We are now looking at the 2016 session of the General Assembly through the rear view mirror. In a couple of weeks we will go back to the state house for the Reconvene Session, also known as the Veto Session. I’ve been an elected official for a number of years, and this year, once again, proved to be another interesting and challenging 60 days of rapid-fire legislating.
The biggest by-product from this year’s session is a new biennial budget. And without a doubt, this is the best biennial budget we have seen in some time. Growing revenues allowed legislators to make critical investments in our workforce, public education and higher education. Across the Commonwealth, there is an increase of $892.3 million in direct aid to public schools. For Northern Virginia, $34.4 million was inserted to restore the Cost of Competing Adjustment for support positions. There is money for a 2 percent salary increase for teachers in the first year of the biennium.
On a positive note for our students, undergraduate financial aid was increased by $48.2 million along with an additional $7.5 million in graduate financial aid. Workforce development and certification captured all of our attention as we look to provide the talent pool for the future. STEM education and serious investments in Cyber Security dominate academia.
Economic development and diversification continues to be a measurable ROI for every corner of the Commonwealth. GO Virginia is the newly created entity for regional collaboration with emphasis on research, development and commercialization. Close to home we will see the newly launched INOVA Center for Personalized Health and George Mason University benefit from these funds. I applaud the efforts of the Governor – a tireless advocate for his hard work to retool, renew and diversify Virginia’s economic engine. When jobs and a skilled workforce come together, people are productive and able to take care of their needs and wants. Virginia is a great place to do business, raise a family and succeed. See www.dicksaslaw.com for more details of the budget.
As for legislation that was less than in the best interest of the people, the Governor continues to use his veto pen to put a stop to some pretty harsh laws that were passed by the Republicans flexing their majority muscle in the Senate. Virginia has a long and disgraceful history of discrimination. To pass a law allowing discrimination against gender under the veil of religious objections, is a throw back to the racial issues long settled by the Courts. The veto list is long and continues to grow. I will lead the fight to sustain every one of the vetoes come April 20. Visit www.dicksaslaw.com for a complete listing of the vetoes issued by the Governor.
During the waning hours of the General Assembly we witnessed the ugliest acts of political gamesmanship (again as a result of Republic majority muscle) when a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court was removed from the bench. Justice Jane Roush served in the lower court for over 2 decades and presided over the sniper trial of Lee Boyd Malvo. Her credentials were superior and she received support from across the Commonwealth for her appointment. The media covered this story extensively since late summer. There is little I can add to it. Most of us take the appointment of the judiciary very seriously – as we should. In my opinion, this was a miscarriage of justice on many fronts.
Another less than stellar event took place in the first hours after the gavel fell in January and I would be remiss not to mention it here. The backstory is long, but the bottom line is the press was expelled from their tables on the floor in the Senate Chamber. While it took weeks to resolve the matter, they were reinstated in a very confined workspace that was a throw back to the classroom of the 1950’s. Government should be open and citizens deserve the right to know what is happening in their statehouse.
I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the 35th Senate District. Thank you for your continued advocacy on so many issues that have come before us at the General Assembly.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at email@example.com.