The 2019 General Assembly session is officially over! We adjourned last week after a very busy 47 days. Despite the distractions taking place elsewhere on Capitol Square, the General Assembly was focused on getting our job done in a timely and responsible manner.
The controversies of the statewide office holders led to turmoil, protests, and embarrassment for our state. On the other hand, the General Assembly was not distracted by the scandals that rocked the Commonwealth. We passed a state budget, cut taxes, and passed numerous other bills which have been sent to the Governor for his review and action. He may sign, amend, or veto the legislation.
We will reconvene in April to deal with any amendments and vetoes by the Governor.
In order to get the budget balanced, we had to cut over $1 billion in new spending proposed by Governor Northam and the Democrats. The budget includes no tax or fee increases. $120 million in healthcare savings are included in the budget as a result of lower than expected Medicaid costs and updated forecasting language.
It includes funding for a five percent teacher pay raise and $85.7 million in new funding for K-12 education. This is the fourth state teacher pay raise in six years. The budget also makes targeted investments in our at-risk student programs.
School safety was a major priority for the General Assembly this year and the budget includes approximately $12 million in funding for school resource officers, infrastructure, and other initiatives designed to keep our students safe in schools.
In the higher education field, the budget included $57 million to freeze tuition at our colleges and universities, and increased funding for financial aid by $16 million. Virginia has the nationâ€™s best higher education system, but we must continually strive to ensure the it is affordable.
The state budget also includes a three percent pay raise for state employees.
Finally, the budget includes longstanding language that restricts taxpayer funding of abortions.
You can view the full budget by visiting budget.lis.virginia.gov.
Changes to the Federal tax code last year required changes to the state tax code to refund an unintended increase in many Virginians’ state tax bills. We passed House Bill (HB) 2529 and Senate Bill (SB) 1372 to provide a $1 billion tax relief package. These bills were passed with an emergency clause and have already been signed by the Governor, so they have already been incorporated into the state tax code.
This is a compromise that will provide $420 million in tax refunds to Virginia taxpayers in October of 2019. This means individuals will receive a refund of up to $110 and couples up to $220. The plan also increased the standard deduction by fifty percent beginning in tax year 2019. It maintains the current rules for state and local taxes (SALT), so homeowners are not hit with an unexpected tax increase at the state level. Also included are key business tax provisions for Virginia’s job creators.
The total package will guarantee at least $976 million in tax relief, or on average about $400 for every family in the Commonwealth.
Below is some of the legislation I sponsored or co-sponsored this year that passed. The bills have been sent to the Governor for his review and action.
House Joint Resolution (HJ) 581 / Senate Joint Resolution (SJ) 276 Interstate 95 Corridor Improvement Plan; tasks the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to develop a strategic plan to improve I-95 from Thornburg to the Springfield Interchange. Currently, the CTB and VDOT have no plans to make significant improvements along the entire corridor. They only have plans to make spot improvements at certain interchanges, such as the Rappahannock River Crossing now under construction, which will help, but a corridor wide improvement plan is needed.
HJ 615 A Constitutional amendment that requires the establishment of an independent redistricting commissions to draw districts during the next redistricting in 2021 in order to reduce partisan influences. Since it is a proposed amendment to Virginia’s Constitution, it must pass again next year and then be approved by the voters before it becomes effective.
HJ 591 Constitutional amendment that authorizes the General Assembly to make technical adjustments to districts to reduce the number of split precincts. Split precincts cause confusion among voters and elections officials, as well as increasing the costs of conducting elections.
HB 1620 Reforms the State Board of Elections and the Department of Elections to reduce partisan political influence.
HB 1614 / SB 1248 Allows localities to establish a grant fund to help fix stormwater management systems that are failing and impacting neighborhoods.
HB 1623 Would make enrolling in school easier for military families relocating to the Commonwealth.
HB 1656 Allows private or religious schools to hire former law enforcement officers as armed security officers. This is something that public schools have been able to do for the last few years.
HB 1734 Requires the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety to develop a case management tool for use by public elementary and secondary school threat assessment teams to help identify potential threats to school safety and areas school security can be improved.
HB 2270 Requires that the sheriff, jail superintendent, or other official in charge of a local correctional facility or a regional jail in which an alien is incarcerated to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the release of the alien as soon as the release date is known.
HB 2278 Automatically expunges conviction records of someone who was given an absolute pardon because they were found to be innocent. Currently, someone who has been found to have been wrongfully convicted of a crime they did not commit must hire a lawyer and petition the court to expunge their record.
HB 2694 Allows members of HOAs to request HOA notices by e-mail instead of physical mail, reducing the costs for notification.