The General Assembly passed its reworked biennial budget this week. On Wednesday House Bill 5005, the budget bill, was officially sent into “conference committee” before a funding package reconciling any differences between the House and Senate spending plans could be released. The House and Senate voted in favor of that unified budget on Friday evening. It is now before Governor Northam for his signature. You can review past updates from Special Session to see how we got here.
What’s in the Budget?
Under reduced revenues and challenging circumstances for the people of Virginia, our budget offers a roadmap toward a safer, healthier, more just and equitable Commonwealth. It protects our childcare providers, public schools, and higher education institutions. It also makes record investments in broadband access and virtual learning technology as our schools tackle online education. The budget invests in our health care system and protects those caring for our most vulnerable Virginians during this pandemic. At a time when access to health care is top of mind, our budget removes barriers to coverage for low-income and new Virginians. Read about one way our budget is increasing health equity.
This budget allocates funding to implement overdue criminal justice reform legislation approved by the General Assembly during this Special Session, including the Marcus Alert system and earned sentence credits. It includes unprecedented protections for Virginia renters and ratepayers in response to COVID-19; it limits utility shut-offs and evictions by continuing both moratoriums and providing funding to pay down consumer utility debt, establish repayment plans, and provide additional rent and mortgage assistance. The budget achieves all this while maintaining fiscal responsibility; it invests $89.7 million in Virginia’s flexible reserve fund which is easier to access if needed to address any economic downturn in the near future.
Accounting for Virginians’ most urgent needs, we took a holistic approach to reworking the biennial budget with the aim of protecting some of the original progress from the historic funding package passed last March. As a result, most of the spending in the final budget reflects the restoration of critical priorities from the Regular Session. While I am pleased with this strong budget, we had to make many tough decisions in crafting it. Keep in mind: It will not be long before state revenues are reevaluated, and the Governor will once again submit proposed budget amendments to us two months from now. We will reconvene in January for the 2021 Regular Session which will present another opportunity to build on this work and further strengthen our Commonwealth.
The House of Delegates also acted on all remaining legislation this week. HB5043 from Delegate Bourne, establishing a Marcus Alert system to deploy mental health professionals in response to mental health crises, passed on Friday with a vote of 59-38 in the House and 26-12 in the Senate. In total, the House of Delegates passed close to 30 bills during Special Session to reform Virginia’s criminal justice system, account for the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and advance racial justice.
Have you voted yet? Virginia is leading the country in early voting, with well over 1.8 million votes cast. Let’s stay in first place until Election Day! Even if your ballot is already in, you can still share this information with friends and family:
- You can still vote early in person: Beginning TOMORROW, October 19, five new early voting centers will open at: Piney Branch Elementary School, Colgan High School, McCoart Administrative Building in Woodbridge, Ferlazzo Building in Woodbridge, and Dumfries Town Hall. This is in addition to existing early voting locations at the Prince William County Office of Elections in Manassas, the Haymarket Gainesville Library, and the Woodbridge DMV. All locations will operate with extended hours from 8:30am to 7pm Monday through Thursday, and 8:30am until 5pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
- The last day to vote early in person is Saturday, October 31. You do not need to provide a reason or fill out an application to vote early. You will still need to bring the same valid identification as you would if voting on Election Day (the list of acceptable forms of ID now includes a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or government document containing your name and current address).
- It is not too late to apply for an absentee ballot. The voter access budget that the General Assembly passed in August allows you to return your absentee ballot to an accessible drop-off location established by your registrar, in addition to the options of mailing in the ballot or submitting it at your local registrar’s office. If you do return your absentee ballot by mail, know that our voter access budget ensures prepaid postage. No excuse is needed to vote absentee and a witness signature is not required.
- October 23 is the last day to request that an absentee ballot be mailed to you. A completed mail-in ballot must be postmarked by Election Day – November 3 – and received by the Prince William County Board of Elections by noon on November 6. The Virginia Board of Elections is strongly encouraging everyone not to wait until these deadlines due to the risk of mail delays.
Please contact our office with any questions or concerns. Be well.