We have reached the end of the 2015 General Assembly session. We are scheduled to adjourn Sine die tomorrow, February 28, and we expect to do so on time if not sooner.
This session I believe both parties are to be commended for striking a bipartisan tone and getting the job done. We have worked to provide our school systems more flexibility to educate our children, adopted efforts to make our campuses and communities safer, and continued to only advance policies that foster an environment for job creation and business growth.
Yesterday, both chambers passed the budget conference report. Completing work on the budget early is certainly a rarity, but due to the cooperation between the Republican led House and Senate we were able to accomplish this task. This is in stark contrast to the way things are done in Washington.
This was a budget that I was pleased to support. Since the House and Senate budget were relatively similar to begin with, most of what the House had adopted remained in the final conference report.
While I don’t want to rehash what we already discussed, I do want to provide a few additional updates that are worth noting.
First and foremost, the budget remains a conservative and structurally sound budget. It pre-pays $129.5 million for the 2017 rainy-day fund deposit, restoring the balance to roughly $429 million. The budget does not raise taxes on hardworking citizens, nor does it raise fees as originally proposed by the Governor. The budget did, however, retain the additional compensation for our state employees, providing a 2% pay raise. Additional funding was also included to continue to address compression issues with our salary structure to ensure new hires are not making more than veteran employees with the same job.
This budget is also good for local governments. It restores the $30 million in funding cuts adopted by the supplemental budget to address the shortfall. It also offers a 2% pay raise for state-supported local employees, as well as the state portion of a 1.5% pay raise for our teachers. This is the second raise offered for our teachers in the last three years. As mentioned previously, the budget deposits $193 million into the teacher retirement fund to ensure solvency and save our localities over $30 million in anticipated costs.
Finally, this budget offers additional support for our most vulnerable citizens, especially in the area of mental health. This includes funding for targeted services to roughly 22,000 seriously mentally-ill patients, including a prescription drug benefit. New support is also provided for children’s psychiatry and crisis services as well as six new drop-off centers for crisis intervention services. In addition, the budget provides a total of $9 million for housing and homelessness, with a portion of this funding targeted specifically for rapid rehousing efforts for our veterans.
Now that the budget is complete, it will be sent to the Governor for his consideration. We will return to Richmond in April to address any amendments the Governor may offer to the budget.
My Legislation I was pleased to have five bills pass this session that I chief-patroned, along with 19 bills I co-patroned. Among the bills I carried, HB 1698, HB 1699, HB 1700, HB 1701 and HB 2314 have all received final approval in the General Assembly and will be sent to Governor McAuliffe to sign into law. To view the list of the legislation I co-patroned, please click here.
Thanks to everyone that participated in my legislative survey this year! The General Assembly addressed many of the issues on which I had requested your input. I certainly considered your thoughts when casting my vote. To view the survey results online, please click here.
A Special Thank You
I just wanted to take a moment to thank our intern this session, Micah Smith. Micah is a James Madison University student that made the trip to Richmond every week to help out in our office. He was a great worker that I know has a bright future ahead. He contributed significantly to the work of our office, and helped to ensure all business was handled in a prompt and professional manner.
Even though we are finishing up in Richmond, I still had a good many visitors stop by my office since my last update. Lisa Hensley and Melinda See came to discuss animal related legislation that they felt passionately about. A large contingent of JMU students came to the Capitol last Wednesday. This included member of the Student Government Association, as well as students in Dr. Lili Peaslee’s Public Policy Senior Seminar Course and former Delegate (Professor) Pete Giesen’s Virginia Politics class. That night it was great to join the entire group at the JMU Alumni Dinner. It was certainly a group of intelligent and motivated students. I also met with EMU Social Work students last week to discuss various legislation that they had an interest in.
Yesterday, in between floor sessions, I had the privilege to attend a swearing in ceremony at the Capitol for a class of Conservation Police Officers. Among the class was a local officer, Justin Chambers. I commend Justin for his commitment to serve the Commonwealth!
Since our schedule is so unpredictable in the final days of session, unfortunately I missed personally meeting with several folks. However, Chad was able to speak with a large group of Rockingham 4-H’ers and our Extension Agent, Dara Booher. He also met with Tim Jibson on behalf of the State Employees Association.
Thanks to everyone that came to Richmond this year!