Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

This past Tuesday, Feb. 5, was crossover at the General Assembly. Crossover is the day that all Senate bills must clear the chamber and move toward consideration by the House of Delegates. Many of the bills the Senate will take on from the HOD will be companion bills to bills we have already seen. The more controversial issues will delineate the differences between the two chambers as well as the fissures within caucuses.

On Sunday, both money committees revealed their spending plans for the amended budget. Both measures must be adopted by their respective chambers before additional work begins. No doubt, there will be a conference committee created to hammer out the differences between the proposals that must produce a balanced budget.

The Senate Finance Committee unanimously adopted its spending plan. It will be taken up by the full committee this week. Highlights of the Senate proposed budget include:

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Funding to secure a long-overdue 5-percent raise for our K-12 teachers; $10 million for school counselors; $15.5 million for undergraduate need-based financial aid; $8 million for the “Tech Talent” initiative to develop a workforce with the right skills and competencies; $4 million for workforce credential grants; Full funding for Medicaid; Additional funding for permanent supportive housing for individuals with serious mental illness; $1.6 million for Naloxone kits for overdose reversal; Evaluation of improved mobility options along the Route 1 corridor; Funding for JLARC to evaluate the impact of gaming expansion in the Commonwealth
Underlying the work in progress is tax policy going forward. As of this writing, no consensus exists between the two Republican majorities in either body. A common thread in this election year, however, is tax relief that mirrors the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Right now, Senate Democrats and Republicans are working toward a consensus position that we can unite on in the upcoming negotiations. In the meantime, the Tax Dept won’t be able to start processing the over 344,000 returns that have already been filed for 2018.

Thousands of educators descended on the Capitol on Jan. 28. They came to represent our children. They came for their colleagues and they came to give voice as retirees. It was impressive to see the streets full of peaceful marchers delivering their message. The people we entrust our children to for most of their waking hours deserve to be able to support themselves and their families. Virginia continues to fall behind in teacher pay and ranks in the lowest third in the country.

I would also like to thank the Fairfax Education Association and the VA Education Association for their endorsements. I have spent many years in the General Assembly advocating for public education and those that make a difference with our kids as they grow into productive and well-skilled providers for their future families.

Quite a few bills that go contrary to gun safety and social issues promoted by the hard right have passed the Senate. I call your attention to a bill that will allow conceal carry in places of worship. SB1502 (Carrico) requires local school boards to offer as an elective in grades nine through 12 with appropriate credits toward graduation, a course on the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament of the Bible or the New Testament of the Bible or a combined course on both.

Metro “Back 2 Good” efforts continue. Safety has always been the top priority for the reform efforts with modernizing and upgrading service for passengers. Cell service is now available in more than half of Metro’s tunnels. 89 percent of all Metrorail rush-hour trips are arriving on time. The bar has been elevated and our delegation continues to monitor the progress. Soon work will begin on the stations leading from Alexandria to the District. This will be an inconvenience for riders but is absolutely necessary. For a deeper look at other aspects of the modernization, visit wmata.com/back2good.

A number of bills have been considered by the Senate that address proposed health insurance reform. Several measures that would increase coverage for contraception and other drugs have been killed in committee. We have been looking at several proposals to address the rising costs of premiums as well as high deductibles. With the current make-up of the General Assembly, there seems to be a stalemate for providing pocketbook relief for Virginians.

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I joined as chief co-patron on SB 1255 — creating the Major Headquarters Workforce Grant Fund. Let me be very clear, any and all grant money awarded to Amazon will come from the taxes it pays to the Commonwealth. There will be a gradual occupation of renovated buildings and hopefully our colleges and universities will do their job and produce the workforce we need to compete for those six figure jobs. I’ve already addressed Metro improvements to the trains and buses. We will soon begin work on other major transportation projects in the region. Virginians should have the opportunity to succeed financially.

I look forward to updating you again as soon as we wrap up Session later this month.

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