If you can believe it, December is halfway over! The last week has been busy with constituents, co-hosting a conference, volunteering, holding a town hall, and attending appointed commission meetings. Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter and for staying informed about the current happenings around Virginia Senate District 10.
Chesterfield County Democratic Committee (CCDC) Legislative Agenda Event
On Wednesday, December 8, I joined members of the Chesterfield Delegation and the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee (CCDC) for their “2022 General Assembly Preview” Event. We had a robust discussion about the progress we have made in the General Assembly—expanding voting access, passing criminal justice reform, expanding women's reproductive health care access, protecting LGBTQ rights, funding education, and protecting our environment—and talked about ways to continue this progress during the upcoming legislative session.
Thank you to those that attended—both in-person and virtually.
Decriminalizing Nature Conference
Last week, Delegate Dawn Adams and I co-hosted a “Decriminalizing Nature Conference,” which featured physicians, biologists and other researchers, mental health professionals, veterans, and national advocates. Our speakers addressed the healing potential of plant medicines. We are facing a severe mental health crisis in our nation—nearly 50 million Americans suffer from mental illness, including depression, PTSD, and other serious concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis, and we need every viable option available to alleviate this problem. Plant medicines, such as psilocybin, show great potential for helping those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.
You can read more about the conference in a recent VPM article. If you weren’t able to attend the conference, you can watch the recording here. Thank you to Dr. Mark Miller for bringing our panelists together and for making tremendous efforts to organize the conference.
On Saturday, I joined enthusiastic volunteers from the Church of the Vietnamese Martyrs at the new Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Relief Food Bank in Henrico County. Within the first hour, we distributed canned food, meat, and produce to over 50 families in need.
When the pandemic struck, many communities were left without essential services and necessities due to school closures and loss of employment. ICNA Relief has served a vital role in helping to feed hungry families. Over the past year, ICNA Relief in Central Virginia has distributed over 450,000 lbs of food to nearly 45,000 individuals. The organization has also provided COVID-19 vaccinations, handed out backpacks filled with school supplies, and provided hygiene kits to thousands of those in need. If you’d like to learn more about the ICNA and the ways you can get involved, visit their website.
Central Virginia Women Leaders of the General Assembly: Town Hall
After volunteering with ICNA, I hosted a joint town hall with members of the Central Virginia Delegation, including Senator Jennifer McClellan (SD-09), Delegate Betsy Carr (HD-69), and Delegate Dawn Adams (HB-68). We had a robust discussion about the upcoming 2022 General Assembly, our legislative priorities, and constituent concerns such as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our healthcare system, critical investments in our school infrastructure, addressing mental health of community members. I appreciate everyone who took the time to come out and speak about what matters to them.
If you weren’t able to attend this town hall, be on the lookout for future town hall and community event announcements in my newsletter, on my Facebook page, and on Twitter.
Visiting Monacan High School
On Wednesday, I visited Ms. Valerie Sweet’s government class at Monacan High School. The students were interested in hearing the “why” and “how”—why did I run for office and how does someone begin the process of becoming an elected official? I shared that we need to have a broad representation in our government and diverse perspectives at the table. Many times, people from varied professional or demographic backgrounds feel as though they cannot or should not engage in public office because they do not see themselves reflected in government. The reverse is actually true: we should be seeking and supporting broader representation in order to better reflect those who live in our communities. For example, when I joined the Virginia Senate, only 9 out of 40 Senators were women. We now have 11, but we certainly need many more women serving in elected office.
Updates from the Virginia Housing Commission and the Joint Commission on Health Care
Within the past week, I also attended the meetings of the two Commissions on which I serve: the Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) and the Virginia Housing Commission.
The JCHC has been working on three very important studies and the recommendations that have emerged from those studies during this past year. The efforts have culminated in three reports: 1) Health Insurance Affordability in the Individual Market, 2) Workforce Challenges in Virginia's Nursing Homes, and 3) Aging in Place. All three reports have produced a series of proposals that will now be introduced in the upcoming General Assembly, either as legislation or as budget amendments.
The Virginia Housing Commission heard reports on the impacts of the Rent Relief Program (RRP) that has placed Virginia in the national spotlight. The RRP helped to prevent the massive number of evictions that were forecast as a result of the economic shutdown during the pandemic. Effective December 1, 2021, RRP transitioned to a one-application system for both landlords and tenants to initiate and apply for rent relief.Additionally, an updated, secure, and user-friendly portal known as Gov2Go will soon allow Virginians to access the Rent Relief Program on virtually any web-enabled device. This technology change will ensure that tenants and landlords have access to rent relief information in a quick and efficient manner. Virginia’s efforts with rent relief and recent legislation that helps to balance the relationships between tenants and landlords has become a national model.
The Governor’s Proposed Budget
Yesterday, December 16, the Governor announced the proposed budget for the next biennium. During yesterday’s meeting of the joint finance committees, Governor Northam shared that in the past four years, Virginia has generated record economic growth, with $80 billion in capital investment, and created more than 100 thousand new jobs. Virginia now has a $2.6 billion surplus—the largest in the Commonwealth’s history.
Highlights of the proposed budget include the following:
Income tax cuts, removing the grocery tax
The budget proposal would make up to 15% of the federal earned income tax credit refundable for eligible families, reducing the amount that low- and middle-income people owe in taxes.
The proposal also includes the state's 1.5% grocery tax. Localities would still collect their 1% of grocery tax, and the state would supply the remaining funds directly to localities to support public schools.
The budget calls for one-time tax rebates for Virginians ($250 for individuals and $500 for married couples) and ends the "accelerated sales tax" payments for retailers.
Pay raises for teachers, public safety officers, state workers
The Governor has proposed an increased compensation of 5% a year for Virginia teachers, for a cumulative increase of 10.25%. Under the proposed budget, Virginia state troopers, correctional officers, deputy sheriffs and regional jail officers would also get raises. All state employees would get a 10% pay increase over the next two years.
$297 million for HBCUs, $2 billion for K-12 schools
The budget also calls for
$297 million for Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) in the Commonwealth, including $20 million for Norfolk State University and Virginia State University over two years
Raising the level of Virginia Tuition Assistance Grants (TAG) for private school students to $5,000 per student over the next two years
Expanding the state's G3 program that provides tuition-free community college for low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields
$500 million in grants for K-12 school construction or renovation and an additional $268 million to support at-risk students
Investing in the environment and outdoor recreation
The Governor’s budget includes $410 million for land and water conservation efforts and a required deposit of $313 million to the Water Quality Improvement Fund plus a supplemental deposit of more than $26 million. Tribal nations would get $12 million to conserve and expand their lands, and $10 million would go to preserve historic sites related to Black and Indigenous Virginians.
Through funding from the American Rescue Plan, Richmond, Alexandria and Lynchburg would get millions to improve wastewater systems to keep wastewater out of rivers and streams. The proposed budget also has $245 million for multi-use trails and state parks in Virginia, including the expansion and improvements to existing trails, as well as support for new and developing trails like the Fall Line Trail in Hanover, Shenandoah Trail, and Eastern Shore Trail.
Contacting My Office
I continue to have one-on-one meetings with constituents and organizations. If you want to schedule a meeting, on Zoom or in person, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office. As a reminder, email is the best way to contact us. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also schedule a meeting through our easy scheduling app.