During odd numbered years in Virginia, the legislature meets for a short 45 day session in Richmond, and things move quickly. However, I wanted to take a moment and send you an update on what has happened so far concerning our budget and several key pieces of legislation.
Public Health & Safety: This session, I introduced several key bi-partisan initiatives to keep our communities safe. I sponsored comprehensive missing person reform legislation. Of note, HB 1808 will create a new critically missing adult category, closing loopholes that exist in our current search and rescue process that came back to light during the Hannah Graham search. I am pleased to report that this significant measure has already passed both the House and Senate, and now it will go to the Governor’s desk.
I also sponsored HB 1807 which will crack down on illegal cigarette trafficking which is not only tied to organized crime and terrorist organizations, but it has caused Virginia to lose a significant amount of tax revenue. This has passed the House and Senate and will go into conference for negotiation of the criminal penalties for these criminal schemes.
Another issue that we face as a state, is addiction to opioid based drugs like benzodiazepine. We are seeing a marked increase in accidental deaths from prescription drugs and heroin overdoses. As part of the Governor’s bi-partisan Taskforce on Heroin and Prescription Drugs, I sponsored HB1810 and 1841, which will protect patient information in the Prescription Monitoring Program from being subpoenaed in civil suits, and it encourages the use of the program which is a tool for physicians and pharmacists to protect the patient's interests.
Voting and Civil Rights: Working to ensure our voting and civil rights are uncompromised is one of my top priorities. While this year, my effort to institute no excuse needed absentee voting failed in committee once again, I will continue to fight for better voting access for our citizens.
I believe that once someone has served their time and paid their debt to society, they should be able to obtain their voting rights without delay. I have fought for the automatic restoration of civil rights for nonviolent felons for years. I introduced HJ 522, which would allow the General Assembly to pave the way for the automatic restoration of civil rights. Sadly, the Privileges and Elections Committee took no action on my initiative.
As part of the Governor’s initiative for economic prosperity for Virginia and developing a new Virginia economy, I introduced HB 1823 which promotes equal pay irrespective of gender. Unfortunately, my bill, as well as other bills that would improve the lives of many Virginians such as increasing the minimum wage, died on a largely party-line vote.
Education: Campus assaults have been a topic of much discussion in recent months. I introduced legislation to ensure that victims of assault have access to much needed services, HB 1623. Additionally, I co-patroned a measure that requires a mutual aid agreement between universities and police for the reporting of campus assaults.
Budget: One of the most important things that I do in Richmond is to ensure that we have a structurally sound and balanced budget that encourages economic growth while maintaining a safety net for our most vulnerable. Fortunately, there has been increased confidence in the labor market conditions and individual earnings. Since late summer, our job growth rate has improved. Thus, we have had an unexpected rise in revenues, allowing for additional investment in our state’s priorities. As you may be aware, the House and Senate offer amendments to the Governor’s proposed amendments to the 2014-2016 biennial budget. At the time of this letter, budget negotiations are underway.
Both chambers have proposed increases to the Governor’s Opportunity fund which is key for job creation and economic development. Additionally, there is increased K-12 per pupil spending, and additional funds put into our revenue stabilization fund, also known as the rainy day fund.
While there are some good things in the House budget, the budget included some provisions that are disturbing. For example, the budget allows compensation for any member of the General Assembly to intervene in a Court case and defend a statute, instead of the Attorney General. Additionally, there is an amendment that was accepted which prevents women from exercising their reproductive healthcare decisions, and wastes taxpayer money on another audit of our Medicaid system despite the fact there have been over sixty audits over the last 10 years.
I expect that after negotiations in the coming days we will have a budget that is structurally sound and balanced. The Commonwealth Institute has highlights from the Governor, House and Senate’s proposed amendments to the budget, which you can find on my Facebook or Twitter.
I’ve only written about a few of the initiatives that I patroned this session. You can view my entire legislative agenda here. It is an honor to serve you in the House of Delegates and I am proud of the work that we have accomplished together. I look forward to providing an update after session concludes. In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office at email@example.com or 703-606-9705. You can sign up for e-updates online at www.charnieleherring.com.