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.