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The 2015 session of the General Assembly has come to a close and was capped off by passing a bipartisan budget—one day early. It is never an easy task to balance the budget of Virginia.   Due to new found revenues, and some prudent corrections in 2014, the process went smoothly with some good news in areas that have been neglected in previous years.  I voted for the bipartisan budget because it is fair, balanced, and it will help Virginia’s families who are trying to weather through this recovering economy.  

 

The Budget Conferees working with Governor McAuliffe’s proposed amendments, produced a solid roadmap to growing our economy and expanding opportunities for all Virginians.  Senate Democrats scored some important victories in the budget process. Most notably, we were able to keep public education whole while giving a pay increase to teachers, deputy sheriffs qualifying for food stamps, and state employees who have not had a meaningful increase since 2007.  


Link to budget legislation.

 

Here are some highlights of the adjustments made to the 2014 - 2016 biennial budget.

 

Rainy Day Fund: We have set aside a $129.5 million repayment to  the Rainy Day fund.

 

Protecting Public Education: Once again, we were able to preserve funding for public education.  The House and Senate also agreed to set aside $537,297 for the “Breakfast After The Bell” pilot program. This initiative of First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, will fund school breakfasts in elementary schools where reduced lunch eligibility exceeds 45%. One million dollars was added for kindergarten readiness assessment.

 

Higher Education: Operating at below 2009 funding levels, we will see more than $41 million in funding, including $20.5 million to help our universities address enrollment growth, $14.4 million for a 2% faculty salary increase, and an additional $5.4 million for need-based undergraduate financial aid. (Need-based financial aid will total $8.9M). The budget calls for a one-time payment of $141.4 million for capital outlay projects and $52.9 million in funding for school construction loans.

 

Pay Raise For State Employees and Teachers: As previously noted, the House and Senate were able to agree on a 2% pay raise for state employees and to include $52.9 million for the state’s share of a 3% pay raise for teachers, splitting the cost evenly with the localities. An additional $1.2 million has been added to the General Fund to increase the base pay for Virginia’s deputy sheriffs.

 

Governor’s Access Plan: The budget passed by the General Assembly will fund the Governor’s Access Plan, which Governor McAuliffe established last year. The Governor’s Access Plan will provide medical and behavioral health services to 22,000 individuals with serious mental illness.

 

Health and Human Services: The final product will fund the key components of the Healthy Virginia Program, including  dental coverage for pregnant women and health coverage for the children of low-income state employees. The budget allows for $3.1 million for free clinics that will expand services to 7,500 uninsured Virginians, and $1 million for community health centers. Additionally, a total of $750,000 was set aside to increase services for individuals with brain injuries.

 

Behavioral Health Services: Virginia will allocate an additional $9.2 million in funding for behavioral health services. The budget provides $2.1 million for supportive housing for 150 individuals with mental illness and $2 million to improve access to child psychiatry services. The budget includes $250,000 to help patients transition out of the Northern Virginia Training Center, which is very important to many families in our region.

 

Economic Development: The Governor’s Development Opportunity Fund, which is used to attract businesses to the Commonwealth, will receive $28.0 million and the fund will be able to retain any unspent balances. There will also be $500,000 in incentives set aside to encourage companies to hire veterans. We tried our best to make funds available to build a new Virginia economy and attract new jobs to our Commonwealth.

 

I want to thank everyone who contacted me during this session and stopped by my Richmond office. I will continue to keep you updated on the latest news from the General Assembly and look forward to seeing you in the community. The General Assembly will reconvene in the middle of April to take up amended legislation from the Governor.


 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

We are coming up to the closing gavel of 2015 session of the General Assembly. Many important bills have made their way through the Senate and the House of Delegates. They will now head to Governor McAuliffe’s desk for his consideration. The final version of the budget is still being worked out and I will share more details of the conference report with you next week. Here are some highlights from this week.

 

Governor’s Energy Fund: This year, I introduced legislation (SB 1449) to establish the the Governor’s Energy Fund. This will allow the Governor to incentivize economic development by offering reduced electricity rates to qualifying entities. It is another tool to attract businesses to Virginia and is the type of thing we need to be doing in order to build a new Virginia economy capable of adding good-paying jobs. This bill has bipartisan support; it passed in the Senate last week and is now under consideration by the House of Delegates.

 

Brass Knuckles: Last week, in a shocking display, Senate Republicans on a party line vote passed legislation to legalize the sale of switchblades, brass knuckles, and throwing stars in Virginia. This week, cooler heads prevailed and the measure was reconsidered in the House of Delegates and soundly defeated. This was a welcome about-face and a victory for public safety— there is no need to bring these dangerous weapons to the streets of Virginia.

 

Update On Uber and Lyft Legislation: This week Governor McAuliffe signed a bill into law to put in place new rules for the ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft. A compromise was reached with all of the stakeholders that will protect consumers and allow Virginians to take advantage of this new technology.

 

Safe Reporting: The General Assembly passed legislation (HB 1500) to protect individuals acting in good faith to help someone at the scene of an overdose.  All too often in these situations people are afraid to alert the police or first responders for fear of retribution. This measure will shield good samaritans from prosecution for possession of a controlled substance, public intoxication, and underage drinking. It is a commonsense effort to save lives and encourage individuals to do the right thing.

 

New Happy Hour Rules: This week the Senate passed HB 1439 to allow Virginia establishments to advertise happy hour drink specials. I supported this common sense move to help local Virginia bars and restaurants.

 

Protecting Virginia Kids: One of the highlights of this week was the defeat of misguided legislation (HB 1309) to allow local school districts to allow school security guards to carry batons, tasers, and pepper spray. To me this proposal is over the top and is not something we need in our public schools. We don’t need people playing cops in our schools.

 

State Song: The Senate passed legislation to designate two songs as the official song of the Commonwealth: “Sweet Virginia Breeze” and “Our Great Virginia.”

 

You can listen to both of them here:

 

Sweet Virginia Breeze

 

Our Great virginia

 

Sincerely,

DRIVERS ASKED TO DELAY TRAVEL IN N. VA. THIS MORNING

Many roads still snow-covered; VDOT crews working to clear snow and treat icy conditions

FAIRFAX Drivers are urged to delay travel today until at least 10:00 a.m., as Virginia Department of Transportation crews continue working to clear and treat roads in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties. Interstates and major primaries are passable with extreme caution. Other roads were also plowed continuously overnight but still have a layer of snow and ice.

What drivers should know today:

·         HOV restrictions are lifted on I-66, I-395 and the Dulles Toll Road. HOV-3 requirements still apply on the 495 and 95 Express Lanes.

·         Eastbound I-66 X lanes will be unavailable for the morning rush hour, as crews continue to clear shoulders.

·         Crews continue to clear interstates, major roads and neighborhood streets concurrently. Check www.vdotplows.org to see the status of plowing in neighborhoods.

·         If you can, park in your driveway or on the odd-numbered side of the street to allow plows room to pass.

·         After a plow has passed, roads will be passable, but will not be bare pavement and may remain snow-packed.

·         Stay off the roads or delay trips to allow crews time to safely treat the roads.

Resources:

•          If you must be on the road, check www.511virginia.org before leaving for road conditions

•          Report road problems to 1-800-367-7623 or novainfo@vdot.virginia.gov

•         Get more details on snow removal in northern Virginia

•         Follow VDOT Northern Virginia on Twitter: @vadotnova

There is a Winter Storm Warning in effect for Northern Virginia. As the snow approaches our region I wanted to provide you with some helpful contact information in case of an emergency.

Please stay safe and look after one another. Feel free to contact my office if you need any further information at 804-698-7535.

Sincerely,

 

Senator Dick Saslaw

 

Emergency:

  • Emergency: If you are having an emergency, please call 911

 

 

 

Roadways:

 

 

 

  • You can get up to the minute updates on Twitter from @VaDOTNOVA

 

Power Outages:

  • Dominion Virginia Power outages and downed wires: 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357)

 

Downed Trees:

  • Public roads: Virginia Department of Transportation: 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623)

 

Water:

 

We are at the halfway point of the 2015 legislative session. This past week the Senate passed key initiatives which will now be taken up by the House of Delegates. Likewise, the Senate will debate and take action on bills that have passed the House.


Compromise on Key Energy Bill: Soon the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will issue final guidelines for each state to reduce carbon emissions, including energy sources like coal-fire plants.  In anticipation of these new regulations, SB 1349 was introduced. For several weeks the bill was worked on by many stakeholders to get a balanced, thoughtful compromise which I supported. With the League of Conservation Voters and the Southern Environmental Law Center supporting this measure, I believe this is the best option for Virginia families as well as the long-term interest of the Commonwealth. I believe this bill will help us to maintain our affordable energy advantage.

           

Key Highlights:

           

  • While there may be some changes due to fuel costs, the base rate will remain the same.

 

—Right now our electricity rate is $115.95 per 1,000 kilowatt hours. The average for the East Coast today is $146.37.

               

—In the next five years, the residential base rate for households with Dominion Power will drop to $109.49 per 1,000 kilowatt hours.

 

  • Audits by the State Corporation Commission (SCC) will remain in place and there will be a biennial oversight review of Dominion.

       

  • This legislation will increase the use of renewable energies in Virginia, particularly solar power. Dominion will acquire or generate up to 500 megawatts of solar power by 2020.    

                   

  • In order to comply with the potential EPA regulations, Dominion will absorb $82 million in costs that will NOT be passed on to consumers. The company will also take on any additional costs that may arise from natural disasters (hurricanes, snow storms, etc.).

   

 

Absentee Voting Update:. This measure will allow for “no-excuse” absentee ballots for Virginia seniors, 65 and older. It will now be taken up by the House of Delegates for consideration.


Nondiscrimination Legislation: One of this week’s highlights in the Senate was the passage of SB 785, a bill to bar discrimination in public employment on the basis of sexual orientation. Upon final passage, it will be a part of state law. It now heads over to the House of Delegates.


Quality Education for All: On a party-line vote, a controversial charter school amendment cleared the Senate. Republicans are attempting to amend Virginia’s constitution to allow the State Board of Education to create charter schools in local school districts across the Commonwealth— with or without local support. I strongly opposed this move because it would take away precious funding from public schools and there are no assurances that the quality of education would improve.


Ethics Reform: Both the House and Senate are working on legislation to reform Virginia’s ethics laws. Right now there is a consensus that we need to limit gifts to public officials to $100 and put a cap on "intangible" gifts — things like meals, trips or tickets to sporting events. This issue remains a work in progress.


Plastic Bag Legislation:Democrats and Republicans joined together to advance legislation that would allow localities the option to ban plastic shopping bags. Reducing the number of plastic bags that make their way into Virginia’s waterways is an important step toward protecting the environment. I supported this measure.


Visitors to Richmond: I met with many visitors from Northern Virginia this week at the General Assembly; including advocates for dyslexia awareness, the League of Women voters, Virginia NOW, and Equality VA. On the floor of the Senate, I had the privilege of introducing Rabbi Steven Rein of the Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria. Rabbi Rein delivered the invocation for the Senate on Tuesday morning.


The Week Ahead: There are many different pieces of legislation coming together right now, and issues are being ironed out by legislators and stakeholders. The Senate will take up legislation to address the treatment of sexual assaults on college campuses. We need to make sure that Virginia’s institutions of higher education can no longer conceal sexual assaults, that perpetrators of these crimes face justice, and that the survivors get the privacy and the support they need. Amendments to the budget introduced last December by the Governor, have been presented by  the Senate and the House. In the next several weeks, any and all differences found in those proposals will be resolved.

 

Sincerely,

Legislative Town Hall Meeting

Please Join

Senator Dick Saslaw
(Senate Democratic Leader, D-35th District)

Senator Dave Marsden
(D-37th District)

Delegate Kaye Kory
(D-38th District)

Saturday, February 7, 2015
10:00AM

Sleepy Hollow Elementary School
3333 Sleepy Hollow Road
Falls Church, VA

(See map)

Our region will be seeing winter weather that is expected to impact rush hour commutes. Please use these resources below to plan your day and stay on top of the latest news for Northern Virginia. Stay safe!

 

 

 

 

You can get up to the minute updates on Twitter from @VaDOTNOVA

Legislative Town Hall Meeting

 

Please Join

 

Senator Dick Saslaw

and

Delegate Marcus Simon


Saturday, January 17, 2015

10:00AM

 

Falls Church Community Center

223 Little Falls Street
Falls Church, VA

 

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