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Senator Saslaw attends Annandale’s Annual Back to School Night on Wednesday, September 17th. Dick Saslaw is a recognized champion of public school interests. On Wednesday he announced that he has secured a technology grant that will help Annandale and other schools close the technology gap so all students can succeed in the global economy.

Click the image below to read the August 2014 Richmond Report.

On March 8, the General Assembly adjourned from the scheduled 2014 General Assembly without any consensus on the biennial budget. Within hours, Governor McAuliffe called for a Special Session of the General Assembly to convene on Monday, March 24 to address the matter of not having a spending plan for FY 2015 and 2016. Early that morning Governor McAuliffe announced his amendments to the budget previously proposed by outgoing Governor McDonnell. The impasse centers on providing access to health care for hard working Virginians that fall into the coverage gap.
 
Hundreds of thousands of Virginians stand to benefit by accepting Virginia’s portion of federal dollars for the expansion of Medicaid. As a result of accepting this federal money there will be an additional $125 Million General Fund revenue available in the next 18 months that can be redirected toward critical spending in Virginia. If we do nothing, Virginians pay twice – with their state income tax dollars that are currently used for indigent care as well as their federal taxes left behind that could be used for the same purpose.
 
Four major objectives found in the new initiative include:
  • Provide $100M reserve for future costs associated with Medicaid expansion
  • Provide $76M revenue reserve (IF NOT NEEDED) to be used to for payment to VRS
  • Provide for a 2% raise for state supported positions effective in the spring of 2015 (This includes all state employees, state supported local law enforcement, Constitutional officers all state supported local school employees and state supported local health and social services employees)
  • Provide $17M to assist localities with their obligation to the Line of Duty Fund (Funds available for families of public safety responders that have given the ultimate sacrifice for their community)
In all, there were over 100 proposed amendments. I’d like to point out a few that I believe you can agree are priority spending items. In the area of public education there would be increased funding for teacher pay raises; extended school year programs; adjustment of Pre-K funding to hold harmless available local slots; as well as increased aid to local libraries.
 
Additional highlights in the area of health and human services focused on Mental Health Reform. Funding for additional positions at Central Office for temporary detention bed search; funding for establishing the acute psychiatric bed registry; increasing the number of crisis intervention drop off centers; increasing the number of temporary detention beds at state facilities. With the use of federal money (sent across the Potomac from Virginia’s hard working taxpayers) funds would also be redirected to increase funding for brain injury services; restoring funds for Centers for Independent Living as well as funding for long term employment support services.
 
Within hours of its introduction HB/SB 5003, the House of Delegates rejected Governor McAuliffe’s proposal. There was virtually no debate on the merits of this budget bill. The House (with its 69 seat majority) did manage to push its new proposal (HB5001) through like greased lightening. The Senate on the other hand has taken the past two weeks to conduct Town Halls and held a public hearing with open testimony on April 1. Despite these efforts, the impasse continues.
 
Bear in mind the Commonwealth’s business year begins on July 1 and closes on June 30 each year. At the same time, many of our localities are building their budgets as well. In the absence of a state budget, the localities face big challenges in planning for their school years, salaries for state supported law enforcement, community services etc.
 
During the past several months I have shared with you many thoughts and facts on the merits of expanding Medicaid in Virginia. I know of no successful business that refuses to accept revenue to produce a better, more cost efficient product and/or service. In this case, that service is providing health care to hundreds of thousands of hard working Virginians caught in the coverage gap, including Veterans and their families. Additionally, it is projected some 30,000 new jobs will be created in health related fields. So why does the HOD continue to dig in their heels to the tune of $5M a day? That Ladies and Gentlemen is the $2B question that the business community, the hospitals serving our low income earners in their emergency rooms and nearly every editorial board in the Commonwealth continues to ask.
 
I will continue to lead the fight for sound public policy and fiscal responsibility in Richmond. Stay tuned as we continue this process.
 
Senator Dick Saslaw

Check out this data from a recent Richmond Times Dispatch article that has found that, of the 50 House of Delegates districts with the highest levels of Medicaid recipients, 32 are represented by Republican legislators:

Dear Friend,

Now that Governor McDonnell has left office, we are greeted by the bipartisan aspirations of Governor McAuliffe. There are a select number of common goals that have been mentioned time and time again by Governor McAuliffe that I believe are a necessity for good public policy. We as legislators need to focus on growing our economy, improving our children’s schools, safeguarding our environment, promoting healthy families, and protecting public safety.

With the legislative session well underway, there is a lot of work to get done. We are guaranteed a very busy and robust legislative session with no shortage of introduced bills and budget amendments. To name a few, there are over 40 bills on guns and weapons, 5 on women’s reproductive health, and 8 to repeal the hybrid car tax. Once again, several bills to make “technical adjustments” in Senate districts are before the legislature.

Mental health reform is a top priority for this session. In addition to funding, look for an extension of emergency custodial times as well as a more comprehensive system for identifying appropriate beds and placement.

One highlight of the week was the reporting of SB16 from committee, a bill that will allow for Virginians 65 and older to vote absentee without any excuse. Given the legislature’s recent history with attempts to erode voting rights, this is a significant step in the right direction. The bill is now on the Senate floor where it will be voted on by the entire chamber.

The Senate is currently composed of 20 Republicans and 18 Democrats due to the election of Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring. On January 7th, Lynwood Lewis was elected to fill the seat of Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam. However, this race has gone into a recount. Next Tuesday, January 21st, there will be a special election to fill Attorney General Mark Herring’s Senate Seat. We are working hard to ensure a Democratic victory so that the Senate remains 20-20 with Ralph Northam having the tie breaking vote.

I will continue to lead the fight for more balanced government and continued fiscal responsibility. Thank you for your continued interest and support of my leadership efforts. During the General Assembly session, you can reach my office online at district35@senate.virginia.gov or by phone at 804-698-7535.  If you find yourself in Richmond during the legislative session, please stop by my office in the General Assembly Building located at 9th and Broad Street. We are in Room 613.

Sincerely,

Senator Dick Saslaw

Happy New Year!

2013 proved to be a very exciting year with a Democratic sweep of the three statewide offices setting the stage for the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Governor McDonald will finish his term when Terry McAuliffe is sworn in as the 72nd Governor of Virginia at noon on Saturday, January 11. I look forward to seeing many of you in Richmond for this special occasion.

What lies ahead during the General Assembly? No doubt we will see a plethora of bills ranging from Virginia’s attempt at ethic and campaign finance reform; mental health funding and reform; SOL reform; establishing priorities for transportation spending; tax credits for renewable energy; gun safety and many more issues. Job creation and economic growth remain top priorities for the incoming Governor and the Legislature. We will spend 60 days in Richmond trying to hammer out a biennial budget. As you know, unlike the federal government, our Constitution requires a balanced spending plan.

Despite a slight reprieve from the Federal Government’s belt tightening, Virginia more than any other state in the nation stands to be impacted the most in the coming year. Without question, the lingering effect of the shutdown and the threat of sequestration have hurt our economy and will generate much debate as we go through the budget process. An additional, critical impact on the budget will be the end of extended unemployment benefits for unemployed Virginians.

Another major unresolved issue is the expansion of Medicaid to thousands of working Virginians caught in the “dark hole” between low income and affordable health care. The window is closing for the Commonwealth to receive its federal funding. Regardless of what we do, that money will be spent – in other states. It is estimated some 30,000 jobs in the Commonwealth are at stake as well. It is my understanding there will be a bill introduced to establish a Virginia exchange. We will see how far that gets in the legislature.

I continue to be concerned about the steady reduction of funding for public education. Our colleges and universities are operating at state funding levels similar to 2005. This comes despite a steady growth trend at most of these same facilities. Is there any doubt why there is a need for out-of-state students to make up the difference with higher tuition? I suspect many of you know of a highly qualified Virginia student that was not able to get into a state-supported school. I personally do not believe capping the number of out-of-state students is the right way to go. Look to our community college system to be another resource for training the workforce of the future. It continues to grow exponentially.

You may have read or heard about the proposed budget submitted by outgoing Governor McDonnell. In it some $35M was cut from public education – money that went toward textbooks. I recognize that there is a movement toward online texts, however, we are not at a point where every student has a laptop or access to internet in their homes. It appears we are trying to prepare our kids for jobs of the future by handicapping them. In my opinion, it’s time to stop the bloodletting in public education.

Let’s keep in touch during this year’s legislative session. I ask you to take a few minutes to visit my website, complete my online survey (www.dicksaslaw.com/survey2014) for the upcoming General Assembly and sign up for my email newsletters during the session. Be sure to stop by the office when you are in Richmond. We can also arrange tours of the recently renovated Capitol. My office will assist educators with learning materials and can make room reservations for school trips. I look forward to leading the fight for Virginia’s working families with sound public policy and fiscal responsibility. Best wishes to you and your family in 2014.

Senator Dick Saslaw

Nearly one month ago, Virginians went to the polls and elected Terry McAuliffe, Ralph Northam and Mark Herring to lead the Commonwealth over the next four years. With over two million votes cast, Mark Herring eked out victory with some 165 votes. As we go to press, the State Board of Elections has certified Mark Herring as the winner. However, his opponent has asked for a recount. It is unlikely there will be any changes in the outcome but it is an understandable and necessary process. There has been plenty of speculation about challenges and contesting the vote. Despite the close count, it is time to close the page on this election

That withstanding, two vacant Senate seats will be filled by special elections. Soon to be Lt Governor, Senator Northam, has represented the 6th District that takes in the Eastern Shore, part of Norfolk and Virginia Beach. In Loudon County, Senator Herring will vacate his senate seat. The Governor will call for the special election(s) soon. I don’t have to tell you how important those two seats are to my caucus and the balance in the Virginia Senate. For the past two years, the Senate has been equally divided with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. Lt. Governor Bill Bolling has cast a tie-breaking vote 50+ times. Dr. Ralph Northam will be the tiebreaker when the newly elected Senators are sworn in.

We have plenty to do to get ready for opening day of the General Assembly on January 8. Three days later, Terry McAuliffe will be sworn in as Governor. Since the day after the November election, he has been working on putting together the best possible team for his administration. We have some of the brightest minds I have ever known as part of the transition team. I look forward to working with our new Governor and his Cabinet to keep Virginia moving forward.

A few days before the Senate Finance Committee met for its annual retreat in November one of our colleagues suffered a great loss with the passing of a son desperately in need of mental health services. Senator Deeds, a loving father, did what he thought best for his son and family when he stayed with his son after he was not placed as an inpatient on the night before he attacked the Senator and ultimately took his own life. As a father it pains me to think of such a horrible experience and outcome. It also begs the question if someone as well connected could not get the attention required for his child, how does the average, often desperate, parent deal with a similar situation?

It is high time we took a serious look at the rise of mental health disorders and what we are doing about them in Virginia as well as in this nation. The statistics are staggering. Sadly 25 percent of Virginia’s prison population has been identified with mental health issues. Of that same number, over 56 percent have serious mental health disorders. Clearly, we have a problem of epidemic proportion that needs to be addressed.

The General Assembly will be tasked with passing a biennial budget in 2014. The outgoing Governor McDonald will introduce the budget plan to the Joint Money Committees on December 16. After that the legislature will begin its process for crafting the budget. There are growing needs to be addressed in funding for education, mental health and our aging infrastructure just to name a few. Unlike the federal government, we must produce a balanced budget.

In addition to the budget, we will have the usual 2000+ bills drafted for legislative action. It will be a very hectic session. I will keep you posted on the issues that matter most. If you are planning to visit Richmond during the General Assembly, be sure to stop by my office, Room 613 in the General Assembly Building.

Here’s hoping that you had a great Thanksgiving and are enjoying the holidays. I’d like to give a pitch for our small business merchants during this gift-giving season. Falls Church is a vibrant community in which to live, eat, shop and play. Before I conclude, I’d also like to congratulate Delegate Markus Simon on his election to the House of Delegates. I am confident he will serve our community with the same distinction and compassion as Jim Scott did during his tenure in elected office.

 

October 11th-14th, 2013 is a Sales Tax Holiday in Virginia. During that time, you can purchase certain Energy Star and WaterSense products without having to pay sales tax on them.

 

As of October 1, 2013, Virginians have the opportunity to access the federally facilitated marketplace to obtain health insurance coverage beginning January 1, 2014. Learn more here.

This has been a week in American government that we should never have to bear witness to – ever.

I try not to criticize my colleagues across the Potomac River but it is difficult for any informed individual to question how the “game of chicken” became part of the philosophy of governing. When we are sworn into office as elected officials we take an oath to support the Constitution to the best of our abilities. Nowhere in that oath does it say we are to dismantle government, circumvent the law of the land or hold American citizens hostages. I have spent my entire career in public service trying to make things better for Virginians as well as ensure a robust economy in the Commonwealth to enhance opportunity and our quality of life. A critical part of governing is finding solutions and the common ground in an issue. That is why the election on November 5 is so very important for Virginians.

It should be easy for you to figure out whom I am supporting for the three statewide offices. There are very clear distinctions between all of the candidates running for each office. I have served with four of the six candidates and believe their records clearly reveal their agendas and provide a glimpse to what is likely the foundation for their future governance in higher office. Make no mistake about it, reinventing what you believe in after serving as an elected official, is no small task. That is why I believe we have two candidates with voting records trying to recreate their past and pass it along as if it were history.

When you look at the two candidates running for Governor, hands down there is only one individual with a history of success as well as the ability to engage in relationships with people from all walks of life including former presidents, leaders of the business community and individuals interested in moving the Commonwealth in a positive direction. Terry McAuliffe is the only candidate with that record. As a successful individual he brings private sector knowledge to the job. You may recall Mark Warner was first elected to public office as Governor. He brought his business skills to the Executive Branch, leading Virginia to being ranked the best managed state and the best place to do business. Terry and Dorothy McAuliffe have raised five children here in the Commonwealth – once rated the best place for a child to succeed. Terry knows the significance of investing in public education and the role it plays in keeping Virginia competitive in a global economy. I have every confidence there will not be a “Giftgate” during the next administration. As our economy continues to recover, we need a person with a track record for success – not one looking to slice and dice government recklessly.

I am proud to have served with both Ralph Northam and Mark Herring. Both of them are dedicated to common sense solutions on the issues we face in the General Assembly. I might add that they both have solid voting records that reflect their efforts to move Virginia forward in a fiscally responsible manner. They are well respected and have not been bogged down by obstructionist attempts to derail the Virginia legislature. In recent years we have seen some of the “Potomac Fever” attempting to creep into Richmond in the form of extreme ideological agendas. That model hasn’t worked at the federal level and we sure do not need to facilitate it here in Virginia.

Ralph Northam brings the right temperament and the military discipline to get the job done well as Lieutenant Governor. Most importantly, as a pediatric neurosurgeon, he knows the importance of applying science and logic when making laws. From every indication, his opponent has little tolerance for others unlike himself and a very divisive agenda.

Mark Herring is the one candidate for Attorney General that is front and center. He has a history of representing the best interests of Virginians in a moderate and balanced fashion. Unlike our current Attorney General and his hopeful Republican successor, we won’t see the taxpayer-funded assaults on our colleges and universities or the Don Quixote quests of the past four years. From “Giftgate” to other conflicts of interest at the expense of Virginians, I believe it is well past the time to make a change in that office. Mark Herring is the person to restore integrity to that most important office as an advocate for Virginians. His opponent on the other hand, introduced a bill that would have required women to report miscarriages to the police.

Dick Saslaw

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