Thursday, February 20, 2020
We’re in the last three weeks stretch of this year’s 2020 General Assembly Session. Last week was the official halfway point known as Crossover - the term used to describe the last day before all bills in the House of Delegates are sent over to the Senate and vice versa.
It also means that we had a few very long days of debate on the House floor to finish up the remaining bills on the calendar. On Crossover day, we had 162 bills to vote on - we had already passed 668 bills that are now going through the Senate committee process.
We’re now sorting through over 550 new pieces of Senate legislation and will do the first round of debate on the 2020-2022 State Budget.
Unlike in previous years where I had few subcommittee assignments, I am now on six subcommittees, three of which I am the chairman (Housing/Consumer Protection Subcommittee, Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee, and the Subcommittee on Redistricting). In all the committees, we’re reviewing and moving legislation along with the goal of making sure we end session on time on March 7th.
I'm proud of my 14(!) bills that are headed to the Senate this week as well as the many others that I've had an opportunity to work on with my colleagues. You can view my complete legislative agenda here by going to lis.virginia.gov, selecting General Assembly Members, and then selecting my name.
Overall, we've passed a lot of substantive, progressive legislation in the House so far - raising the minimum wage (HB 395), repealing Virginia's mandatory ultrasound law (HB 980), allowing collective bargaining for public employees (HB 582), establishing the Virginia Values Act (HB 1663), ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (HJ 1), enacting the Governor's 8 gun violence prevention bills, raising the grand larceny threshold (HB 995), allowing no-excuse absentee voting (HB 1), creating the Solar Freedom Act (HB 572), same day voter registration (HB 201) - just to highlight a few!
The 2020-2022 State Budget
Over the weekend, the House Appropriations Committee released the 2020-2022 State Budget, which includes a series of additional, committee-approved budget amendments. As I mentioned earlier, we’ll do the first round of debate on the budget this week before the budget goes to conference – this means that a few House and Senate members will be selected to reconcile the differences between the two versions of the budget.
I’m happy to report that we already have some really good things in the budget that are earmarked to promote things like environmental responsibility, improve our education system, and make our communities safer.
More specifically, the budget includes funding to cover the expected costs of finally raising the minimum wage in Virginia. We’re sorely lagging behind our neighbors in Maryland, DC, and West Virginia who have already raised their wages.
We’re giving pay raises to state employees and teachers, who will get a 4% total raise.
There is $1.2 million for the Attorney General’s Division of Human Rights to support implementation and defense of recently passed human rights legislation. This refers to the Virginia Values Act and several other bills which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Early childhood education and k-12 will get $1.4 billion in new spending. There is also $11.2 million for Tuition Assistance Grants (TAG), increasing the award to $3,850.
On the healthcare front, we are finally putting money toward establishing a Virginia Health Benefit Exchange. In addition, we have earmarked $1.7 million to expand opioid treatment services and added 1,135 new DD Waiver slots.
To adequately administer the gun violence prevention legislation that has passed, the Department of Corrections will receive an additional $2.6 million.
In response to high eviction rates, there is $6.6 million for eviction diversion and prevention programs.
We’re keeping our commitment to protecting the environment by earmarking $30 million for the Department of Environmental Quality for additional staff and programs related to environmental justice initiatives. We have also removed the prohibition on joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) will receive $6.6 million, increasing benefits by 5%. There is also $2.4 million to establish the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Prevention Fund at the Department of Social Services.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the good things in the budget, but it certainly is a snapshot of the priorities of the new majority in the House of Delegates. You can view the complete list of budget amendments at budget.lis.virginia.gov.