The Virginia Constitution provides that in the even-numbered years the General Assembly is to meet in session for 60 days and in the odd-numbered years for 45 days. Either may be extended by half the number of days with a two-thirds vote by the membership. The reason for the longer session in even-numbered years was the additional responsibility of passing a biennial budget. Yet on Saturday, March 10, the General Assembly adjourned sine die (meaning with no appointed date for resumption) without having passed a budget for the next biennium!
The budget under which the Commonwealth is currently operating does not expire until June 30, 2018. The Governor is empowered to call a special session of the legislature, and he has indicated his expectation in the near future to call such a special session whose business would be limited to passage of a budget. Members of the House and Senate understood that would be the procedure to be followed when they voted to adjourn the regular session.
There is good news in all this procedural action to bring the legislature to an end for the year. The budgets of the two houses could not be reconciled by the constitutional deadline because of one great and meaningful difference: extending Medicaid to many more persons of limited income. The really good news is that Medicaid expansion is being discussed in a positive context, and I am certain it is going to take place in Virginia within the year.
A total of about 2500 bills and resolutions have been considered during the last 60 days. Of those, fewer than a thousand will make their way to the Governor for his signature. When duplicate bills are counted once, the total production of the General Assembly will be close to 500 new laws. While that small number may seem like limited production for such great effort, some of the bills introduced are really not good ideas. It is just as important that the legislature defeat bad bills as it is for the legislature to pass good bills.
This session was noteworthy for its lack of bills limiting women’s reproductive rights and bills that would discriminate against persons for their sexual orientation or identity. Much of that change can be attributed to the defeat of one incumbent delegate who specialized in such bills but also to the great number of defeats of incumbent legislators who voted for them.
There were 70 bills introduced relating to ending gun violence, and all were defeated in a six-person subcommittee. Recent public outrage over gun violence is likely to change that dynamic in the future. Good news for Metro was the passage of a bill to put Virginia’s contribution to the system on sound financial footing with a dedicated source of funding from the Commonwealth. Maryland and the District of Columbia are expected to take similar action.
A major victory for environmentalists was the passage of the Governor’s bill to expand the use of renewables in electricity generation, modernization of the electrical grid, and expansion of energy conservation. More to come on the work of the session in future columns
The General Assembly convened for its annual session on Wednesday. Hopes that the historic election results of November brought forth have dimmed somewhat as the drawing of lots to settle the results of the final district race gave the Republicans a one-member advantage to control the House of Delegates. Many wonderful people have been at work on the terms for a power-sharing agreement.
Now the incentives for such reform have diminished with the acceptance of a disputed ballot that led to the Democrats losing a seat that would have made for a partisan tie in the House and much more likelihood of a power-sharing arrangement. There is likely to be some reform of the process but not a change of one-party dominance that has thwarted efforts to deal with some major issues.
I continue to be impressed with the make-up of the House of Delegates as the new members are reflective of the people of Virginia. For the first time in our history women will make up half the membership of the Democratic caucus. The new members bring wonderful backgrounds, expertise, and life experiences that will bring a greater sense of reality to legislative debates. We will make progress on more issues for sure but maybe not as great as I led people to believe when election results were announced.
One of my greatest concerns is that the thousands of men and women who chose to take part in the electoral process for the first time in ways other than just voting not become disillusioned with the process and retreat from it. Make no mistake about it: the outcomes of the legislative and state-wide races in Virginia in 2017 were historic. Voter turnout in these races was greater than in any other year with the same seats to be filled. The solid Republican majority of 66 to 34 was reduced to 51 to 49. Senior members of the majority with more than adequate monies to finance their races lost to a public uprising. All involved in this process can rightfully be proud. All that activity has been focused on campaigning; now we must turn to governing.
I hope that all those who campaigned so hard for candidates will identify one or perhaps several issues upon which they can focus their attention and with the same techniques of phoning, social media, door knocking, rallying and more can help persuade members of the legislature to vote responsibly on the issues. Just as we sold voters on candidates, we need to sell legislators on important issues. Such campaigns can make a difference in the outcome of legislation.
Political parties on both sides will be eager to take credit for the outcomes of elections in which they participated. Without a doubt, the success of elections this cycle came from the women and men who volunteered–sometimes in organized groups or acting as individuals–that made the difference. Political parties can learn from these people. Please do stay involved, for your participation can make such an important difference as the General Assembly lumbers along.
Chamber’s Legislative Scorecard Released — The Northern Virginia Chamber Partnership annually grades local members of the Virginia General Assembly on their support of legislation that positively affects business, economic development, workforce development and related issues. Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), who represent Reston, both scored in the middle of the pack. [Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce]
Extreme Drunkenness Caused Crash That Killed Herndon Man — The driver in a July wrong-way head-on crash on U.S. 50 in Annapolis, which killed herself and a 34-year-old Herndon man, had a blood-alcohol content of .34. That’s more than four times the legal limit in Maryland. [WTOP]
Dominion Sending Workers to Help After Irma — Dominion Energy has mobilized more than 700 employees and contractors to respond to electric restoration efforts in after Hurricane Irma devastated Florida and left millions without power. [Dominion Energy]
N.C. Real Estate Company Opening Reston Office — Commercial realtors The Morgan Cos. will move into 11955 Freedom Drive, Suite 11000 at Reston Town Center. It will be their third office, following ones in Charlotte and Fort Lauderdale. [Virginia Business]
SLHS Seahawks 3-0 on Season — The South Lakes High School Seahawks football team stayed undefeated last week with a 49-7 win over Oakton. Statistical leaders included QB Devin Miles (6-6, 154 yards, 2 TDs), RB Spencer Alston (109 yards rushing, 121 yards receiving, 4 TDs), RB Albert Mensah (60 yards rushing, 1 TD) and DL Spencer Coppage (sack, interception, forced fumble). Reserve QB Will Shapiro also threw a touchdown pass, connecting with WR Kazim Khan. SLHS will play its first home game of the season Friday night against Dominion. [South Lakes Athletics]
With the conclusion of the political party primaries last week, the general election is now teed up for Nov. 7.
There were some surprises coming out of the Democratic and Republican primaries. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam easily won the Democratic primary to be the nominee for governor, even though there was discussion beforehand that polls indicated a tight race. Polling for primaries is notorious for being inaccurate because with a typically light turnout, the universe of potential voters is almost impossible to determine. Former one-term Congressman Tom Perriello has a great deal to offer and will hopefully stay on the scene for future opportunities. Although the term “establishment” was grossly overused in describing Ralph Northam, his service in the state Senate plus his active role as lieutenant governor made him well known and greatly admired throughout the state.
Justin Fairfax gained everyone’s admiration after a primary loss to Attorney General Mark Herring four years ago led to his active campaigning during the interim time, making him well known for this primary. He was also well known for his work as an attorney. If you review the areas where Ralph Northam did well and compare them with where Justin Fairfax was strongest, you create a strong statewide team that will be nearly impossible to defeat. Attorney General Mark Herring was not challenged in a primary and will be on the ballot to succeed himself in November. There is no one-term limitation with the attorney general and the lieutenant governor as there is with the governor.
The greatest surprise of the primaries may have been on the Republican side to pick a candidate for governor. Ed Gillespie who has been mentioned for years as the next Republican governor of Virginia barely got through the primary with a shockingly strong showing by Corey Stewart, who is known for his anti-immigrant work in Prince William County and for campaigning with a Confederate flag. He has the distinction of being so over the top that he was fired by the Trump campaign. Turnout was especially low in the Republican primary, and Stewart was just over a percentage point from taking out Gillespie. It will be interesting to see if the folks who voted for Stewart will vote in the general election or decide to stay home.
The Republican primary for lieutenant governor was a slugfest between two state senators, with Sen. Jill Vogel winning after a mud-slinging campaign that left neither candidate looking good.
All 100 seats for the House of Delegates are up for election this fall with a record number of contested elections. Historically, it has been difficult to recruit candidates to run for the House of Delegates, but events of the past year have brought forth more candidates than ever before. There was a record number 27 seats where the candidates were determined by the primary because there was so much interest in running. Democrats will certainly pick up seats in the House of Delegates getting closer to shifting or sharing power in that legislative body.
While I am uncontested in my race for the House of Delegates, you can still expect to see me campaigning. It is a good way to stay in touch with constituents and to increase turn-out for the statewide elections. Expect a busy fall of campaigning leading up to the fall elections in Virginia that will send a signal to the nation as to the public’s reaction to national events.
This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.
The Virginia General Assembly will celebrate its 400th anniversary in a couple of years, making it the longest-running representative legislative body in this hemisphere.
Although not much has changed in the basic procedures of lawmaking with committees and structured floor debate, over the centuries there have been adaptations to the times as the Legislature has sought to best serve those it represents. Most recently, the biggest changes have been to the housing of the legislative functions.
For those interested in details, here is a summary of the major changes — past and present. The General Assembly in 2004 abandoned Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol for the first time since the Civil War to give the place a major renovation that would keep it standing and expand its size underground so as to not take away from its iconic exterior. For that renovation, the Legislature moved to the former state library, whose upstairs had been renovated to be the Governor’s Office but whose reading rooms downstairs had been left intact and became very efficiently the House of Delegates and Senate chambers for several sessions.
Meanwhile, the offices of legislators in the General Assembly Building (GAB) have been crumbling asbestos, explaining the white dust that periodically appeared on the furniture. Legislating should not be considered hazardous duty, at least in a physical sense, nor should failing plumbing and heating and cooling systems cause delays in the work of the Legislature.
For decades, the Life Insurance Company of Virginia had occupied the building before it moved to an office park in the suburbs and sold its aging building to the Commonwealth. The building is currently being demolished, and a new office building will be constructed in its place with a parking garage across the street. That will be good news for those who want to participate in the legislative process but have been prevented from doing so because they simply could not find a place to park.
The last act of legislators this past session was to pack ourselves up for a move down Richmond’s Capitol Hill to the Pocahontas Building, formerly in private hands as the State Planters Bank of Commerce and Trust Building, where we will have temporary but nice and asbestos-free offices for several years while the new building will be constructed. The Pocahontas Building was available to us as the Attorney General and his staff, who had offices there, have recently relocated to the Barbara Johns Building, formerly the Hotel Richmond and later state offices, just across the street from where the new General Assembly Building will be.
Regardless of whether you chose to follow all that, the good news is that when you come to Richmond you will be much more likely to find a convenient place to park, and you will be in a safer setting.
With our physical surroundings taken care of, now we need to go to work on bringing the legislative process up to date by making it more transparent and responsive. Maybe a significant anniversary and a change in working environment should be viewed as a time to start anew.
Several weeks ago, at the invitation of their leader, I spoke to a group of Boy Scouts about government and the responsibilities of citizenship. Talking with me helped the Scouts meet one of their requirements for a merit badge.
One of the Scouts asked me about the most important legislation I had ever gotten passed. I told him about multiple issues on which I had worked, but I focused on one that I thought he might know little about but would show the range of issues with which legislators deal. I told him about my work to expand infant screening in the Commonwealth.
Prior to my election to office, I served on the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board. A member of that Board whose adult son was a resident at the Northern Virginia Training Center told me of the great hope there was in detecting health issues in infants at the time of their birth with blood screening. At the time Virginia had only three tests, one of which was PKU testing. I remembered our conversation after I was elected, and I got new tests added as scientists developed them.
Metabolic disorders that can be discovered from a pinprick of an infant’s heel can generate early and sometimes simple treatments that can lead to a healthy child and adult. Without treatment, numerous medical conditions can develop including severe developmental delays and chronic illnesses. Metabolic disorders affect the chemical processes in your body that must work together correctly for you to stay healthy.
I was honored to work on legislation that added most of the 30 tests that are done in Virginia on that same spot of blood from an infant to detect these disorders. Last week, I was reminded of the experience that I had working with Dr. Barry Wolf of the then-Medical College of Virginia, who had discovered that the disorder in which the body is unable to recycle the vitamin biotin can lead to developmental delays in children, hearing and vision loss, breathing problems, and problems with balance and movement. When discovered early such as through a screening test, the disorder can be treated with nutritional supplements that can result in a normal life for the person.
With Dr. Wolf’s research and my legislative proposal, in 1984 Virginia became the first state in this country to begin infant screening for biotinidase deficiency. Since that time, every state and many foreign countries have started the screening. The March of Dimes recognized us for that accomplishment.
The reminder of this story came from a local doctor in Reston who was a medical student at MCV at the time and knew of Dr. Wolf’s research and my bill. She wrote to us both, telling us of a teenage patient she had just met who at birth had been found to have the deficiency but, with treatment, was living a normal life. She wrote to both of us that “because of researchers like you and advocates like you… our world is made a little better for all, and lives are saved for some precious few. That’s something to be proud of.”
I hope the Boy Scouts understood why I consider the work on infant screening to be among the most important I have done.
Virginia has the distinction of having had the first mental health hospital in the country, although it was called an insane asylum, which more correctly described the work it did.
From colonial days to the present, the role of the state in providing treatment and services for those with mental illness has been widely debated, filled with different theories and approaches, and always critically underfunded. It took a massacre of students at Virginia Tech and a state senator’s son attacking his father with a butcher knife, then shooting himself, to bring a higher level of urgency and seriousness to the discussion. A commission has been meeting the past couple of years and will continue to meet for at least a couple more to develop recommendations on what the state should do.
In the meantime, some hopeful progress is being made. After the Virginia Tech shootings, state appropriations for mental health programs were increased dramatically, only to be reduced again after the onset of the recession. Funding for programs for those with mental illness has been slowly increasing again but still does not come close to the levels requested by professionals in the field. Additional funding was provided in the most recent General Assembly session to allow for transitional housing. Statewide, there has been more clarification of the role of the Community Services Boards for the treatment of mental illness.
The practice of “streeting” persons, by putting them back on the street when there was no treatment option available to them, has largely been stopped. Emergency and temporary custody orders can be issued to ensure that those needing emergency care will receive it. Crisis treatment centers are being opened around the state.
We are blessed in Fairfax County that local government has for decades been offering mental health treatment and services well beyond that provided in most parts of the state. The most recent example is the Diversion First program, which just issued its first annual report. The program came about from the recognition that more than a quarter of the inmates in local jails have mental illness. They came into contact with law enforcement because of a behavior that needed treatment, not incarceration.
Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, the Fairfax County Police Department and the Community Services Board cooperatively put together a program that offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low-level offenses. As stated in their annual report, the goal is to intercede whenever possible to provide assessment, treatment or needed support in an appropriate setting for those who struggle with mental illness, developmental delays or substance abuse, instead of jail being the default solution. In its first year of work, the program diverted 375 persons from jail into treatment programs. Both money and lives are saved with the shift of emphasis.
More about this important new service made possible by Fairfax County government officials working together is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/DiversionFirst.
Nearly two hours of the eight-and-a-half-hour reconvened session of the House of Delegates of the General Assembly were taken up last week by speeches from retiring members and acknowledgement speeches by others about their service and achievement.
The length of the tribute time was driven in large part by the fact that eight members, all of whom are Republicans, are retiring. Heading the list is the Speaker of the House, followed by a senior member who chairs the important Courts Committee. For some, like the Speaker, the longevity of service was a key factor. Others cited family and financial concerns. Another one or two may re-appear running for another office. Legislative service that is considered part-time with a low level of remuneration but takes full-time commitment always has some turnover, but the number this year is significant.
Another factor that may have influenced some decisions is the sense of changing political winds in the Commonwealth. Never in my years of service have I gotten as many phone calls, postcards and emails as I have this year. Traditional groups have gotten re-energized, and many new groups have formed. Activism is in the air.
For me, it has been reassuring. As a progressive, I feel less like I am speaking into the wind and more like there is a force of people behind me. For years I worked on the redistricting issue almost alone and now thousands of people are contacting their legislators asking that they support redistricting reform. The public has become keenly aware of the adverse impact that gerrymandering has had on the Legislature.
The signs of change were evident in the reconvened session last week. While the House of Delegates did not respond favorably to my plea that we approve an amendment by the Governor to expand Medicaid, there was discussion by majority party leaders in the House and Senate that a new group is going to be looking at how medical services can be expanded to the poorest in our state. I continue to be amazed at the argument that leaving $40 billion on the table in federal dollars could somehow be considered “fiscally responsible.”
The majority party may have felt somewhat humbled by the fact that the Legislature upheld 40 vetoes of bills by the Governor, extending the record of his administration to 111 with none being over-ridden. Of course, a two-thirds vote is required, but in the House only a couple of deflections by Democrats would have made an over-ride possible. The vetoes by Gov. Terry McAuliffe have kept Virginia out of the news with crazy legislation that has passed in other states.
Certainly there is also an eye to November, with 77 Democrats lining up to challenge 49 Republican incumbents. As that number is reduced by primaries and conventions, it leaves hotly contested races that could dramatically change who is in charge in the House, and/or the attitude of those left in charge. Democrats have challengers to incumbents in the 17 districts held by Republicans that were won by Hillary Clinton. For those who continue to ask what they can do, there is a clear sense emerging that much can be done this year to put Virginia on a more progressive track.
Magazine Article Makes Case for Paid Parking at RTC — A breakdown of the paid-parking controversy at Reston Town Center that appears in the April issue of Washingtonian argues that “parking is never actually free” and that RTC “was designed so people could get there without a car.” [Washingtonian]
Fifth-Graders Debate School Issues — Students from Terraset and Forest Edge elementary schools recently worked on their speech-writing and public-speaking skills as they squared off in a debate. Topics argued during the event included school uniforms, homework and recycling. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
County Asks Residents to Report Potholes Properly — Sharing a news blast originally written last February, Fairfax County is reminding residents that they can call or use an online reporting tool to let VDOT know where potholes are in the county. [Fairfax County/Twitter]
Technology Services Company Moves to Reston — CDW has moved its D.C.-area headquarters, one of 24 offices nationwide, to Edmund Halley Drive. Among the features of the new space is a technology demonstration lab featuring the latest technologies from the company’s top partners. [CDW]
Fairfax County Republican Delegate Stepping Down — Del. Dave Albo (R-Fairfax), who has served the area in the Virginia House of Delegates since 1994, announced his retirement Wednesday on the House floor. Among his legislative contributions, Albo listed securing transportation funding for Northern Virginia, closing DUI loopholes, allowing marijuana-derived oils to be used to treat epilepsy, boosting punishments for child molesters and writing the language that banned smoking in restaurants. [Richmond.com]
While a governor is the chief executive of a state responsible for seeing that the laws are carried out, the governor plays a crucial role in the legislative process with the requirement that all passed bills must be signed before they become law or not signed and vetoed to keep such bills from becoming law. There is no better example of the significance of the governor’s power to veto laws than in Virginia.
Next week, on Wednesday, April 5, which is the required sixth Wednesday after the adjournment of the regular session of the General Assembly, the Constitution requires a reconvened or commonly called “veto session” to consider only vetoes or amendments made by the governor to bills that had been passed in both houses of the General Assembly earlier in the regular session. The requirement for the reconvened session was added to the Constitution in 1981 because without it, the governor was able to veto bills after legislators went home without any opportunity for them to override the veto.
With the fast pace of nearly a thousand bills being passed in a session of 45 to 60 days, the reconvened session provides an opportunity for the governor to send down amendments that are found to be needed that might clarify or correct language in bills.
Most importantly, a governor can play a role in the legislative process by vetoing some really bad bills that may have narrowly passed the legislature but are not in the best interest of the state. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has used his veto pen very effectively in vetoing bills that respond to special interests but do not serve the public good of the Commonwealth. By the end of the reconvened session next week he will have set a record of vetoing more than 90 bills without legislators being able to get a two-thirds vote in both houses for the bills to become law without his signature. I am especially pleased that he has never vetoed a bill that I had not already voted against in the regular session.
As in previous years, he has vetoed bills that would legalize discrimination against LGBT citizens. He has regularly vetoed bills similar to HB2 in North Carolina, which has brought such bad publicity to that state for upholding discrimination and that resulted in the state losing businesses and major sports events. Without Gov. McAuliffe’s courageous veto, Virginia would be in the same category of discrimination as North Carolina.
Gov. McAuliffe has once again vetoed a bill that would deny public funding to Planned Parenthood, which provides critically important health services to women over an ideological dispute as to who should make reproductive health decisions for women. He is again vetoing a series of bills that would make guns and switch-blades more accessible to persons in emergency shelters including children. He vetoed a bill that would have expanded eligibility for concealed handgun permits.
What a difference Gov. Terry McAuliffe has made with his veto pen in keeping some really bad bills from becoming law.
A headline in The New York Times in December 1992 proclaimed that “Virginia Aims to Shed Image as a ‘Handgun Supermarket.”’ The Commonwealth got that reputation when a Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms study found that one of every four guns used in a crime whose origins could be determined had been bought in Virginia stores. In Washington, D.C., one in three traceable guns had been bought in Virginia.
Gov. L. Douglas Wilder was quoted in the news story as saying that “Virginia is the No. 1 source for handguns on the East Coast, and we must stop the trafficking or become known as the ‘Grim Reaper State.'” The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia at the time was reported as saying that, “No other East Coast state has gun laws as lax as Virginia’s laws — not South Carolina, not Georgia, not Florida. Nobody. This has to stop!”
I was in the House of Delegates and supported Gov. Wilder in getting a one-gun-a-month purchasing limitation law passed in 1993. I have been in the House in the period since then and have watched in opposition as the gun supporters passed exemption after exemption to the limitation until in 2012 they repealed the law, with Gov. Robert McDonnell signing the bill to repeal it.
Last week, an Associated Press headline brought back the theme from 1992: “NYC cops thwart gun ring that exploited looser Virginia laws.” Twenty-four people, including 22 from Virginia, were charged in a 627-count indictment for trafficking guns bought in Virginia and sold in New York.
The traffickers were caught on wiretaps. One was quoted by New York authorities as saying, “There’s no limit to how many guns I can go buy from the store. I can go get 20 guns from the store tomorrow. I can do that Monday through Friday. They might start looking at me, but in Virginia, our laws are so little, I can give guns away.”
As we work to build the image of the state to attract business and industry and to break free from an Old South reputation, events like last week bring back references of Virginia being the gun-running capital of the East Coast. The repeal of the one-gun-a-month law is but one example of a series of bills that have been introduced to weaken Virginia’s gun safety laws. There were other bills that nipped away at the few gun safety laws that remain. Fortunately in the last three years and again this year, we have had Gov. Terry McAuliffe to veto these bills.
The influence of the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association and the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is enormous. With few exceptions, the members of the majority party fall in line to support or defeat bills as directed by the gun lobby. My background check bill supported by about three-fourths of voters and the governor cannot get past a subcommittee, where it is continually defeated on a straight party-line vote, four to one. Too bad we have not learned from history!
To better appreciate the debate that goes on about gun laws in Virginia, watch the gun bill debate video.
The best way I can describe the 2017 session of the General Assembly is to call it a mixed bag. Some good work was done for sure, but if not for the governor’s veto pen, it would have been marred by some backward legislation. Most disappointing are the missed opportunities that were not addressed in the 46-day short session.
Although budget matters are supposed to be dealt with only in the long, even-year session, there are budget adjustments that creep into the short session as well. The good news is that the Assembly passed amendments to the biennium budget to bring it back into balance from a $1.2 billion shortfall in revenue. There were reductions, but the governor proposed and the Assembly agreed to keeping 3 percent salary increases for state employees who have been without a raise for many years. Funds were provided for the state share of a 2 percent raise for teachers. Additional funds were provided to deal with the critical needs in mental health care.
Four bills were passed to deal with the opioid epidemic. They established needle exchange programs, increased access to the overdose drug naloxone, increased services to infants exposed to opioids in utero, and strengthened opioid prescription policies. Five million dollars was appropriated for permanent supportive housing for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless because of mental illness. A bill to require insurance companies to cover a 12-month supply of prescription birth control also passed.
Of the bills I opposed, most will be vetoed by the governor. Not only did a committee in the House defeat my bill to require universal background checks for gun purchases, but it passed several bills to make access to guns easier. The Republicans do not have the supermajority that is needed to overturn the governor’s veto of these bills. Likewise, the governor is expected to veto a bill that would prevent localities from becoming “sanctuary” zones. He has already vetoed a bill that would have denied funding to Planned Parenthood, and the House was not able to override his veto.
Despite public support for establishing an independent system to draw legislative boundary lines, my bill and several others with that goal were defeated in a House committee. Bills that passed the Senate on this issue were defeated in the same House committee. The public support for legislation that would prevent legislators from being able to pick their own voters was as strong as I have seen on an issue in recent years.
Beware that a new law passed that creates a fine of $100 for failing to drive on the right side of the road. The intent of this new law is to prevent slow drivers from driving in the left lane. Legislation that would have created a bill of rights for college student loan borrowers did not pass.
Bao Bao Passed Through Reston on Journey Home — The famed panda born at the National Zoo left D.C. for good Tuesday, heading off to live her life in China. She was transported by truck from Washington up the Dulles Toll Road to the airport, where she left on a FedEx 777. [Reston Patch]
SLHS Girls’ Basketball Team Falls in Playoffs — The South Lakes Seahawks girls’ hoops team was defeated Tuesday night in the first round of the 6A North Region championship, falling to T.C. Williams by a score of 51-43. [Alexandria News]
Qur’an Spiritual Retreat Slated for March — The Al-Madina Institute is readying to hold its annual conference, bringing leading scholars to examine both the external and internal dimensions of the Qur’an. The event will be held March 3-5 at the Hyatt Regency (1800 Presidents St.) in Reston. [Al-Madina Institute]
Bills Targeting Student Debt Fail in Richmond — A number of bills designed to help students refinance student loans or increase oversight of lenders have died in the General Assembly. One such bill, which would have created a “Borrower’s Bill of Rights,” was sponsored by Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) of Reston. It failed to advance out of a legislative committee. [Virginia Gazette]
Virginia Marks Washington’s Day — The holiday known as Presidents’ Day in many places around the United States is called George Washington’s Day here in Virginia. Fairfax County is home to Washington’s Mount Vernon, and it offers an explainer for why the name of today’s holiday is different here. [Fairfax County]
League of Women Voters to Host Documentary Screening — “GerryRIGGED: Turning Democracy on Its Head” will be shown at an event jointly hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area and OneVirginia2021: Virginians for Fair Redistricting. Two showings Thursday, at 4:30 and 7 p.m., will each be followed by a question-and-answer session. The event will be at the Fair City Mall in Fairfax. [League of Women Voters]
Local Fan’s Baseball “Free Agency” Subject of New Video — Andrew Volpe, of Reston, has made a short documentary film chronicling his father’s quest to find a new Major League Baseball team to follow. Michael Volpe’s journey in the 1990s was the subject of national news. [Fairfax County Times]
General Assembly Looks to Curtail Opioid Abuse — A number of bills that aim to fight opioid addiction have advanced to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s desk. Among them is a bill that would reduce the amount of pain pills health care professionals can prescribe, and one that would require all opioid prescriptions be handled electronically for monitoring purposes. [Roanoke Times]
Although the “short sessions” of the General Assembly held on the odd-numbered years are about two weeks less in length than the regular session in the even-numbered years because they do not consider a biennium budget, the fact is that the budget is adjusted at every session of the General Assembly.
Revenue projections that are made over a couple of years’ time frame almost always need to be adjusted. Revenues come over or under projections, necessitating corresponding changes to the budget. Recession-level declines like that in 2008 required severe budget reductions. The economic recovery has been slower than in the past, resulting in some tweaking being needed every year. The Commonwealth operates on a balanced budget with funds going into a rainy day fund when economic growth is strong, and the fund being used to smooth out declines from loss of revenue.
The House and Senate approved different versions of a revised budget for the next fiscal year without prolonged debate, which has been a part of these deliberations for many years. The governor presented a revised budget that brought the next year into balance and funded some high-priority items, upon which there was bipartisan agreement. Differences do remain that will be ironed out by a conference committee over the remaining weeks of the session.
Highlights of the budget include important new funding for mental health services. Although the needs in mental health have been recognized for a long time, it took advocates many years and the suicide of a senator’s son to finally get agreement on funding critically needed services. An important aspect of the new services will be to get mentally ill persons out of jails, where they have found themselves in recent years when they acted out and there was no other place for them to go.
State employees will finally be getting a raise after many years of waiting. The situation has become increasingly desperate with a high turnover rate. Teachers who are employed by local school boards will not be getting a direct appropriation for a raise from the state, but hopefully the modest increase to localities can be used in part to fund teacher pay raises that are likewise long overdue.
Although the action in the short session on the budget will get us through the next fiscal year, there are long-term structural issues that remain — particularly in funding education. While the division between state and local funding had historically been 60 to 40 percent, the actual division in recent years has been closer to 40 percent state and 60 percent local. The result has been that increasing costs have fallen on local property taxpayers.
Virginians like to brag about their low per capita state taxes at $2,275, 36th-lowest among the states. Sometimes overlooked is the fact that per capita local taxes in Virginia are $1,928, or 15th-highest among the states. We are going to balance the budget for the short run this session, but we need to do a lot more work about more fairly balancing the budget for the long term.