The 2019 General Assembly Session wrapped up on Sunday, February 24. While short sessions are always hectic, I am proud of the work I along with my colleagues in the House of Delegates were able to accomplish. Despite the distractions and controversies in the executive branch, the General Assembly was laser-focused on getting our job done in a timely and responsible manner. Thanks to everyone that took the time to visit, call and write about legislation that was of interest to you. I’m glad to be back home in the district and have already started meeting with several constituents and groups.
The 2019 General Assembly Session produced a stark contrast for Virginia. The controversies of the Democratic statewide office holders have led to chaos in the executive branch and Democratic caucuses and embarrassment for our state. On the other hand, the Republican-led General Assembly delivered leadership and results on the issues that matter most.
One of the most significant accomplishments of this short session was the passage of a $1 billion tax relief package that will put money back in the pockets of hardworking Virginia families.
We also passed a number of school safety bills to make our schools safer through threat prevention and additional counseling and mental health resources. I was also pleased to advance legislation that creates an affordable healthcare option for small businesses and self-employed individuals.
The House also defeated a number of extreme measures, chief among them was the bill to expand access to late-term abortion, even up to the moment of birth. We also defeated a Virginia version of the “Green New Deal” that would skyrocket energy costs and harm low income families the most.
While we saw a number of successes this session, there were also some setbacks. How to address the safety and reliability deficiencies on I-81 was one of those. The sentiment from constituents has been clear, we need to get something done on I-81. That’s the mindset that I took to Richmond at the beginning of session and I maintained that position throughout.
In the final days of session we passed House Bill 2718, patroned by Delegate Steve Landes. This bill creates the I-81 Corridor Improvement Fund and the I-81 Committee. Unfortunately, it did not include a funding mechanism to allow us to start making the necessary improvements now. This is certainly not what I was hoping for. Nonetheless, this legislation will ensure the issue does not go away. Hopefully the public input gained through the committee and will create a stronger position heading into next year, so we can obtain the votes necessary to pass a dedicated funding mechanism.
From the beginning I felt any final plan should not place an undue burden on any particular industry sector, and everyone should have a little skin in the game. I expressed these thoughts through countless discussions with the bill patrons and others directly involved in the negotiations.
The funding mechanisms considered near the end of the legislative process involving higher taxes on diesel and higher truck registration fees would have been a significant fiscal impact on my personal family business. However, I was fully prepared to vote in support of that plan because, while far from ideal, I felt that was in the overall best interest of 26th District citizens and the Commonwealth. There is already a cost to the safety and reliability issues that plague I-81 – be it lost time spent with family, or goods that do not get delivered on time, much less the lives lost and injuries that directly or indirectly can be tied to this deficient highway.
Moving forward, it is my strong hope that stakeholders, with significant public input, can reach a consensus that allows us to move forward with the necessary funding mechanism next year.
As our final action before leaving Richmond, we passed a balanced budget as our constitution requires, without raising taxes on Virginians. The final conference report approved Sunday still makes some necessary targeted investments in core services. Included in these investments is sizable support for public education. We adopted increases to support the state share of a 5% teacher pay raise. This is the fourth teacher pay raise in six years. There is also $85.7 million in new additional funding for K-12 education. Included in this is targeted investments to our “at risk” programs for schools with a high minority or low-income population. For higher education the budget includes $57 million to “freeze” tuition at our public colleges, as well as additional support for TAG grants, the Workforce Credential Grant Program, and need based financial aid.
The budget also invests $19 million total to deploy broadband in unserved areas, attempting to meet a critical need in our rural communities. We also boosted reserves in our state savings accounts and maintained longstanding language that prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions.
View the full budget by visiting budget.lis.virginia.gov