Legislative Update
April 01, 2015

The Virginia Senate met the second week of April for our Veto Session, resolving most remaining controversies of the 2015 session. Between January and February, the House and Senate considered 2,776 bills and resolutions, sending a total of 800 bills to the Governor for action. He signed 733 into law, vetoed 17 and sent 50 back to the legislature with amendments for us to consider. I worked with the Governor on a number of amendments to my bills, including a horse industry bill that generated statewide attention. Days before the Governor was set to sign the bill, Colonial Downs acting as the sole racing licensee under the bill, decided in a surprise move to turn in their license effectively shutting down the deal that we struck during session. The historic tradition of the sport in Virginia is important to preserve, recognizing the enormous financial benefit to agriculture, tourism, veterinary medicine and higher education. A vote at veto session saved the bill by adding language to end Colonial Downs' monopoly and allow a non-profit equine alliance to move forward with racing in Virginia.  

require health insurers to provide coverage for diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders in children ages 2 to 10;
add certain misdemeanor convictions to the list of crimes for which DNA must be taken providing a valuable tool for law enforcement;
prohibit use of unmanned drones by law enforcement or other regulatory entities without a search warrant;
permit use of marijuana oil for treatment of certain rare forms of epilepsy;
reorganize the Virginia ABC;
establish new ethics and disclosure rules for state and local elected officials;
provide protection from prosecution for anyone who remains at the scene of a drug overdose to alert and assist law enforcement;
create new felonies for sex trafficking;
expand financing options for clean energy and water efficiency improvements for which loans may be offered;
require licensing and background checks for day care centers and family day homes;
allow person diagnosed with a terminal illness to be eligible for expanded access to investigational drugs;
allow cultivation of industrial hemp as part of research;
establish licensing process for transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in Virginia;
raise judicial retirement age from 70 to 73; and
institute omnibus transportation package to make funding for statewide transportation projects less political, overhaul the system for choosing which road projects will be built and allocate more resources to maintain older roads and bridges.

Among the most significant accomplishments was agreement on changes to the budget. We pass a budget every two years and while this was our interim year, we made broad budget revisions responding to urgent needs and revenue shortages. Due to revenue collections that were lower than budget projections set in 2013, the total shortfall was projected at the beginning of session to be $2.4 billion. There was virtually unanimous consensus on the budget revisions and the Governor signed the budget without sending any changes back to the legislature for the Veto Session, making it the first time a Virginia Governor has done so since 1998.

Despite the budget shortfalls, we managed to make improvements to the budget with no tax increases; no cuts to K-12 or higher education; pre-payment of $129.5 million for the 2017 rainy day fund to protect Virginians when we have serious economic downturns; new funding for public safety; and a raise for state employees and state-supported local government employees.

I chair the Finance Subcommittee responsible for a significant part of the budget. In my presentation to the committee, I pushed for many of the changes, especially highlighting public safety compensation and other employee issues. For example, our entry-level public safety officers have qualified for food stamps. Our employee compensation has been lower than all other sectors since 2003, with no take home pay increase since 2007, putting us 49th in the nation, next to last, in terms of state average as a percentage of the private sector average. We are losing extraordinary people who protect our communities, run our criminal justice system, work in our crime labs, teach our children and perform vital services. Hence our efforts are an important investment in Virginia.

Additionally, we funded judicial vacancies and I consider it a great accomplishment to have secured money for two new Circuit Court judgeships in my Senate district. This is also long overdue as our judge shortage has placed significant burdens on our community.

We have recently transitioned back to our district offices. If you have a constituent service need or question about legislation, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 540-662-4551 or district27@senate.virginia.gov. I am always happy to hear from you.