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.