Newman News from the Capitol Week Seven

The 2017 General Assembly Session concluded on time and in an atmosphere of optimism. Cooler heads prevailed during what could have become a very contentious session. The days were long with little time for anything but attending session on the floor of the Senate, committee meetings and budget conferee negotiations. 
Considering what’s been accomplished this year, there is ample reason for optimism. When session began, Virginia was facing a $1.2 billion shortfall. Governor McAuliffe’s package of budget amendments failed to address a critical retention problem for the State Police, an unfulfilled pay raise for classified state employees, and much-needed salary increases for public school teachers. His plan included higher fees and cuts to economic development programs. In the end, there were no tax or fee increases on hardworking Virginians. The budget does not include Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. Instead, we continue working to strengthen the healthcare safety net.
What a difference 46 days makes. The General Assembly approved a fiscally conservative package of budget amendments. Gone are the Governor’s proposed higher fees. Instead, funding was prioritized, placing an emphasis on the core services of government and actual needs. So, the budget plan approved by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate – with bi-partisan support – raised the base pay of State Police to address the retention problem. Classified state employees and public school teachers will receive a pay increase. Additional funding was added to bring compensation for Sheriffs’ Deputies.
The budget also restores one-quarter of the Governor’s proposed cuts to higher education totaling $20 million. This investment will hold down tuition costs for Virginia families. In addition, we added over $18 million in new funding for K-12. Our budget also gives local school divisions added flexibility to spend the funds.
And, economic development will not face the severe cuts proposed by the Governor. However, there will be strategic investments in economic development with requirements for additional oversight to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
There was progress on other fronts too. The General Assembly approved a package of bills to address the opioid addiction crisis and took essential steps towards remedying the mess at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. In all, the House and Senate have sent around 800 bills to the Governor’s desk for his consideration. On April 5, well into springtime, we will be reconvening to consider his proposed amendments to all the bills passed, including the budget. 
The final days of the General Assembly usually involve long sessions, as the House and Senate work on reconciling differences in legislation. In order to send a bill to the Governor, House and Senate versions must be identical. To resolve differences, a conference committee of three delegates and three senators meet to work out differences. When they reach an agreement, both chambers must approve the bill in its final form.
As you may have read, the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, William Howell announced his retirement this year. His statesmanship and Christian faith have been an example to all who have served with him. I wish him all the best in his well-deserved retirement.
That’s all the news from the 2017 session of the Virginia General Assembly. We’ll be back in five weeks for a single-day session to consider the Governor’s actions on bills.
With the session over, we’re back home in our district offices. I want to thank you for taking the time to read the newsletters. It is an honor to represent the citizens of the 23rd District in the Senate of Virginia. I am truly grateful for this opportunity to serve.

Newman News from the Capitol Week Six

Things have been exceptionally busy this year in the General Assembly session. as the record number of visitors to the Capitol continued this year. I am encouraged to see so many folks showing an interest in the legislative process because it reinforces the fact that we truly represent you.
Many of you may not be aware that the building which houses our offices won’t be here next year. The General Assembly Building will be demolished to make way for a new structure, which will not be completed for several years. After forty years of service as the location for lawmakers’ offices during session and meeting rooms for General Assembly committees, the structure is coming down.
The GAB, as it is known, is not actually a single building. It is four buildings merged into one, all of which were built in different eras dating back to the Taft Administration. Unfortunately, the building representing the largest share of office space, formerly the Life of Virginia Building, was built during an era when asbestos was a preferred insulator, and windows are non-operable meaning the air is conditioned and re-circulated breathing the same air for many years. It does not provide a healthy atmosphere. With myriad problems related to the operation of four different buildings merged into one, it was only a matter of time before this building met its end.
Starting next session, we will set up temporary offices in the Pocahontas Building, which is directly across the street from the Capitol’s Bank Street entrance. The Pocahontas Building previously housed the Attorney General’s Office and the Virginia Lottery. Since this is a temporary move, a lot of accommodations will likely have to be made. Between now and next January, the temporary building will be modified to ensure that you can visit us during sessions.
Eventually, there will be a new, permanent General Assembly Building on the same site where the current one is located. It will stand ready to accommodate lawmakers and visitors from across Virginia for decades of sessions to come. 
The state budget is coming together this week. We are committed to requiring state government to live within its means. This means no tax increases and forcing a balanced budget. We have cut over $1.2 Billion to make this happen. We have made core services our top priority including our sheriffs, state police and our teachers. 
This year my office nominated Abigail Rice for the Senate Page Leadership Program. She really enjoyed the program and has learned invaluable lessons from seeing Virginia’s government and the legislative process up close. We are very proud of her.
Committees were busy finishing up their work considering legislation, as we enter into the final week of the 2017 session. I am pleased that my bills have fared very well and the following legislation has already passed the House of Delegates and is on its way to the Governor’s desk. SB 1364 Property and bulk property carriers; regulation, allows transportation companies to deliver food and other products within a specfic guidelines. We have pressed for a bill to protect the residents of CVTC and we have passed our bill on new workforce credentialing which was begun by Delegate Kathy Byron. Our SB 1417 will bring deliberate planning and opportunities to our commonwealth airports and we have given our local treasurer’s offices more tools with the passage of my SB 1416. SB 1551 passed that will help ensure we have enough ballots at the polls for each voter who comes to cast their ballot. That was not the case in recent Election Day voting. 
Perhaps the flow of visitors to Capitol Square continued this week so they could take in their final glimpses of the General Assembly Building before it becomes a pile of rubble on the corner of 9th and Broad Streets. We talked with folks from Healthy Families and other children’s advocacy groups and several colleges from our district as well as several individuals from Botetourt County, Bedford County, and Campbell County.
In next week’s column, I’ll recap the final days of the 2017 session, including details on the final package of amendments to the 2016-2018 Biennial Budget. Until then, I hope you have a great week.

Newman News from the Capitol Week Five

As you have heard me express before, I am very proud to be a part of the Senate of Virginia. But I am particularly proud this session for the way the Senate addressed compensation for State employees who have been overlooked for too long. 
The Senate plan addressed compensation very differently than the plan announced by Governor McAuliffe in his State of the Commonwealth Address. By prioritizing spending and finding savings, we were able to replace the Governor’s proposed bonuses with actual salary increases.
The Senate’s proposed budget amendments focused on core services and critical needs. Despite having to close a $1.2 billion revenue shortfall, the plan avoids across-the-board reductions for our public schools. It significantly increases funding for mental health initiatives and preserves safety net programs.
One area the plan addresses – and sets as a priority – is compensation for our State Police. Inadequate compensation has resulted in the Virginia State Police having difficulty recruiting and retaining new officers. The Senate plan raises starting salary for State Police from $36,207 to $43,000, providing across-the-board increases for these critical law enforcement professionals.
The plan also includes my budget amendment providing the state’s share for a 2% salary increase for our public school teachers. Classified state employees (which legislators are not) will receive a 3% pay increase, too.
Economic development initiatives are also prioritized in the Senate plan. It restores half of the funds to the GO Virginia economic development initiative that Governor McAuliffe cut in his plan.
The Senate plan has already earned strong bi-partisan support. Every senator voted for it on Thursday, both Republican and Democrat.
Tuesday was “crossover”, whereby the House and Senate completed work on all bills filed by their respective members and forwarded the successful bills to the other chamber for their consideration. The House sent 586 bills to the Senate and we sent 468 to the House.
From this point forward, each chamber will spend its time considering only legislation from the other side of the Capitol. Of the hundreds of bills exchanged, one will proceed through a slightly more intense gauntlet than others. The House and Senate versions of amendments to the 2016-2018 Budget must be merged into a single bill on which both sides can reach agreement.
Since we are considering amendments to an existing budget, the process should go smoothly. But, the budget bill is the largest single piece of legislation considered in each session. That means there are a lot of details on which agreement must be reached.
The Senate budget plan includes some budget amendments I introduced. The 2% permanent raise for public school teachers is a highlight. I also have a budget amendment seeking to protect our most fragile citizens and keep the Central Virginia Training Center open. 
Now that crossover has passed, all of my bills are now being considered by the House of Delegates. Hopefully they will receive the same recognition as they received in the Senate. 
This session may very well be remembered, not only for the bills approved, but for the volume of visitors to the Capitol. Visitors from home continued to join us this week, including the Lynchburg and Roanoke Realtors Association, Mr. Jordan Labiosa, New Castle Town Council member and students from the new Physician's Assistants Program at Lynchburg College. 
There are still two weeks left before we’re scheduled to adjourn. If you’ll be in Richmond before we head home, please stop by our offices in Room 621 of the General Assembly Building.
These final two weeks are going to be fast-paced. I’ll provide more on the session’s progress in next week’s column. Until then, have a great week.

Newman News from the Capitol Week Four

Well, we’re halfway through this 2017 General Assembly session. Tuesday marks crossover, the day when each chamber must complete work on the bills filed by its members.  With one notable exception, the Senate must have either approved or rejected every bill filed by a senator and the House must have done the same with every bill filed by a delegate.

Although the Senate and House will have completed work on the bills filed by their members, they now consider the bills that were approved by the other chamber.  From crossover until the end of session, the House will only be considering bills approved by the Senate while the Senate considers bill approved by the House. The one notable exception is the bill that amends the state budget.  The House and Senate versions of the budget are approved on a separate day, which this year falls on February 16.

I am very pleased with the Senate budget that was released this past Sunday.  We once again required our state government to live within its means.  To this end we did not approve any tax increases on the backs of working Virginians.  While we did cut over $1.2 Billion from the budget we did it in a thoughtful way.  As a matter of fact, we cut more than the required amount so that we could make way for a small, but much needed pay raise for our teachers and those that perform the core functions of state governments.  Many of these men and women have not seen a raise sense the beginning of the great recession.  I will have much more about our budget in my next report as the current draft must be approved by the entire Senate on Thursday of this week. 
 
This is all part of the winnowing process that allows the General Assembly to successfully consider the nearly 2,500 bills and resolutions filed by the members this year.  That high number of legislation requires an efficient system to complete the work within the time allowed under the Constitution of Virginia.  The schedule, hectic but orderly, often looks like organized chaos to the casual observer.  But, bill after bill is given a respectful hearing, presented by the legislators who submit them.

The committee I chair in the Virginia Senate, Education and Health, has completed all our work nearly a week before crossover and I have asked our staff to begin hearing House bills this Thursday. These are the busiest days of the legislative session, with lots of committee meetings and longer floor sessions to handle the volume of bills.  

The Senate completed its action on some of the bills that I sponsored this session:  SB 1099 clarifies the difference between SOL State standards and locally developed standards for our schools.  SB 1098 simplifies the standard of accreditation for our schools.  SB 1100 passed to improve our workforce readiness, along with SB 1417 to assist our local airports and the funds that are available to them.  SB 1414 provides that home-educated students are able to sit for Advanced Placement (AP) and Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) exams in their local public school.  I will have a full list of my bills in the coming weeks.

As I mentioned last week, record numbers of visitors continue to visit this year’s session. We enjoy welcoming folks from Bedford, Botetourt, Campbell, Craig, and Lynchburg to the Capitol.

There are just three weeks left before this session ends.  If you’ll be in Richmond between now and then, please stop by our offices in Room 621 of the General Assembly Building.

In next week’s column, I’ll share details of the Senate’s proposal to amend the 2016-2018 Biennial Budget, as well as an update on the continued progress of legislation. Until then, I hope you’ll have a great week. 

Newman News from the Capitol Week Three

This has been a very busy week in Richmond. We’ve been setting some unusual and surprising records this session. The number of visitors to the General Assembly Building, where all our offices are located and where most of the committee hearings are held, has reached numbers not seen in nearly 30 years.

On Monday, 4,858 people entered the General Assembly Building and 4,942 on Tuesday. Lines waiting to get through building security reached far into Capitol Square. These record numbers are coming as somewhat of a surprise during what has been a busy legislative year. Those working their way through the floors (with six packed and overwhelmed elevators) are not here protesting, but most often just visiting and hearing from their lawmakers.

The Constitution of Virginia places the responsibility of approving a budget with the General Assembly. Of all the legislation considered during each session, the budget customarily receives the most attention, even in years like this one where we are amending a two-year budget that is already in place.

The budget process is intricate, but straightforward. The House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committees work separately to come up with their proposals. Delegates approve the House plan and Senators approve the Senate plan. Then, the differences between the two proposals are ironed out and a final single spending plan approved by both chambers and sent to the Governor.

On one important budget issue, things have progressed a little differently this year. Legislators in both chambers identified the need to address compensation issues, particularly for the Virginia State Police. We’ve been facing real challenges retaining our state troopers because their pay has not kept pace with other law enforcement professionals.

This week, the Chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees announced they had already reached an agreement to address the compensation issue – two weeks before the budget plans of the House and Senate are unveiled. The package includes a substantial, pay raise for State Police and Sheriff deputies, and a 3% raise for other state employees. I have expressed support for our Constitutional officers and our teachers as well.

How was an agreement on a portion of the budget reached before the respective plans were unveiled? Legislators have been working together since before the session began to address a problem that Republican legislators set as a priority.

The details of the budget proposals will be announced on February 5. I’ll have more complete information on the Senate’s plan right after we approve it later that week.

My legislation is progressing nicely through the session, as I continue to present and explain my bills. Because of the concerns raised by a locality running out of ballots for a special election, SB 1552 will provide other guidelines for each locality to follow to ensure enough ballots are available. SB 1366 removes the requirement that a transportation network company partner – such as Uber or Lyft to register his personal vehicle for use as a TNC partner vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles. And, SB1101 allows transportation network companies two fee options when applying for an original or renewal of a certificate.

We were pleased to welcome from the 23rd Senate District a number of folks who stopped by to share their interest in certain legislation, and many stopped by to just say hello and say thanks. In additions to many home-schooled students, 4H members, and Virginians for the Arts, we met with Becky, Andy,David, Beth, Sam, and Tom from Bedford County; Katherine, Nicole, and Rebecca from Liberty ; and Steve from Lynchburg.

If you are planning to join the throngs making Virginia’s Capitol the “in” place this winter, please remember to stop by our offices in Room 621 of the General Assembly Building. Bear in mind that the more you carry in, the more time checking through security.

We’re getting close to crossover, the midway point of the legislative session. Next week, I’ll have more information on the progress of legislation. Until then, have a great week.

Newman News from the Capitol Week Two

Most of the nation’s attention became focused on the inauguration of our 45th President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. I congratulate our new president and stand ready to work with him as he attempts to force our national leaders to live within their means and reverse some of the worst job killing regulation in our nation’s history. We hope the President will keep his promise to repeal Obamacare that has led to massive increases in the cost of healthcare while reducing options for our citizens. We also support his effort to rebuild our military and put radical Muslim terrorists on notice that have grown in strength over the past six years.

In most years, activities in Washington wouldn’t loom as large over Richmond as they do this year. The election of Donald Trump, however, indicates a change in policy as significant as it was eight years ago when Barack Obama took office. Even before he took the oath of office, the anticipated change in federal policy could be seen in Richmond.

Meanwhile, one hundred miles to the south of D.C., things were very busy at the Virginia Capitol in Richmond. With this session limited to forty-six days and over 2,000 bills and resolutions to consider, getting down to work is a necessity.

Governor McAuliffe certainly recognized the change when he rolled out his proposed budget in December. For the first three years of his administration, he insisted Virginia fully implement Obamacare by adopting its Medicaid expansion plan. For all three years, the General Assembly rejected the plan. Virginia is now so fortunate that we did not increase the welfare rolls by over 400,000, nearly a quarter of which would have been non- United States citizens. Now it appears that if we had dramatically increased the welfare rolls, it would have cost Virginia billions in the future.

This year, Governor McAuliffe did not place the funding for Medicaid expansion in his budget although he did ask for the authority to unilaterally expand the program, something he undoubtedly knows has no chance of being approved. What was different this year? The incoming Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress have pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare. And now, those states that adopted the costly program are facing the grim potential it may not continue in its current form.

In Richmond, committees spent the week working and considering bills. The House and Senate have until February 6 – a little over two weeks from now – to complete work on bills filed by their respective members. That means the pace can seem breakneck at times, especially during “short” sessions. Many of my own bills have been assigned to Senate Committees for consideration, and I began presenting them to my colleagues this week.

We had quite a few visitors from the 23th District pay us a visit this week. Charles Kolokowski, Bedford Town Manager; Megan Lewis, COE Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance; Prof. Gerard Sherayko, Randolph College; Vicki Gardner, and Barb Nocera, Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce all visited us last week.

Are you planning a visit to Virginia’s Capitol between now and February 24? If you are, please consider stopping by our offices in Room 621 of the General Assembly Building. If there is an issue under consideration this session on which you’d like to share your views, please send us an e-mail at District23@senate.virginia.gov. Next week, I’ll have more information on the latest activity at the Virginia Capitol. Until then, have a great week

Newman News from the Capitol Week One

I am delighted to be back in Richmond to represent you and the rest of my Virginia Senate district. Once again this year I have the honor of serving as the President pro tempore of the Senate, which means I have the privilege of filling in the Lt. Governor in his absence and helping to lead the Senate.

This year I will also have the opportunity to remain the Chairman of the Education and Health Committee while serving on the Rules, Commerce and Labor, Transportation and the Finance Committees.

There have been a few changes since the last General Assembly Session. The United States elected a new President and Virginia elected four new Senators, two of whom were elected November 8, and two others were elected January 10 - the day before session began. I welcome my neighboring colleague Senator Mark Peake from the 22nd district. All four were sworn in by week’s end, bringing the Senate back to 40 full members.

This year is what is generally referred to as a “short session,” with the General Assembly meeting for just 46 days. Some have asked why legislators meet for 60 days in even-numbered years but only 46 days in odd-numbered ones. The difference has to do with the state’s budget. The General Assembly approves Virginia’s two-year spending plan during sessions held in even-numbered years. In odd-numbered years, lawmakers consider amendments to the two-year budget approved the previous year.

The choices made when amending an existing budget are no less difficult than those made when passing that budget. However, the work involved in constructing a new budget from scratch is very time consuming. As a result, the Constitution of Virginia allots 60 days for sessions to enact a two-year budget but fewer days to amend that budget in the second year.

Governor McAuliffe addressed the General Assembly on its opening day, delivering an address detailing his priorities. Most of the first half of his speech was devoted to his proposals for the coming session. However, the second half was disappointingly partisan. He focused primarily on his party’s positions on many social issues, measures which will grow government. And, he is proposing new restrictions on individual liberties. His speech set a tone that was far from conciliatory. But it is what we’ve come to expect from his administration. Republican lawmakers greeted Governor McAuliffe’s repeated threats to veto legislation with head shakes while Democrat lawmakers rose to their feet with rousing applause.

In spite of the Governor’s decidedly negative tone, there is a lot that can be accomplished this session. In addition to bringing the budget back into balance, we’ll be considering long overdue reforms to Medicaid, measures to repair the dysfunctional administration of the state’s economic development programs, and tackling the opioid and heroin addiction crisis. We can accomplish a lot in 46 days, provided we are committed to getting the job done instead of scoring partisan points.

The first week of session always brings a lot of visitors to Capitol Square. Individuals and groups come to see their elected public officials working on their behalf. The widely varying weather did not diminish the number of friendly faces from home. In fact, our office had more that 50 people visit to share their interests and concerns about a variety of issues.

I hope you will be able to visit us at the Capitol - we would love to see you! Our office is located in Room 621 of the General Assembly Building. You can contact us by sending an e-mail to district23@senate.virginia.gov or by calling us at 804.698.7523.

Mark Peake Headed For Victory!

I was pleased to donate over $25,000 to Mark Peake's State Senate Campaign! Mark is a true conservative and a long time friend who I am confident will serve the constituents of the 22nd Senate District with integrity.

His common sense principles make him the ideal candidate and there is no one I would rather be serving with than Mark Peake. Please vote Mark Peake on Tuesday, January 10th 2017.

http://www.newsadvance.com/news/local/peake-head-start-in-campaign-will-lead-to-victory/article_a6011d0e-d4ee-5de2-bea4-7ae77e4e83be.html

-Steve Newman

Mark Peake For Senate

We must win the Virginia Senate race with Mark Peake on January 10th. Today Senators Suetterlein and McDougle and former Delegate Watkins Abbitt joined me to strongly support Mark. As you may know, we only have a single vote advantage in the Senate today. Mark would fill my friend Senator Tom Garrett's seat. Simply put, if we don't win this race we will allow Governor McAuliffe to take over the Virginia Senate and press his liberal agenda. If Mark wins our shared conservative values will prevail at the Capitol.

The Passing of Senator Colgan

I am heartbroken to learn that Virginia has lost a great man in former Democrat Senator Chuck Colgan, who passed away at the age of 90. Chuck was the longest serving member of the State Senate and spent 40 years serving the Commonwealth. He was also a dedicated supporter of Right to Life issues, fiscal restraint and individual freedoms. As President Pro Tempore of the Senate he taught us all to be respectful of others while still holding to our principles. He was the epitome of a humble leader. I will miss my former seatmate and friend. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.