Over the years, members of the Falls Church City delegation have had various titles for their monthly “Richmond Report” columns. Former Delegate Bob Hull called his the Coffin Corner Report, referring to his seat on the far left hand side of the chamber, where some of the most powerful legislators took their seats, and if they rose to speak on a bill, it was already dead.
Delegate Kory still calls hers “The View from the Front Row” because for years she sat right up front in the chamber.
The 2021 Session, like everything these last 11 months, looks and feels a lot different than it has in the past, due to the necessity of social distance. Like many of you, we’ve gone to a virtual workplace, and the workday is a series of Zooms, Teams, Webex, Google Hangouts, and good old-fashioned telephone calls.
This year’s column could be the “View from Behind My Keyboard.”
In spite of the challenges, when the 2021 General Assembly Session began on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at precisely 12:00 noon, we hit the ground running. As Chair of the Privileges & Elections Committee, I gaveled in the first committee meeting of the Session, one half hour after adjournment of the whole House
It wasn’t a simple organization session where we introduced ourselves and our staff. We advanced a large absentee voting bill that will make permanent many of the innovations we implemented during the 2020 Session that made it easier to vote, helping to drive record shattering turnout even in the midst of the pandemic. Look forward to the absentee ballot drop box at Falls Church City hall becoming a permanent fixture, literally!
The odd sessions are busy for those of us on Privileges & Elections as they are the year we hear everyone’s ideas for amendments to the Virginia Constitution. Only those that pass this year will be considered a second time after this fall’s election, and if they pass again, will make it on to the ballot for a referendum in 2022. The two most likely to advance this year include a repeal of the 2007 amendment banning same sex marriages in the Commonwealth, and another that will automatically restore the voting rights of former felons who have completed their sentences.
Campaign finance reform also works its way through P&E, and this year I hope my additional clout as Chairman gives my longtime effort to make Virginia one of the very last states to explicitly prohibit the personal use of campaign funds a better chance of succeeding.
I’ll also continue to serve on the House Courts of Justice Committee, where we will continue to build on the very consequential criminal justice reform efforts we began in the special session last fall. With the Governor’s backing, we’ll take a serious look at legalizing marijuana. Doing so will provide revenue for a variety of programs across the Commonwealth, expunging old convictions, and repealing most mandatory minimum sentences.
Also, I believe this will be the year Virginia finally repeals the death penalty — a bill that is long overdue and that I’m proud to co-patron.
On the environmental front, we’ll continue to work on the Virginia Clean Economy Act and other measures to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. There is also a bill to establish an Electric Vehicle Grant Program to assist school boards with replacing existing diesel school buses with electric buses as well as a bill to create an electric vehicle rebate program for those wishing to purchase one.
The state budget, fortunately, doesn’t look as grim as we originally expected at this point with the Governor estimating $1.2 billion in additional revenue in this biennium. Revenues are exceeding official forecasts, even during a pandemic, which is in sharp contrast to other states that have been forced to lay off workers, cut services, and even borrow money to pay the bills.
The proposed budget includes allocating $30 million to restore financial aid increases at public colleges and universities across our Commonwealth and to restore a planned increase to the Tuition Assistance Grants.
Local school jurisdictions will get more than $500 million over the next two years.
Broadband is getting some much-needed support with a historic $50 million boost in each year.
Overall, we’re off to a good start this session and I’m looking forward to all that we’ll be able to accomplish. I always appreciate hearing from constituents, so please reach out to my office anytime — (804) 698-1053 or [email protected]