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 email@example.com or by calling us at 804.698.7523.