Opinion: Commentary: Finding Solutions in the General Assembly

Opinion: Commentary: Finding Solutions in the General Assembly

Both the Senate of Virginia and the House of Delegates have released proposed budgets and we will vote on the budget soon. We are also working to resolve some complex bills and to accelerate vaccinations.

Vaccination Progress

Health care providers have administered over 1.2 million covid-19 vaccinations in Virginia as of Feb. 12, nine of ten available first doses. As of last week, that means that Virginia ranked seventh among states as a proportion of our population. The state also announced a unified vaccination scheduling system although Fairfax County chose to opt out. Virginia is now receiving 129,000 doses per week which is up 23 percent from our initial allocation. We have also expanded the vaccination program to 36 CVS drugstores around the state. We expect the pace to pick up once the Food and Drug Administration approves the new single-shot vaccines.

Back to School, River Farm, Mason Neck

On Wednesday, both chambers announced amendments to our two-year budget. Fortunately, revenues have been better than anticipated. The Senate budget includes a three percent raise for teachers and a requirement that school systems hold in-person instruction during the 2021-22 school year. We also included language to prevent local school systems from losing funding if families have removed their children from the public schools.

Sen. Adam Ebbin and Del. Paul Krizek secured funding in both the Senate and House budgets to provide at least $2 million to help purchase River Farm.

My $1.6 million amendment to fund a public water connection for Mason Neck State Park was accepted. Delegate Kathy Tran secured the same provision in the House which is promising.

Managing Criminal Records

Because the minority (Republicans) refused to extend our “short” session to 46 days, we had to formally move legislation from the regular session to the special session. This forced us to take two days off which gave us some additional time to collaborate to resolve some important disputes. On Tuesday, I met in the Governor’s Office with approximately ten legislators and the Governor’s policy staff to resolve an impasse on the expungement or sealing of convictions and records relating to certain dismissals of criminal charges.

I am very optimistic that we will be able to announce a compromise that will provide hope to the 1.6 million Virginians who have a misdemeanor or felony conviction but served their sentence and have long since moved on and led law-abiding lives. Enacting this bill will help people move beyond their past and support their families, and will also give employers a bigger pool of employees.

The Senate also accepted my amendment that requires Virginia’s Compensation Board to revamp staffing formulas for the state’s Commonwealth’s attorneys. Today, staffing is determined solely based on felony counts indicted and convictions obtained which incentivizes prosecutors to overcharge and over convict people. My amendment will set new standards.

The Senate also agreed to increase and retain about $35 million that I requested to fund the computer infrastructure necessary to facilitate the expungement and sealing reforms, and my initiative to expand the Court of Appeals of Virginia by seven judges. Virginia is the only state in America in which litigants do not have a right of appeal after a civil or criminal case and more judges are necessary to help with the new cases.

Our budget also prioritizes $136 million to extend rail service to the New River Valley in southwest Virginia. This means you might be able to take a train to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg soon. The budget also reallocates $3.9 million per year saved from abolishing capital punishment to a public defender office for Chesterfield County and new public defender appellate positions. A public defender will help provide thousands of people with enhanced legal defense instead of just a handful of people.

Please continue to respond to my constituent survey at www.scottsurovell.org/survey. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.