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.