Look for the budget to dominate the debate for the duration of the session. In December, Governor McAuliffe presented his biennial budget of $106 billion over two fiscal years to the General Assembly. The legislature has now submitted budget amendments exceeding $2.3 billion related to the general fund. The heavy work is in front of us as we reconcile priorities. Both the House of Delegates and the Senate must ultimately vote on a two year spending plan. According to Virginia’s Constitution, the biennial budget must balance.
One of the primary issues we will be dealing with during session is the reform of the juvenile justice system here in the Commonwealth. We currently have two large, mostly empty facilities in Beaumont and Bon Air that house juveniles hours away from their communities and their homes. Incarceration of juveniles in this regard only increases the likelihood of recidivism, and does not support the best path towards rehabilitation. This is important because one of the universal basic needs of juveniles is to feel a connection to the community.
Governor McAuliffe has proposed increased investment in community-based services, which will in turn bring down the number of re-offenders. Another proposal is to replace existing facilities in Beaumont and Bon Air with smaller facilities, one in the Richmond area and one in the Hampton Roads area, closer to the communities they serve. These new facilities will not only allow troubled juveniles to stay closer to their communities, but they will also save taxpayer dollars that are being unnecessarily spent on empty beds at under-utilized campuses.
As is often the case, most of the debate this session will come down to funding, so stay tuned.
Governor McAuliffe has proposed new economic development incentives primarily focused on four different areas: general economic development, research commercialization, workforce, and cybersecurity. Cybersecurity, specifically, has become a hot button issue in the last few years due to the increasing dependency of society and business on the internet and its associated infrastructure. In the Commonwealth, a breach can seriously affect the numerous vital records of citizens and government employees.
The need to protect our cyber infrastructure from attacks of increasing frequency and severity is great. Nowadays we rely on the internet not just for e-mail and online databases, but for car navigation, smart power grids, transportation networks, and so on. The complexity of cybersecurity dictates that efforts to prevent cyber-attacks must involve a great deal of cooperation between technology organizations and homeland security, public safety, and emergency operations personnel. The Governor has proposed $20.6 million over the two-year period to address this important issue through cybersecurity research, education and workforce training, public awareness, and the development of improved infrastructure. In order to combat the increase in cybersecurity threats, these areas are what we need to focus on to make sure the Commonwealth is prepared.
I am a proponent of Second Amendment rights. I have served in the Army and have fired a machine gun and many other types of weapons. Trust me; none of those would be suitable for hunting. The lack of common sense gun safety and responsible ownership being advocated this session borders on embarrassing. Every time we have a firearm docket, I see members of the audience wearing “Guns Save Lives” stickers. Let me ask you something, in a mass shooting or other situation involving many people in harm’s way, would you trust a stranger to have a perfect shot?
Late last week there was a compromise brokered between the Governor and the Republican leadership in Richmond that included a softening of Republican stances on proposed gun safety legislation. The compromise represents an important step in protecting victims of domestic violence by stripping their offenders of their gun rights. I am hopeful that legislators will continue to think sensibly about this important issue.
We are in session through March 12.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]