As the summer continues, I am pleased to provide you with an update from the Capitol and important community information.
The new fiscal year for our Commonwealth began July 1, 2016, and marked the start date for newly passed legislation and the biennial budget. There were numerous changes to Virginia’s laws including strengthening ethics regulations, increasing penalties on unlicensed child care providers, and expanding access to background checks for firearms purchased at gun shows. Additionally, for bike safety, drivers must wait for a reasonable time before opening a parked car door into the traffic lane. The Division of Legislative Services provides an in-depth overview of new and modified laws in their publication, In Due Course. The Richmond Times-Dispatch also provides a very useful overview of legislative changes.
The legislative session was successful in passing important initiatives. A new bond package will strengthen research at our universities, expand and enhance the Port of Virginia and improve our state parks. Additionally, an important investment was made to expand workforce development credential programs at our community colleges.
A priority for our Commonwealth continues to be expansion of the new Virginia economy. The unemployment rate throughout the state is 3.7%. However, creation of good-paying jobs and expanding workforce training in existing and emerging fields is important. For example, in cybersecurity, thousands of jobs that pay over $80,000 a year are unfilled due to a lack of available qualified workers.
Increasing the number of available jobs that pay above average salaries in our Commonwealth is critical to our overall financial health. This is especially true as the Commonwealth now faces a budget shortfall of $266.3 million. This shortfall, caused by declining payroll withholdings and sales tax revenue, has forced the Commonwealth to reforecast anticipated revenues on which the passed budget was based. This means that the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees must re-estimate what the state’s revenue will be by September 1. The shortfall could cause a delay in the pay raises for state employees that were included in the passed budget.
Governor McAuliffe’s historic April Restoration of Rights Order continues to be implemented. To check if you or someone you know are eligible for rights restoration, please provide your information at this link.
The new Commission on Employee Retirement Security and Pension Reform, to which the Speaker appointed me, held its first meeting on July 11. The Commission’s task is to study and make recommendations to the General Assembly about the current state of compensation and retirement plans offered to state and local employees, including school teachers. A Commission workgroup focusing on the state workforce will explore ways to help recruit and retain top talent in our government.
I continue to serve as a member of the Housing Commission. Work group sessions recently have focused on short-term lodging platforms such as AirBnB, service animal regulations, and property owner associations.
On June 20 and 21, the House Appropriations Committee traveled to the Eastern Shore of Virginia for a tour. The Committee visited various sites that are important to the Commonwealth’s economic, education and recreation interests. A few of the sites included Kiptopeke State Park, a beautiful park with pristine bay beaches, the Virginia Tech Hampton Roads Agricultural Research & Extension Center in Norfolk, the UVA Coastal Research Center, a clam and oyster nursery, and the NASA Space Facility on Wallops Island. Committee members gained a better understanding of these important sites and programs. The Eastern Shore is home to some of the Commonwealth’s emerging and growing businesses.
As we look toward the 2017 session, the Page Program in the House of Delegates will begin accepting applications on August 1. The Page program provides a unique opportunity for 13 and 14 year olds in Virginia. The House of Delegates’ Pages work to assist the Delegates and staff during the legislative session of the General Assembly each year. The tasks include running errands, assisting staff with mailings, and working on the House floor daily. The program is competitive and requires an endorsement from the Page’s Delegate. More information on the House Page Program, including living arrangements, work hours, and training is available at this link. Additionally, please feel free to contact my office at 804-698-1169 for more information on this program. The application deadline is October 17.
Election Day for 2016 is Tuesday, November 8. Along with the presidential election, citizens in the City of Richmond will also elect a new mayor, members of City Council, and members of the School Board. Citizens in Chesterfield County and the City of Richmond will elect a congressman. The deadline to register to vote or update your voting information in time for the November election is Monday, October 17. To register to vote in the Commonwealth or to find more information, please visit this website.
Governor McAuliffe recently announced that citizens of Virginia who are visiting the DMV will now be able to electronically register to vote on the keypads in all 74 DMV locations across the Commonwealth. Additionally, you are now able to update your information, such as your address, with the DMV and the Department of Elections online using this link. At the Richmond Central Customer Service Center, 2300 West Broad Street, citizens may now sign up for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Pre-Check to save time when traveling through airports.
The 2017 Legislative Session of the Virginia General Assembly will begin on January 11, 2017. Members of the House and Senate will begin filing legislation during the summer and throughout the fall. As always, I am available to meet with constituents now, during the legislative session, and throughout the year. Please feel free to call my office at 804-698-1069 or e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org if I can be of assistance to you. Knowing your thoughts and concerns helps me to best represent you.
Betsy B. Carr