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.