Opinion: Commentary: Here It Comes: 140 Amendments to Virginia State Budget

Opinion: Commentary: Here It Comes: 140 Amendments to Virginia State Budget

Veto session to consider 101 amendments to bills is next week.

On Sunday, Governor Northam signed the remaining bills that were pending for action, proposed 140 amendments to the state budget, and also 101 amendments to bills. As of today, the plan is for the House of Delegates to meet outdoors and the Senate of Virginia to meet in a tent behind the Virginia Science Museum in Richmond next Wednesday at noon for our “Veto Session.”

First, the good news for our area. The language requiring the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit to study extending the Blue Line to Lorton, Woodbridge and Potomac Mills is still in the budget. In addition, the authority and appropriations to fund the Prince William County Public Defender’s Office is still in the budget and cannot be amended further at this point.

The Governor proposed emergency language to allow community associations more flexibility to meet in light of the COVID crisis. He also proposed language that would abate interest on Virginia taxes that are paid before June 1, 2020. He also proposed language to give the Department of Corrections the flexibility to grant early release to prisoners scheduled to be released in the next twelve months.

He also proposed to move our local elections, including those in the towns of Occoquan and Quantico, from May to November. I doubt that will pass. He also used existing legislative authority to order our pending June primaries for U.S. Congress to be delayed two weeks to June 23, 2020.

Governor Northam also signed several of my bills. My “Do Not Sell Registry” allows Virginians to voluntarily place themselves on a list to be prohibited from purchasing a firearm. This measure will prove helpful to people suffering from periodic mental illness where they can spiral into temporary but deep depression such as bipolar mood disorder. Suicides are the leading cause of firearm death in Virginia and this goes directly at the mental health aspect of the problem.

The Governor proposed amendments to my legislation to allow more people to benefit from the low-income component of my community solar legislation. This bill will allow people in neighborhoods with heavy tree cover, apartments, condos, or small businesses to purchase access to solar panels to count against the home electricity usage.

He also proposed to amend my legislation to increase penalties for drivers who seriously injure pedestrians and cyclists to also include injuries to passengers of cyclists such as children who may be riding in trailers or on bike seats.

Unfortunately, the $3 million grant that I helped secure with Delegate Mark Sickles and Paul Krizek was proposed for cuts along with the funds that Delegate Sickles, Delegate Kathy Tran and I obtained for Mason Neck State Park to restore staffing.

The Governor also proposed defunding monies for a new Fairfax County General District Court Judge position along with over 50 new Public Defender Positions and 50 new District Court Clerk Positions. Probably 10 positions each would have served Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford Counties.

All raises for state employees were proposed for cuts including court staff, law enforcement, and other state workers such as those at George Mason University, probation and parole staff, ABC Store workers, or other state agencies with a Northern Virginia presence.

Increases in K-12 spending were cut by $50,000,000 over the biennium and will flow through to the 36th District if approved. The college tuition freeze was proposed for cancellation along with the Governor’s new free community college program and some early childhood education funds. If you have college age children, like me, you can expect tuition increases.

While we all continue to adjust to this new “normal,” I would encourage all to shop locally and buy take out locally from those businesses that remain open. Please consider giving to one of our local food banks who are overwhelmed right now. We will all get through this together with the collective strength of our community.

Please email me if you have any thoughts or feedback before the session at scott@scottsurovell.org.