Opinion: Commentary: Budget Recommendations on Transportation and Public Safety

Opinion: Commentary: Budget Recommendations on Transportation and Public Safety

Report By Delegate Paul Krizek, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Safety, to the Full Appropriations Committee, that will be given on Wednesday, Feb. 10, with the introduction of the House Budget:

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

On behalf of the Transportation and Public Safety Subcommittee, I am pleased to present to you our budget recommendations. One of the primary responsibilities of this subcommittee is ensuring the agencies under its purview have the resources needed to adequately address their responsibilities, and to meet the challenges they all face.

To this end, for the Department of Emergency Management, the subcommittee report includes an additional $31.7 million from the general fund over the biennium as well as a newly received reimbursement of $47 million from FEMA for the Department’s ongoing pandemic response and recovery activities. This includes support for the purchase and distribution of personal protective equipment, increased staffing in the Emergency Operations Center, as well as funding to support the Commonwealth’s efforts to ensure equity in its pandemic response. For the Department of Corrections, the subcommittee report supports providing $14.3 million in additional appropriations for the Department to continue meeting the challenges of providing adequate and appropriate health care to those incarcerated in its facilities. And to support the safety of our State Troopers and the communities they serve, the subcommittee report includes $7.5 million in additional funding for the State Police to purchase newer, safer, and more reliable vehicles for their troopers.

I am pleased the amendment package also helps support an ambitious criminal justice reform agenda. To implement an automatic expungement process, pursuant to Leader Herring’s legislation, the subcommittee report includes $14.6 million to allow the Office of the Executive Secretary and the Department of State Police to make the systems improvements necessary for Virginia to become one of just a handful of states who have implemented a process for the automatic expungement of civil and criminal records.

The subcommittee report also supports the Commonwealth’s efforts to join a growing list of states that have legalized the adult use of cannabis. To this end, the report includes a $10.0 million line of credit for the establishment of the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority, and a $5.0 million contingency appropriation to ensure adequate support exists for the many agencies involved in ensuring Virginia has a safe, functioning, and appropriately regulated, legal cannabis marketplace by Jan. 1, 2024.

Other criminal justice reform priorities reflected in the subcommittee report include the elimination of the death penalty in the Commonwealth, which allows the savings from no longer providing criminal defense in capital cases to be reinvested to meet other operational needs within the Indigent Defense Commission. The subcommittee report also includes $6 million toward the costs of eliminating mandatory minimums for more than 18 offenses, and allowing individuals currently incarcerated under mandatory minimum sentences to petition for resentencing.

In the area of Transportation, the subcommittee’s first priority was to conduct a thorough review of the proposals in the introduced budget to invest $55 million in general funds to support two high priority transportation projects, providing $50 million to enhance the current rail service from DC to Roanoke and start the expansion of passenger rail to the New River Valley, and $5 million for development and construction of additional multi-use trails in the Commonwealth. I am pleased to announce the Subcommittee recommendations include going forward with these two projects.

It is important to note that in addition to recommending the $50 million in funding to support the rail expansion, the subcommittee and full committee reported House Bill 1893 patroned by Delegate Hurst to establish the New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority to provide additional support to enable rail expansion into the New River Valley.

The Subcommittee feels strongly that support for public transit is vital to our Commonwealth’s future because it reduces congestion on our roads and helps mitigate the impact motor vehicle emissions have on our environment. Given this importance, the subcommittee recommendations also include $500,000 from the general fund to support the transit equity and modernization study authorized in House Joint Resolution 542 patroned by Delegate McQuinn. We feel this study will provide important information as we continue to expand our investments in public transit in the years to come.

With that, Mr. Chairman, the report of the Subcommittee is now before you and the members of the Committee. I hope it will be the Committee’s pleasure to adopt the Subcommittee’s report.