Commentary, Local Commentary

Senator Saslaw’s Richmond Report

The 2023 session closed out strong but incomplete. We heard hundreds of bills and spent countless hours debating the significant issues facing the Commonwealth. Unable to find a budget compromise in time, we passed a stopgap budget that funds a few select expenditures. This includes money to fill the funding gap caused by the Department of Education’s miscalculation, as well as a contribution to the mandatory rainy day fund and the Virginia Retirement System. Over the next several weeks the budget conferees will continue to meet to hash out the differences. 

I am part of the Senate conferee team tasked with finding a compromise between the two starkly different Senate and House proposals. While the House prioritized major tax cuts, the Senate concentrated on investing in workforce development, raising teacher and state employee pay, and mental health reform.  

Workforce shortages are plaguing nearly every sector but are particularly desperate in the healthcare field. The Senate budget offered an increase in funding to healthcare workforce programs, including a salary increase for nursing faculty to help retain qualified professors at our higher education institutions. Additionally, we made investments in our teachers with the goal of aligning their pay to the national average. Both chambers proposed a total 7 percent salary raise for teachers and an additional $1,000 bonus for support staff. Also agreed on by both chambers is an additional 2 percent raise (on top of a 5 percent raise coming July 1) for all state employees to keep their compensation competitive.

The mental health crisis has reached new heights and we can no longer ignore staffing shortages or facilities well over capacity. The Senate proposed $50 million to raise pay for Community Service Board employees to attract and retain qualified workers. One common issue faced by those in crisis is stable housing. In response, the Senate proposed to double the current allotment for supportive permanent housing. 

Thanks to previous legislative efforts that expanded access to voting, there were a record six million registered voters in 2022. Clinging to the debunked allegation of rampant voter fraud, many Republican bills attempted to roll back current election law. However, the evidence tells a different story. Bills requiring a photo ID, removing same-day registration, and limiting absentee voting failed once they reached the Senate.  

Senate Democrats also defeated numerous measures that attempted to curtail reproductive freedom. Similarly, House Republicans defeated a handful of common-sense gun violence prevention initiatives, including a crack-down on safe storage, as well as a ban on certain high-capacity assault rifles. Republicans and Democrats were able to find bipartisan support for a measure that creates a tax credit to incentivize people to purchase a gun safely when they purchase a gun. That bill is currently on its way to the Governor for final approval.

It has been an honor and privilege to serve in the General Assembly for 48 years (44 in the Senate and 4 in the House). Recently, I announced that I will not seek re-election. I am proud of the role I have played to make Virginia a better place to live, work, play, and raise a family. 

Over the years, I have realized the value of public education is limitless and a cause worthy of championing. As our region has grown to become home to over 2.3 million people, we made significant investments in infrastructure to keep Northern Virginia moving. We must continue to address the challenges of today as we face social justice reform and attacks on reproductive freedoms. Finally, public safety remains paramount, as gun violence plagues our communities.

I am grateful to the voters that entrusted me to serve in the same body where Thomas Jefferson and other democratic founding fathers did before me. Equally, I could not have done this without the support of my wife, Eleanor and our daughter, Jennifer. Over the years, I have been fortunate to have been assisted by dedicated staff as well as meet numerous advocates and made countless friends. A heartfelt thanks to everyone that shared this near half century in public service.  

I will serve out the rest of my current term until January 2024. My longtime Chief of Staff, Janet Muldoon, will be retiring at the end of March. Megan Center, my legislative assistant, will continue to work alongside me to address constituent needs.