It is my hope that you and your family are having an enjoyable holiday season surrounded by loved ones. Additionally, I hope that you survived our first snowstorm of the season and are getting prepared for the hard winter forecast ahead. In the midst of the seasonal excitement, I am looking forward to sharing news related to the upcoming session and some other relevant activities I have participated in since my last update to you.
First, I’d like to share that I have had the honor and privilege to serve the 69th district since 2010. During that time, I have met many hardworking, dedicated constituents who are eager to make Richmond and our Commonwealth a better place. I have had successes passing important pieces of legislation and served on numerous committees, including Appropriations, JLARC, and the Virginia Housing Commission. Depending on the outcome of the redistricting court case, my district may look a slightly different; however, I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of the 69th District as we go forward.
Governor Northam’s Budget Announcements
On Tuesday, December 18th, Governor Northam outlined his proposed budget recommendations for the 2018-2020 biennium during the joint meeting of the Senate Finance, House Appropriations, and House Finance committees. You can access more detailed information here.
Right now, Virginia's financial outlook is positive as the Commonwealth had more revenue than expected. Based on this, the Governor predicts a continuation of strong revenue as well as anticipating additional revenue based on the General Assembly's decisions regarding the Internet Sales Tax and federal tax code conformity. Highlights are below:
There is a one-time, one percent bonus for state employees, effective December 2019, as well as money to fund the state’s share of a one percent bonus for state-supported local employees. Additionally, support for retired law enforcement officers provides increased health insurance credits for state police, deputy sheriffs, and other state law enforcement officers who retire with at least 15 years of service.
$268.7 million in new money for K-12 Education: This includes additional money ($88 million) for teacher salaries to result in a 5% raise effective July 1, 2019; the At-Risk Add-On and Supplemental Lottery Per Pupil Allocation will be boosted by $70 million; and a $80 million one-time deposit in the Literary Fund will free up resources for low-interest loans for school construction.
Improving School Safety: There is new money for investments to ensure safe learning environments for K-12 students; $36 million to fund additional school counselors; $3.3 million to the Virginia Center for School Campus Safety, which will fund critical positions; expand access to training for school professionals, school resource and security officers; supplement expired grant support for the annual school climate survey; and provide additional active shooter trainings. It also adds funding for a treat assessment case management tool.
There will be $15 million for need-based tuition assistance for students at public, four-year institutions; $5.2 million for the Tuition Assistance Grant Program, which would allow the annual amount of the award to be increased to $3,400. Budget language requires four-year and two-year institutions to develop Tuition Predictability Plans to help students understand what to expect. Tuition assistance funding is included to help recruit and retain National Guard members.
There is $5.5 million for career advisors at community colleges; $4 million for workforce credential grant program, which helps students pay for training in high-demand jobs; and $8 million in one-time funding to create a case management system across agencies to keep track of the way people enter our workforce systems.
Investments to Protect Virginia’s Water Quality & Accelerate Chesapeake Bay Cleanupinclude increased funding for Virginia’s agricultural best management practices cost share program, the technical experts needed to assist farmers, and several important nonpoint source water quality programs to $90 million per year by FY 2020.
The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund receives a dedicated $50 million to help urban and suburban areas reduce pollution coming off of impervious surfaces.
Data-driven land conservation strategy receives $11 million with the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation.
The Department of Environmental Quality receives $2.5 million to begin returning to previous staffing levels to properly regulate and enforce Virginia’s environmental standards.
Increases funding for the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI), a program that incentivizes internet service providers to expand their service to Virginians that are underserved, to $50 million in FY 2020. This is a significant increase to the $4 million already appropriated on an annual basis.
The Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which funds projects across the Commonwealth will receive $75 million to help provide seed money for improvements to I-81. An additional investment of $20 million to develop pad-ready business sites, $10 million for Virginia Saves, a revolving fund for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and a new position at the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy to support the solar industry and create an office focused on offshore wind are also included.
To expand crisis response systems at community service boards, there is $9 million; $5 million for community transition support, and $2 million for permanent supportive housing, as well as additional funding to help first responders buy more Naloxone, a lifesaving opioid reversal drug.
Funding is provided for behavioral health support positions for veterans and for new positions to help process benefits as well as added positions to help veterans transition into the civilian workforce
The Housing Trust Fund, which provides loans for home purchases and helps reduce homelessness receives $19 million. There is funding for a new position at the Department of Housing and Community Development to work on the issue of eviction and additional support for legal aid attorneys to provide legal assistance to Virginians facing the prospect of eviction.
Other Items include
Support for Virginia’s Complete Count Committee to make sure that all of our state’s residents are counted in the vital upcoming census
$4.25 million to the Department of Social Services to prepare for potential storm evacuations, in light of the close call with Hurricane Florence in September
Provision for Virginia to stop suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court costs and fees
Funding for the Department of Elections to enhance training for local elections officials and improve our oversight over maintenance of the voter lists
Funding for a voter referendum for the Equal Rights Amendment
$6 million to pay for the presidential primaries in 2020
Remember that the Governor’s budget amendments must be approved by both the House and Senate during the legislative session. You can read the Governor’s complete statement here.
The 2019 legislative session is a "short session" for approximately 45 days. During shorter sessions, members of the House of Delegates are limited to introducing 15 pieces of legislation. Throughout the year, I gather ideas for legislation in a variety of ways, including but not limited to, concerns received from constituents, advocacy groups, professional associations, commission and committees on which I serve, and the local news. Here are a few of the bills I plan to introduce this session:
High Risk Contracts
Based on the recommendations from JLARC (click here to review the report), of which I am a member, this legislation adds a definition of high-risk contracts and requires that, before execution, all state contracts that meet the definition of “high risk” be reviewed and approved by the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of General Services, and the Virginia Information Technologies Agency. The centralized review and approval process will ensure that contracts provide a good value to the state and reduce risks to both state agencies and the public.
Review of State Employee Compensation
Another recommendation from JLARC (click here to review the report), this legislation requires the Department of Human Resource Management to provide a report that specifies the job roles that should receive higher salary increases based on their recruitment and retention challenges, the amount by which other job roles’ salaries should be increased, and cost estimates for funding the proposed increases. Overall, state employee salaries are competitive with what other employers pay. Some jobs, however, have average salaries far below the market for these occupations, including jobs that perform essential government services and functions such as protecting public health and safety and managing public funds.
Groundwater Withdrawal Permits
A final recommendation from JLARC (click here to review the report) and a re-introduction from 2018’s session, this legislation directs the State Water Control Board to instruct the DEQ to modify the permitted withdrawal amounts for certain industrial holders of water withdrawal permits within the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area and further defines “human consumption” and “waste.” The Code clearly establishes that water withdrawals should be prioritized for human consumption, but currently more than 60 percent of all current permitted groundwater use in eastern Virginia is for industrial purposes. In order to reduce “crowding out” and costs to residential customers, we need to modify the amount of permitted withdrawal and reaffirm that high quality groundwater is for human consumption.
Non-payment of Child Support and suspension of driver’s licenses
Not having a driver’s license is a barrier to employment and income needed to pay child support. This legislation makes payment plans for child support more accessible by reducing the down payment requirements and increasing the length or payment of delinquent child support obligations, which can in turn remove the suspension of a person’s driver’s license. Payment plans with high dollar requirements are not realistic for lower income individuals. By making payments more reasonable, people will be able to make a payment plan, reinstate their driver’s license, and access employment and an income.
Local zoning for affordable housing
At the request of the City of Richmond, this legislation adds the City to the list of localities able to amend zoning ordinances to provide for an affordable housing dwelling unit program.
Giving Localities the Option to Ban or Tax Single-Use Grocery Bags
One of the best ways to reduce the amount of trash headed to landfills, as well as preserving our environment, is to ban or tax single-use items such as plastic bags. As China has closed its doors to our garbage, we need to reduce the amount of waste we are producing in the Commonwealth as well as be good stewards of our natural surroundings. This legislation allows any locality to adopt an ordinance to impose a tangible personal property tax of five cents for each disposable paper bag or plastic bag provided to the consumer by retailers in grocery stores, convenience stores, or drug stores.
Virginia Housing Commission will be sponsoring several pieces of legislation resulting from its work on reducing evictions; one of which I will introduce.
Useful Resources for the General Assembly Session
Starting Wednesday, January 9th, session occurs each week day at noon. You can visit the Capitol in person and sit in the gallery of either the House or Senate to observe. Or you can watch via livestream wherever you are by visiting the Virginia General Assembly website and clicking on “Members and Session” on the left-hand side of the page.
I encourage you to use the Legislative Information Systems website (http://lis.virginia.gov/) to access bill information, committee information, and meeting schedules.
If you have specific bills you’d like to talk to me about, you can communicate with me in a number of ways:
Mail: PO Box 406 Richmond, VA 23218
Complete my survey: https://www.betsycarr.org/constituent-survey/
You can also schedule an appointment to meet with me by calling our office at 804-698-1169.
Important Dates for Session:
January 9 - First day of Session
February 6 - Crossover (all the bills passed in the House go to the Senate and vice versa)
February 23 - Last day of Session
GRTC’s New Routes
Our bus system in Richmond experienced many positive changes in 2018: New routes, faster service, simplified bus route names, and the Pulse. If you are still learning your new routes or are experiencing issues, you can participate in the Travel Training program. An associate will meet you at your stop, work with you to create your own travel plan and show you how to ride the bus to get to your destination. They will even ride along with you. It is free, except for the cost of bus fare. Call or email: 804-474-9320 or email@example.com
If you have a bus stop amenity request (such as new benches, trash cans, or shelters), you can email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Pulse service frequency is now every 10 minutes during the daytime until 7 p.m. and service begins at 5 a.m. on weekdays, a half-hour earlier. The Pulse operates from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekends.
Richmond Public High School students can ride for free. RPS high school students need to return their permission slip to their school to have unlimited free rides on GRTC local city routes, including the Pulse. Call 804-358-GRTC if you need a permission slip mailed to you.
Visit ridegrtc.com or call 804-358-GRTC for more detailed information on services and routes available to you.
Training, Education, and Technology for Veterans and their Families in Need
Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to visit Tech4Troops, a non-profit with a mission to end veteran homelessness and poverty. Tech4Troops hires veterans and provides them with valuable technical training. They accept donations of e-waste, such as old computers, which they then use in their training as well as gift the refurbished technology to Veterans and their families. Visit https://techfortroops.org/ to learn more and get involved.
Frommer’s Best Places to Go in 2019
The new year marks the 400th anniversary of several key historical events in our country, including the first English-style representative legislative assembly in the Western Hemisphere in Jamestown and the arrival of the first enslaved Africans. The American Evolution program is organizing cultural performances, talks, historical exhibits, and art installations to museums, theaters, and universities across the Commonwealth. As Virginia takes center-stage next year as a top destination, I encourage you to take advantage of all the offerings to learn about our history and how we can continue to do better in order to make our Commonwealth the best it can be. Visit https://www.americanevolution2019.com/ to learn more.
Currently one outstanding exhibition is "Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia." It will be available until January 2020 and explores the captivating and little-known personal stories of women in Jamestown and the Virginia colonies. These women certainly had tenacious spirits and made a lasting impact on their societies. From the arrival of the first English women in Virginia in 1608 to the Powhatan Indian women they encountered to the arrival of the first documented African woman in 1619, this exhibition explores women's roles, rights, and issues of the 17th century and how they are still relevant even today.
As always, it is a tremendous honor to serve you in the General Assembly. I look forward to hearing more from you as we enter the legislative session on January 9th. It is vital that I hear from my constituents in order to serve you in the best way possible. Please never hesitate to reach out to me with your concerns by emailing email@example.com or calling the office at 804-698-1169.
Happy holidays to you and your loved ones.
Betsy B. Carr