The 2019 legislative session of the Virginia General Assembly adjourned sine die on Sunday, February 24th with a budget. I was pleased to have 10 of my 15 bills passed as well as two resolutions. You can view my legislation here.
As you may know, the General Assembly must passed a balanced budget each year. This year, the focus was on amendments as we adopted the biennial budget in 2018. While the budget is not perfect and I wish some issues received more funding, overall, I believe this is a good budget containing many excellent measures and I voted “yes” for its passage.
Spending: The budget bill includes $43.27 billion in general fund spending, excluding the reserve deposit. An additional $1.43 billion will be deposited into the reserve fund, which leaves $7.6 million in unappropriated funds.
Revenues: The Commonwealth expects $42.09 billion in general fund revenues. Due to the federal tax conformity, we are expecting $699.7 million in general fund revenue and $505.6 million to be directly deposited into the restricted reserve fund.
Higher Education: In order to maintain tuition levels at FY19 for next year, the Commonwealth is providing $57.5 million to institutions of higher education. Additionally, $18 million goes toward creating the Tech Talent Investment Fund to increase the number of computer science and related degrees and invest in instruction support.
Teacher Salaries: In addition to the 3% increase already appropriated through the biennial budget, amendments were passed to increase this to a total of 5%
Notable Legislation that Passed
“Move Over” Law (HB1911)-As you may recall, Hanover County’s Lt. Brad Clark, a firefighter, was killed due to a driver not properly moving over when Lt. Clark was responding to a scene on the road. This bill makes a driver’s failure to move into a nonadjacent lane on a highway with at least four lanes a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Insurance Coverage for Autism (HB2577)-Health insurers will be required to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in individuals of any age. Currently, coverage is only required to be provided from ages two to 10.
Casino Gambling (SB1126) –Following up on the information I provided during my last update, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) will study gambling and report back to the General Assembly by November 2019. However, qualifying cities will be able to hold a voter referendum in November 2020 to allow casino gaming.
Independent Redistricting Commission (SJ306 & HJ615) – The General Assembly came to a consensus to create a 16-member (8 citizen members and 8 legislative members) redistricting commission that will redraw the Commonwealth’s districts after the 2020 Census. It is not a perfect bill, but it is a good step toward ending partisan gerrymandering. The citizen members will be recommended by the legislative leaders from each party and a panel of retired judges will select an equal number of citizen members from each party’s list. After the Commission is formed and has maps available, the General Assembly will have final approval, but cannot make changes. In the event that the legislature fails to adopt a map after two proposals from the Commission, then the Supreme Court of Virginia will draw the lines. All meetings will be open to the public and all records and communications will be considered public too.
Since this is a constitutional amendment, it will need to pass the General Assembly two years in a row, meaning it will need to be introduced and passed again in 2020. Once this happens then the voters will need to approve it through a referendum in 2020. You can read more detailed information at the Times-Dispatch.
New Tobacco Regulations (HB2748 & SB1727) – Citizens must now be 21 years old to purchase or possess tobacco and e-cigarettes. This is a change from 18 years old. Virginia is one of six other states that have changed their laws based on the rise in teenage vaping.
Personal Hygiene Products (HB2540 & SB1715) – Sales tax will be reduced for personal hygiene products, both for menstrual and incontinence use.
Equal Rights Amendment -Despite efforts to revive the Equal Rights Amendment in the House throughout session, it ultimately failed to be considered on the House floor. I was disappointed that Virginia will not join the 37 other states who have ratified the ERA but was proud of the many advocates who devoted so much of their time this session.
Conversion Therapy Ban –Many bills that supported and protected the LGBTQ community failed to pass this session. One of them (SB1773) pertained to banning conversion therapy by licensed professionals on minors by supporting regulatory boards’ actions. While this bill failed, the Commonwealth’s health professional boards are exploring options for banning the practice of conversion therapy through professional guidelines and regulations. You can read more about it at the Times-Dispatch and you can review all of Equality Virginia’s priority legislation here.
Hands Free driving (HB1811) – This bill would have banned drivers from using a hand-held mobile device while operating a motor vehicle. Following several local instances of pedestrians or cyclists being hit by cars, I was supportive of the original bill. However, the legislation was amended to allow some ability to hold the hand-held device “in his hand,” which made the legislation too subjective and in the view of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, it would open the possibility to disproportionately target drivers of color. According to the Virginia Highway Safety Office, in 2017 there were 26,123 distracted-driver involved crashes that killed 843 people. Hopefully, this bill is re-introduced in 2020 and we can come to a common-sense solution. You can read more here.
Balance Billing (HB1714 & SB1763) – There were several different measures in both the House and Senate that aimed to eliminate balance billing, a serious issue that I know many constituents have dealt with in the past several years. Unfortunately, all the balance billing bills failed. This is certainly a complicated issue. Health providers and insurers have different perspectives, and patients sometimes feel they have to make up the difference when it comes to paying a bill. I am hopeful that with continued advocacy from constituents, all stakeholders will come to the table for a solution next session. You can read more about the issue here.
There were many more important and interesting bills that passed and failed in the General Assembly this session. The Roanoke Times has a simple overview that you can review here.
Additionally, if you have questions about any legislation, you can contact my office at email@example.com or call 804-698-1169.
The General Assembly will reconvene on April 3, 2019. During this session, the House and Senate will accept or reject any vetoes from the Governor. Otherwise, the bills that have passed the General Assembly this session are set to become law on July 1, 2019.
Richmond Black Restaurant Week -Richmond has made a name for itself based on all its spectacular food offerings. I am excited that next week isRichmond Black RestaurantWeek(March 3-10). There are 30 participating restaurants from all over the Richmond area. You can participate by going for lunch, dinner, drinks, or if you would like a fun event for the family, visit “Mobile Soul Sunday” on March 3rdfrom noon – 5:00 p.m. on Hull Street between 11thand 14thstreets. Enjoy more than 15 food trucks as well as music, vendors, and a kids zone.
Visithttps://www.vablackrestaurantexperience.com/restaurantsto find restaurants near you and learn more about related events happening next week. I strongly believe that it is essential that we support our black-owned restaurants and businesses in order to not only promote our outstanding culinary scene, but also to more deeply understand and appreciate our Richmond community.
Tax Prep for Seniors –Tax season is here. Senior Connections offers tax help. You must make an appointment beforehand by contacting Pat Gieson at 804-343-3059.
2019 Governor’s Fellows Program –This prestigious program offers rising college seniors, graduating seniors, and graduate students attending colleges and universities in Virginia, firsthand experience in state government at the highest level of the executive branch. Each fellow is placed with a member of the Governor’s Cabinet or with a member of his personal staff, providing an unparalleled opportunity to understand and learn about how the Office of the Governor works and makes decisions. Virginia residents attending out-of-state colleges and universities are also eligible. The selection of Fellows, while competitive, is based on merit. Applications are due on Friday, March 15, 2019. The program runs Monday, June 3, 2019, through Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Visit the Governor’s Fellows Program website for more information:https://www.governor.virginia.gov/the-administration/fellows/
James River Park System’s Invasive Plant Task Force –Invasive plants are non-native species capable of overtaking natural communities, including our beloved James River Park System. This week is National Invasive Species Awareness Week and there are many opportunities to volunteer and learn more about this problem. A celebration will be held on Friday, March 1, at Westover Station (5407 Forest Hill Avenue) from 7pm – 10 pm, featuring the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra. Find out more information here:https://jamesriverpark.org/invasives/
It is an honor and privilege to serve you in the General Assembly. Please never hesitate to contact me if my office can be helpful to you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 804-698-1169. I look forward to seeing you and your friends and family around Richmond this spring.
Betsy B. Carr