I am pleased to provide you with a legislative update from the General Assembly, as well as some pertinent community information.
When the General Assembly adjourned March 11, it had passed a balanced biennium budget, considered 2,352 bills, of which it passed 889, and appointed judges. On April 20, it met for its annual re-convene session to consider Governor McAuliffe’s vetoes and amendments to legislation. The Governor said that he vetoed legislation which prevented the growth of the state’s New Economy and the ability to bring new businesses and jobs to Virginia. The General Assembly did not override any of the Governor’s 32 vetoes and accepted many of his amendments to legislation. A full summary of those vetoes and amendments are available at this link. Highlights of passed legislation concerning areas such as education, business, courts, health, housing, and transportation are available here.
On April 22, Governor McAuliffe issued an historic Grant Order to restore the civil rights, including the right to vote, to more than 200,000 Virginians, who are former felons and who have completed the terms of their sentences. “Virginians who have served their time and reentered society should do so as full citizens of our Commonwealth and country,” said the Governor.“Too often in both our distant and recent history, politicians have used their authority to restrict peoples’ ability to participate in our democracy. Today we are reversing that disturbing trend and restoring the rights of more than 200,000 of our fellow Virginians who work, raise families and pay taxes in every corner of our Commonwealth.”
The Constitution of Virginia gives the Governor the sole authority to restore civil rights to citizens. Those with restored rights are now eligible to vote. Members of our community who wish to check if their rights have been restored under this order can do so by clicking this link and entering the required information. If an error message is received, please call (804) 786-2441 and provide your information.
At our recent meeting of the Appropriations Committee May 16, Finance Secretary Ric Brown reported a recent shortfall in expected state revenues. If this trend continues, projected spending may need to be revised; adjustments in the passed budget may be necessary to accommodate the re-forecasted revenues.
The budget contained significant increases in K-12 and higher education, including a 2% increase in 2017 for elementary and secondary education teachers and support staff. Money from the state lottery fund is directed to local school divisions, which they can use with limited state involvement on initiatives or projects important locally. The funding increase amounts to approximately $36.6 million in 2017 and $157 million in 2018.
Other education measures of note included establishing the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant Program (House Bill 66) which I co-patroned. By providing funding to public institutions of higher education that offer non-credit programs, it aims to put more skilled workers in the state’s labor force. After this work-force training, students can then obtain certificates or credentials in a field where they attain gainful employment. The Commonwealth will provide $12.5 million over the next two years to fund this program.
Governor’s schools, of particular interest in our area where there are many Maggie Walker students, received 2.5% increased funding in the approved budget.
Additionally, the budget increases the amount of state funding to schools that offer a breakfast program to their students.
The budget included money to fully fund a program known as “STEM Learning through the Arts” in both Richmond and Chesterfield Public Schools. The arts are important to our vibrant city and region, and are a valuable addition to education and tourism. Our area is home to many artists and energizing creative activity.
I was most pleased with the budget language that included necessary repairs to the Carillon, located in Byrd Park and which is the Commonwealth’s official memorial to World War I. The centennial of the United States’ entry into WWI is 2017. Budget language formed the Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission. A signature event is planned for Armistice Day in November 2018 at the Carillon. The Commission through various events and outreach efforts, and working in conjunction with the National WWI Commission, will commemorate Virginia’s key contributions and citizen sacrifices in WWI. Known to historians as the Great War, it has become the forgotten war even though much of what is happening in the world today, from events and political maps in the mid-east to evolution in civil laws and rights began during WWI and its aftermath.
During the session, many constituents contacted me to advocate for the legislators’ confirmation of Justice Jane Roush, who Governor McAuliffe had appointed to the Virginia Supreme Court during recess appointments. I voted with 37 colleagues for her appointment; she has been acknowledged as a very knowledgeable, broadly experienced and imminently qualified jurist. Her career accomplishments were undisputed, she was well-liked by her peers and respected by attorneys in the field and those who practiced before her court. However, the legislative majority put forth Stephen McCullough’s name, and he was elected as the new Supreme Court Justice to serve a 12-year term.
Legislation to regulate the short-term residential lodging industry, mainly online platforms such as AirBnB and HomeAway drew much attention. Creating regulation of this industry, which is one driven by technology use - namely the use of apps on smartphones - is complex. It is similar to that involved in the regulatory framework of ride-sharing platforms such as Uber. Ultimately, the General Assembly assigned to the Virginia Housing Commission the study for the best way to regulate short-term residential lodging. As a member of the Commission’s work group on short-term rental, I look forward to continuing to learn more about the topic and proper regulation of this business model. Our next work group meeting is July 14.
Additionally, the Virginia Housing Commission moved legislation that will help localities address blighted, vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties by establishing land banks. The bi-partisan bill, for which I served as a chief co-patron, does not involve eminent domain, is an option based on a locality’s interest, and joins similar type measures initiated in other states across the nation.
A popular legislative initiative that encompassed several bills was the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Fund, or GO Virginia. The goal of the program is to allow localities to partner with one another in search of economic development projects that will benefit a local region. Recognizing the importance of this initiative, and working through governance issues, the Governor and legislative members reached consensus; the program will be delayed one year.
Protecting and supporting Virginia’s veterans was a priority during the 2016 legislative session. The General Assembly passed legislation that will help homeless veterans obtain ID cards and expand their access to important services. Additionally, there is continued focus on helping veterans obtain stable employment by connecting them with employers through the Virginia Values Veterans program. This program hosts events around our Commonwealth to encourage companies to hire Virginia’s veterans, and allow veterans to network with employers.
Additionally, construction of state buildings using bonds, including renovations on Capitol Square and juvenile justice facilities was incorporated in the budget.
For more information and detail regarding items that were discussed during the full regular session, the Richmond Times-Dispatch collected a list of 25 reasons the 2016 General Assembly session mattered.
The Virginia Public Access Project, a non-partisan organization focused on transparency, has released a data-driven review of the legislative session. If you are interested, using this link, you can view a number of different graphs and charts that describe the overall outcome of legislation introduced during the session.
With the arrival of the warmer weather, Governor McAuliffe recently urged Virginians to prepare for mosquito season, due to concern about the Zika virus. Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel reiterated the importance of mosquito repellent use and removing areas of standing water. Dr. Hazel recommended that all citizens follow the precaution guidelines that are available here.
Listed below are a few events that may interest you.
On Saturday May 21, from 10 A.M to 2 P.M. the Clean City Commission will be hosting a Spring Cleaning Day. The event will be held at 6807 Midlothian Turnpike; visitors will be able to shred documents, recycle unused electronics, and turn in old curbside-recycling bins so they can be used in our schools.
May 29 is 529 College Savings Day across the United States. Here in Virginia, the Virginia 529 College Savings Plan can help families across our Commonwealth as they prepare to assist their loved ones in pursuing higher education. A 529 plan allows one to place money in a special savings account. When the money is removed from the account for use on higher education expenses, the earnings on the account are tax-free. You can find out more about the 529 College Savings Plan here.
Beginning June 11, the VMFA will feature an exhibit from internationally renowned and exciting contemporary painter Kehinde Wiley. His works have “challenged and complicated the tradition of European and American portraiture and brought issues of race, power and representation to the fore in our cultural conversation.” Along with his signature portraits of black men, viewers will be able to see new portraits of women, monumental sculpture and paintings in stained glass. To learn more about this upcoming exhibit, you can visit this website.
Please visit my website, new look, same address, www.betsycarr.org, for other community photos and information.
As we near Memorial Day, May 30, and honor those who gave their lives in service to our county, we appreciate all that their sacrifice continues to make possible for us in our daily lives. We benefit from a vibrant community, an ever more attractive city, opportunities to experience, among many other things, the outdoors and our river, farmer’s markets, community gatherings and participation in representative government.
Thank you for the privilege of serving you. I greatly appreciate being able to work for and with you. If I can be of assistance to you or answer questions, please never hesitate to contact me (804-698-1069 firstname.lastname@example.org). I enjoy having you call and visit me at my General Assembly Building office, Room 527. I am also available to meet with you in your neighborhood or community.
Betsy B. Carr