I’m pleased to provide you with an update from the 2017 Virginia General Assembly session. The House of Delegates and State Senate met January 13 to February 25 and considered 4,735 bills on a wide range of topics, over 800 of which were sent to the Governor for signature.
During this year’s session, I introduced a variety of legislation which passed. House Bill 1931 will allow for the full implementation of Richmond’s upcoming Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system by granting Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) the ability to enforce the collection of transit fees. House Bill 1936 aims to address blighted and derelict properties by allowing a locality to transfer the responsibilities involved in managing a land bank to a group such as a non-profit organization that is separate from the locality. The bill’s goal is to help redevelop and sell properties so that they may return to the tax rolls of various localities. Provisions in House Bill 2006 prevent fraud in the use of assistance animals in multi-unit dwellings. House Bill 1933 outlines the process for candidate withdrawal from an election to ensure that voters have current information on Election Day.
Additionally, I put forward legislation to codify a process for the restoration of civil rights (House Resolution 650) and to establish a nonpartisan commission for redistricting (House Resolution 651). These resolutions, as well as all other introduced resolutions on the related topics failed to pass in the General Assembly this year.
I served on the conference committees for House Bill 2386 and Senate Bill 854 which provide installment payment plans for those having difficulty paying court fees. As long as payments continue according to the designated plan, a driver's license will not be suspended.
Each year passing a balanced budget is the legislature’s most important work: it reflects priorities for use of taxpayer money. This year the great challenge was addressing our Commonwealth’s $1.25 billion shortfall from the 2016 passed budget. The House and Senate passed an amended budget February 25. It will go to the Governor and, after his amendments or line item vetoes, it will undergo a final vote during the Reconvene Session, April 5.
The budget sent to the Governor will provide for a 3% pay raise for state employees and a 2% pay raise for state-supported local employees and college faculty. Additionally, the budget funds the state’s share of a 2% pay raise for teachers while sending 35% of all Lottery of Virginia proceeds to local school divisions without restrictions. For example, a school division can spend the money on salary increases, technology infrastructure, or payments to the Virginia Retirement System depending on its needs.
Additionally, the budget provides for a $6,793 salary increase for all Virginia State Troopers and an entry level salary increase as well. These necessary increases support the important role that our state troopers have in our Commonwealth and allow the agency to increase trooper recruitment efforts. The Virginia Capitol Police, the oldest police force in the United States, will also receive salary increases.
The Library of Virginia, which faced significant budget cuts, operating hour reductions, and layoffs at the end of 2016 will have those cuts and reductions restored with an increase of $600,000 to the Library’s budget. I co-patroned the budget amendment to restore library funding.
Another important focus of the budget was addressing mental health and substance abuse in our Commonwealth. The budget will increase services for individuals with mental illness and expand services for 3,000 individuals with incomes at or below 100% of the poverty line. The budget also allows for same day mental health treatment services to be expanded at Community Service Board locations across the Commonwealth. Additional funding for substance abuse treatment was included in the budget, with $5 million for supportive housing for individuals in recovery and $1 million for opioid detoxification services.
The budget provides $5.5 million for community employment and training programs including work force training and $2 million to support employment service organizations. An additional $2 million will provide a 2.5% increase in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding throughout the state. More complete budget information is discussed here.
Delegate Delores McQuinn’s legislation that I co-patroned will grant $100,000 to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities at UVA to identify the history of formerly enslaved African Americans in Virginia and determine ways to preserve the history so that it may be used for educational and cultural purposes.
Additional legislation in this year's session that attracted general interest included the regulation of the short term lodging industry, the rights of LGBT citizens, women’s healthcare, and redistricting reform.
The Housing Commission, on which I serve, has studied the short term lodging industry for the past year. Senate Bill 1578 passed this session. This bill allows, but does not mandate, any locality to adopt an ordinance which regulates short term rentals such as AirBnB. The legislation will not affect the current status of short-term rentals in Richmond unless the city adopts an ordinance establishing a registry. Similarly, it will allow Chesterfield to adopt a regulatory framework if the county so chooses.
Many constituents contacted me this session regarding the rights of our LGBT citizens. I was pleased to support initiatives that worked to expand rights. I co-patroned a bill by Senator Jennifer Wexton which, although it was unsuccessful, would have made discrimination against members of the LGBT community in housing illegal. A bill similar to North Carolina’s controversial ‘bathroom bill,’ failed.
Last week, the members of the House Democratic Caucus were able to sustain Governor McAuliffe’s veto of House Bill 2264, which would have cut funding to Planned Parenthood across Virginia. Many constituents contacted me in opposition to this bill; Planned Parenthood makes affordable crucial services for many women who would not otherwise have access to health care.
Redistricting reform was a major discussion topic this legislative session thanks to the work of many constituents and the advocacy group OneVirginia2021. Although all bills aimed at redistricting reform failed this session, it is my hope that this critical issue will eventually be addressed by the General Assembly. Continued efforts by constituents to contact their legislators did make an impact this year by putting the issue directly before the legislators and ensuring that each legislator knew how important this issue is to their constituents. Additionally, ProgressVA’s filming of committee deliberation and votes increased transparency throughout the session.
My resolution to recognize the centennial of women’s suffrage and the Nineteenth Amendment was combined with another resolution which establishes a task force facilitated by the Virginia Historical Society for the purpose of commemorating this significant anniversary.
A Richmond Times-Dispatch article discusses 25 reasons why the General Assembly was important here.
The Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS) assists our veterans with a wide variety of services. These include housing and homelessness services, legal assistance, and both short and long-term care concerns. The complete DVS veteran’s resource guide, is available on the DVS website. Our office is also able to assist with issues affecting our veterans and help connect to necessary services.
The Commonwealth of Virginia and the Office of the Governor make appointments of citizens to serve on a wide variety of boards and commissions. On the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website, you can read more about the available appointments and check to see if you or someone you know that is interested may qualify to serve.
The James River Association provides an interesting river expedition experience for students during the summer months. Information about these river adventures can be found on the James River Association website.
The Carillon, Virginia’s Official Memorial to World War I, is located in Byrd Park at the south end of the Boulevard in the 69th District. On April 6, 2017, at 11:45 A.M., the Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission will host a special commemorative program there to mark the 100th Anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. The program is free and open to the public; information is available at this link.
During the summer, the legislative offices of the General Assembly will relocate. The General Assembly Building at the corner of 9th and Broad Streets in Richmond will be demolished due to growing health and safety concerns. For the next four years, legislative offices will be in the Pocahontas Building, located at the corner of 10th and Bank Streets in Richmond. My phone number and e-mail address will remain the same; my new office address will be available in June.
While the legislature is in session for only a few months, I am available to meet with constituents throughout the year. It is a privilege to serve you in the House of Delegates. Please never hesitate to contact me if I can be helpful with a state agency or with legislative information. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my office phone number is 804-698-1069.