Special Session 2020 adjourned sine die on November 9. You can read my last update from Special Session, detailing final changes to the budget and the criminal justice reform measures that were adopted, here. See more coverage of the close of this ambitious, 12-week session here. The General Assembly will reconvene for the 2021 Regular Session on January 13.
Legislator of the Year
Last month, I was honored to receive the Virginia Governmental Employees Association’s (VGEA) 2020 Legislator of the Year Award. Virginia’s outstanding workforce has always been a credit to our Commonwealth. During this pandemic, state employees were confronted with unprecedented challenges, yet they worked to keep Virginia operating despite the obstacles they encountered.
On the Appropriations Committee, I have sought to prioritize workers’ rights and fair pay while building a balanced, fiscally responsible budget. The biennial budget adopted by the General Assembly during the 2020 Special Session authorized $97.7 million for employee bonuses in fiscal year 2022 as long as fiscal year 2021 revenues meet current projections. This includes a $1,500 bonus for all full-time state employees, a $750 bonus for adjunct faculty at public institutions of higher education, and a 1.5% bonus for state-supported local employees. HB5005 also includes funding for bonuses for law enforcement personnel and language directing a salary increase for teachers if future revenues allow.
We have a long road out of this recession, but a budget that reflects Virginians’ values will always support Virginia’s workers. I am grateful for organizations such as VGEA, whose advocacy continues to lead the way.
Updates from Appropriations
Although the General Assembly has adjourned, the House Appropriations Committee has continued its work while the revenue reforecasting and budget-writing processes for the 2021 session are already in full swing.
The Appropriations Committee held its annual retreat virtually on November 17. We were briefed on national and regional economic conditions by the Vice President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, heard from Appropriations Committee staff on the impact of COVID-19 on K-12 enrollment, and more. You can watch a recording of the entire retreat here.
The Joint Advisory Board of Economists (JABE) met early in November to consider the Commonwealth’s economic and revenue outlooks. JABE’s forecasts were passed on to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates (GACRE), a representative group of leaders across Virginia’s key industries. GACRE met last Monday to recommend a revenue forecast for the Governor’s next proposed budget. Governor Northam will present that new proposal – an amended version of the current biennial budget – to the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee at a joint meeting on December 16. That will be publicly live-streamed here. The Governor’s proposal will be the basis for the budget-amending work that the Appropriations Committees and General Assembly will addressduring our 2021 session.
While not directly related to the budget process, two other commissions thatI am a member of also met in November. The Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission (MEI) met to review ongoing economic development projects in Virginia. Watch the recording here.Later, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) met with a primary purpose of hearing JLARC staff’s report on considerations for cannabis legalization in Virginia. Watch the recording of that full meeting here.
Are you interested in helping to drawVirginia’s next electoral districts? The new Virginia Redistricting Commission will include eight citizen membersand the opportunity to serve as a citizen member is open now until December 28.To be eligible, you must have lived and been a registered voter in the Commonwealth for at least three years and have voted in at least two of the last three general elections.
Anyone who has held or sought partisan public office, been employed by Congress, the General Assembly, a political campaign or political party, or as a lobbyist, or is closely related to anyone who has done so, is not eligible to serve.
VRE Commuter Safety
As more Prince William County residents return to the workplace, one commuter option is the Virginia Railway Express (VRE). If this is a transportation option that you are considering, please note that VRE has taken a variety of precautions to protect the health and safety of all passengers. These measures include an enhanced cleaning regimen, installation of social-distancing decals, hand-sanitizer dispensers on rail cars and platforms, and a facial covering requirement.
These measures ensure social distancing by providing decals to guide riders to window seats in every other row. Only 45 of 130 seats in any rail car are available to passengers. Currently, no more than 50 percent of those open seats are in use. VRE’s train utilization web page helps riders find the train that best matches their social-distance comfort level. The rail system closely monitors ridership and has been adding and lengthening trains to allow for proper social distancing.
VRE cleans trains twice a day. Overnight cleanings use acidic electrolyzed water, a potent yet non-irritating disinfectant. The acid produced by electrolyzing the water can be 100 times more potent than the active ingredient in bleach. Delivered on-demand, this environmentally friendly product uses only salt, tap water, and electricity.
VRE has 19 stations, including one in Woodbridge. VRE is operating a reduced schedule, with nine trains running northbound weekday mornings and southbound in the evenings. VRE’s mobile app allows for the contactless purchase and validation of tickets.
Take this 3D tour from a VRE platform into a rail car to see the social distancing and sanitary measures VRE is taking before you ride.
As of Monday, there have been 18,352 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Prince William County, with the highest number of cases centered in the Woodbridge area. As case numbers continue rising to all-time highs across Virginia, please remember that safety measures like social distancing and wearing a mask around others are more critical than ever.
As a reminder: In August, Virginia became the first state in the country to implement a free COVID-19 exposure notification app. The app is called COVIDWISE and was developed in a public-private partnership between VDH, Google, and Apple. COVIDWISE allows you to anonymously notify others if you test positive for COVID-19 and notifies you if you’ve likely been exposed to the virus based on positive reports from other app users. You can join this effort by visiting the App Store or Google Play Store to download COVIDWISE.
COVIDWISE was created with both public health and public trust in mind. It’s easy to use, protects your privacy, and helps secure the health and safety of our communities. No location data or personal information is ever collected, stored, or transmitted via COVIDWISE. In addition, the use of the app is 100% voluntary and can be deleted at any time. Please consider downloading the app to help keep your family and community safe.