This week, I will discuss the passing of the state budget, reflect on our Reproductive Justice Town Hall, share information about Gun Violence Awareness Day, commemorate Pride Month and Immigrant Heritage Month, and talk about community events from around the district. Thank you for taking the time to read the newsletter and for staying informed.
Passing the Budget: A Look at the Process
The General Assembly reconvened on Wednesday, June 1, for the Special Session to vote on the Conference Reports on the budget: HB29 and HB30. Because the budget process can appear arcane to many who are not directly involved, I’d like to walk through it briefly:
Virginia operates on a biennium budget That is, every two years the sitting Governor proposes a budget in the form of a bill and presents the identical bill to both the House (HB30) and the Senate (SB20). As the outgoing Governor, Governor Northam and his administration presented the budget as one of the final acts in office, in January 2022. As the incoming Governor, Governor Youngkin has the opportunity to communicate his priorities, as well as offer budget amendments through General Assembly members.
Similarly, the members of the two Chambers (both Senators and Delegates) can also offer amendments to the Governor’s introduced budget. During the 2022 Session, I presented several budget amendments; they are available for review here. Once the budget is passed by the two Chambers, it goes into effect on July 1, 2022, and runs through the fiscal year, ending on June 30, 2023. However, because it is a biennium budget, this budget will also serve Virginians from July 1, 2023 - June 30, 2024. Governor Youngkin will introduce the next biennium budget in January 2024.
We also have the opportunity to amend the previous biennium budget through HB29 and SB29. These bills are often called the “caboose” bill, and they provide amendments to the previous biennium budget. These amendments may be necessary because predictions of revenues can fall short or be more than what actually occurred; other necessary adjustments may also need to be made.
The budget bills and any introduced amendments go through an intense process through the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee and the House Appropriations Committee. At the end of Session or prior to the end of June, the two budget bills must be reconciled through negotiations between the respective committee members of both Chambers. The end result is the Budget Conference Report which is then shared with the other Senators and Delegates who are not on the Appropriation Committees.
Because the Budget Conference Committee could not complete its work before we adjourned sine die in March, the Senate and the House were called back into Special Session on Wednesday, June 1, to vote on the conferees’ Conference Reports for HB29 (the Caboose Bill) and HB30 (the new biennium budget).
For Senators and Delegates who are not members of the appropriations conference committees, the vote is an “up or down” vote. That is, we cannot disaggregate the various items included in the budget bills; we do not have the option to vote for those items we support and vote against those we oppose. We must vote on the Budget Conference Report as a whole.
Why I Voted in Support of the Conference Report
Could we have done better? Yes. But developing a budget, identifying priorities, negotiating with another Chamber, and compromising with others from differing political persuasions are complex processes. The end result that we have in Virginia is a bipartisan bill that identifies the values and concerns of diverse constituencies.
I am unhappy about several parts of the bill, but I voted to support it because the new budget provides essential investments in many priorities and urgent needs that face us in the Commonwealth.
I don’t like that the new budget has allocated $100 million for “lab schools” when our K-12 systems have so many other additional priorities, including increasing the ratio of English language teachers for our many students needing additional support to become proficient in reading, writing, and comprehension skills. The Conference Report also increases funding for school officers by five times the current funding. The tragedies of school shootings have demonstrated that school officers do not deter these acts of violence. Instead of setting aside over $27 million for ineffective measures, I wish we would have listened to our school districts who have repeatedly asked for funding to support more mental health and behavioral counselors; students exhibiting problematic and trauma-related behaviors need counseling support services, and we are woefully short of counselors in schools. I also don’t like that the budget moves to legislate on marijuana uses, re-criminalizing possession: personal possession in public of over four ounces and less than a pound of cannabis will be a Class 3 misdemeanor, making it punishable by a $500 fine. Second or subsequent offenses will be Class 2 misdemeanors punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Finally, we need to make major investments in mental health services, our community services boards, public health, and broader healthcare. We have missed some opportunities here.
Despite these critical missed opportunities, the Conference Report does significantly fund several priority areas and is overall beneficial to working families. Here are a few highlights:
Pay Increases for State Employees and Others: The Conference Report provides a 5% pay raise for teachers and state employees over each of the next two years, as well as a one-time $1,000 bonus. Law enforcement, sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers, and mental health workers will also get a salary raise.
Public Education: The Conference Report includes $1.25 billion for school construction and modernization, increases funding for the At-Risk-Add-On program that helps students in school divisions with high poverty rates, and provides nearly $272 million to increase support staff positions in schools. This funding represents huge investments in public education.
Higher Education: The Conference Report includes over $170 million in new financial aid at public institutions; $30 million in workforce development investments; $43 million for public and private HBCUs; and increases in tuition assistance grants (TAG) for private colleges and universities.
Tax Relief: The standard deduction for single filers is increased from $4,500 to $8,000, and for married couples filing jointly, from $9,000 to $16,000. The Conference Report also authorizes rebate checks of up to $250 per single filer and $500 per married couple. It includes a partial repeal of the state grocery tax, eliminating the 1.5% of the state portion of the tax but preserving the 1% option for local governments, an option for which many localities strongly advocated. Tax relief for military retirees is also included in the Conference Report, as well as a boost to the state’s earned-income tax credit, providing tax relief to lower-income workers.
These are just a few of the highlights from the budget bill. The Commonwealth Institute provides an excellent side-by-side comparison of key budget items. I encourage everyone to review the document and to direct any additional questions to my office at email@example.com.
Reproductive Justice Town Hall Recap
Today marks one month since the Supreme Court draft opinion potentially overturning Roe v. Wade became public. The implications of this decision extend across the nation and disproportionately affect families of color and people living in states that will now severely restrict or ban altogether access to safe and legal abortion care.
On Tuesday evening, I held a town hall with guests Senator Jennifer McClellan, Kenda Sutton-El of Birth in Color RVA, Dora Muhammad of The AWARE Project, Stephanie Spencer of Urban Baby Beginnings, and Paulette McElwain of the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood to discuss the implications of the draft opinion on issues of reproductive justice. Reproductive justice goes beyond access to abortion. It fights to provide underserved communities with access to adequate healthcare providers and facilities; it acknowledges and addresses maternal health disparities; it seeks to build safe and healthy communities; and much more. The panelists shared their efforts to address these systemic issues and provide care for those in need of services. The recording of the town hall is available here.
National Gun Violence Awareness Day
Today is National Gun Violence Awareness Day, a timely reminder of the prevalence of gun violence and the importance of gun violence prevention.
Though mass shootings, like those of Uvalde and Buffalo, receive a significant degree of media attention, they make up a small proportion of total gun related fatalities in America. Gun violence contributes to nearly 41,000 deaths annually. Sixty percent of those gun fatalites are the result of suicide, and access to a firearm triples the risk of death by suicide. Firearms exacerbate domestic violence as well, with nearly 70 women dying monthly from intimate partner violence involving firearms. And, tragically, gun violence is the leading cause of death for teens and children.
On National Gun Violence Awareness Day, we remember those we have lost to gun violence by wearing orange and continuing to work towards common sense gun legislation. Additionally, individuals can play a pivotal role in preventing gun violence by being proactive in identifying red flags. Resources are available through the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
June commemorates Pride Month, a time to uplift and celebrate members of the LGBTQ+ community. Organizations such as Equality Virginia, Side by Side, and Diversity Richmond are all doing critical work, providing LGBTQ+ people and their families with educational resources, advocacy tools, mentorship opportunities, and more.
Immigrant Heritage Month
Virginia is home to over 1 million immigrants, comprising about 13% of the Commonwealth’s population. During Immigrant Heritage Month, we take this opportunity to recognize the rich and diverse cultures and to celebrate the integral contributions of immigrants to our Commonwealth and nation.
Next Friday, June 10, from 12:00 - 2:00pm, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Refugee Advocacy Lab will be hosting "States Lay the Foundation: A New Blueprint for Refugee & Immigrant Integration," a policy discussion with state officials from across the country regarding refugee and immigrant integration. I will be discussing recent legislation and the efforts that we are making across Virginia. Registration for this important conversation is available here.
Community Events This Week
Last Thursday, I really enjoyed talking to the Webelos of Cub Scout Pack 740 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School. The Webelos are currently learning about civic responsibilities and how being an engaged citizen can help build a better world. I was impressed by their thoughtful questions during my visit, and I can’t wait to see these young men continue to grow into community leaders.
On Saturday, I had the honor of speaking on the topic of social justice at the annual Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) convention in Baltimore, Maryland. The convention brought over 25,000 participants from across the country for a three-day conference examining the topic of how to build a more just society. ICNA has played a huge role in the Central Virginia community, feeding families through its Food Bank, delivering school supplies and diapers, and helping with vaccination efforts.
On Memorial Day, I joined the Mark Matthews Petersburg Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers at People’s Memorial Cemetery in Petersburg. We gathered to honor those who have given their lives in service to our nation, and to celebrate the life of Staff Sergeant John Joseph Nichols. Sergeant Nichols was among the last surviving members of the Buffalo soldiers to serve in WWII and the Korean War. He spent many years following his military service in volunteering to teach and mentor children. His impact was evident from the testimony his friends and fellow Buffalo Soldiers offered at his memorial service. I was honored to present SJR 48, honoring Staff Sergeant Nichols’ life and legacy, to Mrs. Marion Nichols.
Connecting With My Office
My staff continue to hold meetings with constituents via Zoom or by phone. You can sign up for a meeting with either of my staff members with our easy scheduling app: