining the workforce, and the restoration of civil rights.
As a part of learning more about the state of our Commonwealth, in order to make the best policy and financial decisions, I attended the House Appropriations Committee retreat in Northern Virginia in November. Over the course of the retreat, we heard briefings on our Commonwealth’s economic and budget outlook as well as plans for higher education. The Committee toured the DuPont Fabros Technology Datacenter, which houses notable organizations like Facebook, listened to a presentation from Orbital ATK on the status of Virginia’s rocket launch pad on the Eastern Shore, and visited an innovative, entrepreneurial learning lab at George Mason University. I look forward to continue learning more as I serve on the House Appropriations Committee.
Governor McAuliffe released his budget proposal during a joint meeting of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees on December 17. The Governor advocates for a significant investment in economic development, K-12 education, veterans issues, and workforce training. I will be reviewing his budget carefully, but I share many of those priorities.
In terms of economic and workforce development, the Governor is aggressively focusing on trade by allocating $3.65 million annually for international trade and export programs. The Port of Virginia is granted $350 million in bonds while Dulles International Airport is receiving $50 million in non-general funds.
Concurrently, The Port of Richmond, which I toured last month, is enjoying an upgrade to accommodate more traffic, which the Hampton Roads port is unable to handle efficiently. This will be a boon for jobs to the Richmond area.
Regarding K-12 education, the Governor proposed $429.8 million for rebenchmarking the Standards of Quality (SOQ) and $50 million in additional funding for at-risk students. He added 2,500 instructional positions, which would provide one new position in each elementary school beginning in fiscal year 2017 and two new positions at every middle and high school in 2018. This would cost $139 million. Also, the Governor proposes funding 90% of teacher retirement contribution rates in 2017 and 100% in 2018, as well as granting a 2% salary increase for teachers and all state-support education staff.
Veterans are proposed by the Governor to receive $7.8 million over the biennium for educational resources and workforce training. A pilot program is being funded to empower military combat medics and corpsmen to work in health care careers. Money is allotted to support four new staff members to operate the Virginia Values Veterans initiative.
Other notable components of Governor McAuliffe’s budget plan include a 2% pay raise for state employees, $11.4 million to address challenges in local jails for those with mental illness, $59 million for local water quality projects, and $140 million bond for parks.
You can find the Governor's full budget proposal here.
As follow-up to last year’s legislation, I’m pleased to report that the national Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Safety recognized my successful work on House Bill 1500. It encouraged individuals or their loved ones to seek emergency services in the case of alcohol and drug overdoses so that proper medical services may be utilized to save lives.
For those of us interested in conservation and preservation, the Richmond Clean City Commission has a recycling event on Saturday, January 9th from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at 1710 Robin Hood Road. Electronics, outdated documents, and Christmas trees can be recycled.
The Department of Historic Resources recently announced that eleven new sites have been added to the Virginia Landmarks Register including several in Richmond. One added location is the 69th district’s very own William Byrd Park. It contains 275 acres and dates back to 1874. The Byrd Park Court Historic District as well as the Carillon Neighborhood Historic District were also added to the Register. I am happy that these beautiful locales enjoyed by residents and visitors alike are being recognized and preserved for their historic contributions.
Governor McAuliffe and the Virginia Council on Women have announced the 5th annual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Essay Contest for high school junior and senior girls. The Council will award five $5,000 scholarships to female junior or senior high school students who will be pursuing a STEM career at an institution of higher education. At least 5 scholarships will be awarded across the state. To be eligible, a female Virginia resident must be enrolled as a junior or senior in high school and hold at least a 2.5 GPA. Applications and guidelines are available online at: http://www.commonwealth.virginia.gov/council-on-women/. Entries are due February 8, 2016. Scholarship awards will be presented at a reception at the Executive Mansion on April 20, 2016.
It is a wonderful and distinct privilege to serve you for another term in the General Assembly. I am available to meet with constituents during the legislative session and can be reached by telephone at 804-698-1069 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Finally, please note that my General Assembly office has moved to the fifth floor. We are now in room 527 near the 5th floor East Conference Room.
May you and your loved ones enjoy a fulfilling, healthy, and prosperous new year.
Betsy B. Carr