Richmond Free Press Op-Ed 3/17/2022

2022 General Assembly Update: That’s a Wrap! For Now…. 

On Saturday, the 2022 General Assembly Session adjourned “Sine Die” without an agreement on the biennial budget. Governor Youngkin is expected to call legislators into a special session, and the budget and several bills pending in conference committees were carried over to that special session. This means there is still more work to do.

While the House prioritized tax cuts, the Senate prioritized significant investments in education, natural resources, public safety, and human services, leaving about a $3 billion difference in spending between their respective budgets.  .The Senate agreed to repeal the state tax on groceries and essential personal hygiene products, and referred Governor Youngkin’s tax proposals to a joint committee for comprehensive review of tax policy over the next year. The House, however, adopted several of the Governor’s proposals. Budget conferees will negotiate these differences over the weeks to come. I will continue to advocate for funding our schools, including construction and mental health services for kids, in the budget process.

This session, Senate Democrats stood as a brick wall against Republican efforts to roll back the generational progress made in the 2020 and 2021 sessions on expanding access to abortion and reproductive rights, voting rights, criminal justice reform, breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, combating climate change, strengthening worker protections, addressing gun violence, and strengthening Virginia’s antidiscrimination laws and extending them to the LGBTQ+ community.

 

House Republicans killed proposed constitutional amendments related to restoration of voting rights and marriage equality, keeping them off the ballot this November. House Republicans also killed establishing a regulated retail marijuana market September 1, 2022. As you may recall, in 2021, the General Assembly passed legislation eliminating criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana effective July 1, 2021. The bill also established a legal framework for the regulated retail market beginning in 2024, subject to re-enactment this year. For now, the status quo remains, and it is frankly more important that we establish a regulated retail market carefully and equitably rather than to do so quickly.

This year I passed 12 bills, including measures to 

  • Expand access to the Virginia Health Benefit Exchange to lower health care costs through navigators; 
  • Enable Virginians to stay in their homes during the eviction appeals process by allowing judges to waive the requirement of an appeal bond; 
  • Preserve evidence from sexual assault for at least 10 years; 
  • Strengthen prevention programs for at-risk youth; 
  • Protect Virginians from unwanted digital flashing; and
  • Preserve historic African-American cemeteries established between 1900 and 1948.

Four of my bills will be addressed in the special session, including 

  • Remaining recommendations from the Commission on School Construction and Modernization that I chair to create a School Construction Fund and Program and strengthen school construction loans from the Literary Fund; 
  • Legislation to implement portions of the Board of Education’s recommended Standards of Quality related to the number of specialized student support positions – such as school social workers, school psychologists and school nurses – in schools across the Commonwealth; and
  • Legislation to establish the Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention to work across public safety and public health sectors to collect data and publish reports on violence caused by firearms, including suicide, and provide holistic support to address the underlying caucuses of such violence.

There is still more work to do on these outstanding issues and I look forward to addressing these problems facing Virginians in the special session.

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