The 2018 session of the Virginia General Assembly commences at noon on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. After the wave election last November, it appears that the partisan composition in the House will stand at 49 Democrats and 51 Republicans, numbers that many of us hoped for, but few would have predicted last summer. Picking up 15 new seats was an incredible and unprecedented feat, and its significance has not diminished even with the disappointments of the last few days. Not only are our very talented new Delegates entering the chamber this week, but dedicated candidates such as Josh Cole, Donte Tanner, and Shelly Simonds, who came so close and fought for every vote until the end, are to be commended. We expect these and others who ran strong campaigns to be back competing in the next election.
There has been much attention given to recounts and court cases, but on January 10 we put campaigns behind us and will reorganize and start working on the business of governance, the people’s business. There are many issues coming before us, not the least of which will be the two-year budget. In Virginia, the outgoing Governor proposes a budget at the end of his term, and Gov. McAuliffe has continued his focus on building a new Virginia economy and investing properly in education, health care, and job creation. His four-year record has been unparalleled: more than 207,000 jobs created, almost $20 billion in new capital investment, and an unemployment rate among the lowest in the nation. He was just chosen by Governing Magazine as the Best Governor in the nation.
The Governor’s proposed budget fully funds what is called “the re-benchmarking for the standards of quality” in education. Every two years, an analysis is done to determine what additional monies have to be invested to keep our K-12 education system running in light of inflationary pressures. This year, those additional monies total $432 million, one of the largest increases in appropriations within the budget. While this new money does not totally fund education, it would represent a good downpayment of state resources, which are then coupled with local resources to build local education budgets. I will fully support that initiative. Other educational initiatives include monies for higher education maintenance reserves, especially at schools like George Mason University. Unfortunately, the University of Virginia has not made out as well as other institutions of higher learning in this proposed budget, and I will be advocating for more money for U.Va. throughout the session.
The budget also includes Medicaid Expansion, an initiative that Gov. McAuliffe and Democrats in the legislature have pushed for the entire McAuliffe term without success. With the new composition of the House, we think we have a real chance at expanding Medicaid. This would return millions of taxpayer dollars to Virginia to help almost 400,000 Virginians receive access to adequate health care. The Governor also included $17.6 million in new money to combat the opioid epidemic, as well as adding almost $3 million in additional money for mental health.
New Bills of Interest to Our Community
Bills are now being introduced for immediate consideration in January. I will be filing several bills that are of local interest. They include the following:
- A bill that will allow the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County to be added to the list of jurisdictions that can regulate loaded firearms in public places.
- A bill that would give localities control over monuments in their public spaces.
- A bill that will require any insurance company taking advantage of state reimbursements in the Medicaid-managed care area to offer an insurance product throughout the entire state. This will allow Charlottesville to have a competitor to Optima Health. As many of you know, our insurance rates have risen faster than any other place in the United States, partly because of the lack of competition in our area. My bill would increase competition and hopefully lower rates.
- A bill to enhance energy storage technology, particularly in the area of battery storage related to solar energy generation.
- A bill that will enhance the use of Power Purchase Agreements for the solar industry to further expand our initiatives in Virginia.
- A bill that will establish paid family leave.
- A bill to increase the minimum wage.
After the session convenes, I will have a more detailed list of the bills I am proposing or supporting.
Your Opinion is Important
Please watch for a survey that will land in your mailbox in the next week or so requesting your input about the important issues to you in this General Assembly session. If you do not receive a survey in the mail, you can go to my website and use the online survey, which should be available at the end of this week, to express your views. Your views are important to me. It helps inform how I vote and how I argue for different positions. Please let me know what you think.
It is a pleasure representing you in the General Assembly. I hope you will watch our work online or visit with us by coming to Richmond in January, February, and early March. This year the GA offices have been moved to Main Street in the Pocahontas Building.