Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

The United States is the only nation with more civilian firearms than people. With an estimated 400+ million guns in circulation in the last decade, our population is increasingly dwarfed by the count of firearms. Every constitutional amendment is significant. However, I am quite confident the signers of that document would have reworded the Second Amendment if they foresaw the weaponry we have at our disposal today.

A dated interpretation of the Second Amendment should not supersede its logical intent and public safety. Gun violence is at an all-time high and political lip service continues ad nauseam.
Assault weapons do not belong in civilian hands, especially 18-year-olds. Background checks serve a critical screening purpose. There is a reason for the expression “red flag laws.” Most important in this national dialogue, we must elect leaders who are committed to governing as opposed to political expediency.

After months of negotiations, the Virginia House and Senate have reached a consensus on the remaining business of the 2022 session of the General Assembly. The ink is drying on the biennial budget bill that we will send to Governor Youngkin. The process this biennium took longer because of the political shift at the Capitol as well as an unprecedented level of revenue. The Senate’s seniority and experience were crucial elements in producing this spending plan.

Compromise was reached on tax relief for every Virginian. The standard deduction for individuals and joint filers was doubled for the tax year 2022. Tthe 2022 individual deduction will be $7,500 and joint filers will be at $16,000. Virginia’s earned income tax credit will be refundable to 15 percent of the federal EITC.
I serve as the chair of the SFAC subcommittee on K — 12 and my goal is to appropriately fund public education. While our governor continues to look for ways to support his agenda and undermine the success we have in educating Virginia’s children, I have supported ways to build on the successes and mitigate any shortcomings.

To attract and retain the best personnel, more than $1.8 billion was added across the board and targeted compensation for state employees, state-supported local employees, and teachers. That compensation includes a 5 percent salary increase both years of the biennium and a $1,000 bonus for state employees and teachers. Law enforcement, mental health staff, with other employee groups receiving “targeted compensation” increases as well.

We are investing heavily in higher education to make it an accessible and affordable pathway for Virginians working toward the future job market. This includes need-based financial aid, dedicated funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, with additional funding to increase the recruitment and retention of Pell-eligible students. More than $1.25 billion is earmarked for school construction, modernization payments and targeted construction assistance grants.

Looking at Health and Human Resources, we will increase reimbursement rates for Medicaid dental providers. Funds are earmarked for increases for the developmentally disabled, in-home services, and nursing facilities. Over $200 million (that includes ARPA funds) will be used to expand community-based mental health services and increase compensation for direct care staff at our state’s hospitals.

Addressing an aging infrastructure, there are funds for water quality improvement. We are reserving $165 million for much-needed Combined Sewer Overflow Projects as well as $90 million for other wastewater and sewer projects.

In this nearly 400-page tome are economic development strategies with funding for Virginia’s Business Ready Sites program. Capital outlay investments are included for the Port of Virginia. Based on recent experience, investments will be made to improve and stabilize unemployment insurance, the VEC, and keep the employer tax rate at a pre-pandemic level.

Gov. Youngkin also saw fit to veto a bill that Del. Simon and I carried for Falls Church City. The measure was intended to embrace the local talent residents can bring to city boards and commissions. There was nothing nefarious in this measure. By contrast, I applaud the dedicated men and women who volunteer their services for the betterment of our communities. Thank you.

Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]