The 2015 General Assembly will continue to grapple with Virginia's large budget shortfall. We are still struggling to fund essential programs and have not yet reached pre-recession funding levels for most state programs. Public expectations are high but our revenues are not keeping up.
As summer 2015 ends, I want to give you an update on my activities as your Senator. It has been a somewhat unusual few months, so I will divide the report into "personal", "professional", and "political" sections.
We are now in our second week of the 2015 General Assembly session and we are rapidly working our way through 2,169 pieces of legislation. The days are long as we struggle to attend all full committee and subcommittee meetings at the same time we present our own bills and meet with constituents. Sometimes we are expected in three or four places at once!
Emotions ran high this week as Senate committees dealt with many of the most controversial measures. We voted on hot button issues ranging from gun safety, abortion rights, discrimination against GLBT Virginians, "King's Dominion" law, and medical marijuana for children with acute epilepsy.
Today, Sunday February 8, is a big day in Richmond. At noon the Senate Finance Committee announced its proposed budget; at one the House announced its budget. The announcements were attended by large crowds of advocates and lobbyists, as well as legislators and their staffs. As a member of the Finance Committee, I can see from the dais the reactions on the faces of onlookers as they figure out if their priorities were funded. Because our state revenues have not risen enough to meet all documented needs, there were many disappointed faces.
Valentine's Day has become a really big deal in the State Capitol. It started innocently enough with the Senate Clerk, Susan Schaar, spontaneously giving daily reminders to the Senators about how many shopping days were left until Valentine's Day and admonishing us not to forget our loved ones.
Then a woman Delegate decided to have a kissing booth outside her office to raise money for heart research. Before you knew it, virtually every receptionist's desk became a Valentine display. Legislators started giving each other and staff Valentines and candy.
The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for many parts of the Commonwealth including the 32nd District area of Fairfax County. While I am down in Richmond for week 6 of the General Assembly Session, I want to provide you with important numbers and websites in case of an emergency.
One important website to be aware of is the Fairfax County Emergency Information website which provides constant updates on the weather forecast and conditions. That website can be found here. Additionally, VDOT has winter travel tips and information here. The SnowPlow tracker at this site will show where plows have been and where they are going.
As I write this, it is late Sunday evening and we budget conferees have been negotiating for a week. It is our job to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the biennial budget. We hope to finish up by Tuesday.
This is my eighth year as a conferee and I thought you would be interested in some observations. I am pledged not to reveal any decisions until we are finished. Often things we thought were resolved come unglued and are changed at the last minute.
Wednesday, January 13, will be a momentous day for the General Assembly. We will convene for the 60-day 2016 session, be sworn into office, welcome seven new Senators and eleven new Delegates, adopt rules for each chamber, learn our committee assignments, and continue introducing bills and budget amendments. Hopefully, the session will be collegial and productive. I will do my best to set a positive tone. In divided government we must work together to accomplish anything for the people of Virginia.
These days I feel like the old lady in the nursery rhyme who "had so many children she didn't know what to do!" Each of my bills and budget amendments has a life of its own in the General Assembly and just keeping track of them is a challenge. I want each to thrive and make it through the legislative process -- but that is a difficult and lofty goal.
As you may remember from a recent e-newsletter, a major compromise has been reached on the I-66 transmodal project. Design Public Hearings had been scheduled in January and February but were not held due to inclement weather. Those hearings have now been scheduled for the following dates and locations:
(All hearing times are 6-8 pm. A brief presentation begins at 6:30 p.m.)
Monday, March 7, 2016
Washington-Lee High School Cafeteria
1301 N. Stafford Street, Arlington, VA 22201
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
As we approach the end of the 2016 session , I want to report to you on both the final budget and the selection of a Supreme Court justice. The budget is something I am proud to be associated with. The Supreme Court debacle is a disgrace.
This week the General Assembly started its 60 day session. And, as, usual, the pace was quick. We will have to pass the biennial state budget, which will be more than $109 billion. We will undoubtedly consider over 1500 bills and resolutions. And we will have countless briefings on issues facing Virginia.