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Welcome

I am honored to have the privilege of representing you in the Senate of Virginia. Serving constituents in the 35th District is a responsibility that I take very seriously. I hope you will find this website useful to communicate with me about legislative matters of concern and issues facing our community. Together we can keep Virginia moving forward in a positive fashion.

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Senator Saslaw's Blog

The General Assembly concluded its regular business last week, a day ahead of schedule. This in itself was great progress considering the 2014 special session ended minutes prior to the opening of the 2015 legislative session. Despite attempts to better manage the number of bills introduced in a short 45-day session, over 3,000 bills came through the system. The Commonwealth is a vibrant, well managed state recognized as business friendly and one of the best in the nation to raise a child, and yet each year we find ourselves facing mountains of initiatives to fix some problem or another. To a large degree many bills originate in both bodies giving an issue effectively, two lives. Crossover gives the Senate a chance to review, amend and/or dispatch the House bills and vice versa.

Amendments to the budget bill came to closure with both the Senate and House in bipartisan agreement. This was the last year the Senate Finance Committee would have the expertise of Senators Chuck Colgan, Walter Stosch and John Watkins. They are retiring and leaving a big void in institutional history as well as state finance expertise. Under their leadership, we have seen a fair and balanced budget that puts Virginia families first, entices businesses to the Commonwealth and attempts to address the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. I have recently shared the highlights of the budget conference in my weekly newsletter. If you missed that, you may go to dicksaslaw.com and follow the links to the adopted budget bill and the newsletter highlights.

One of the most challenging bills of the session focused on the reporting of sexual abuse on our college campuses. Victim advocate groups weighed in on the right of an individual’s privacy versus the school’s ability to address criminal matters. The bill that ultimately emerged was a compromise that puts in place a memorandum of understanding with local advocate groups, creates an assessment team that includes law enforcement at the table and balances the individual’s privacy with the safety of the public at large.

Once again, we saw several attempts to tighten up ethics reform that was started in 2014. In my opinion, the 49 page omnibus bill is complex and it may do more harm than good in the long run. I have stated many times, when in doubt, do without. The new measure calls for a $100 limit on gifts, including meals and trips. Additionally, it also creates a nine-member ethics council that will oversee enforcement of professional related travel that may be paid for by a lobbyist. The Governor has the opportunity to sign, amend or veto this measure, which nearly caused a stalemate to the General Assembly. I believe this issue will be revisited again in future years.

It came as no surprise to see the assault on public education that is now standard operating procedure every year at the General Assembly. From vouchers to home school athletes wanting to play for the local school division, we fought hard to preserve our public education. How else do we expect to be competitive in the global economy? Our teachers will get a 3 percent pay increase if half of that is matched at the local level. State funding for public education continues to be at a level slightly below 2009 – this puts a lot of pressure on the localities when it comes to maintaining our world-class education. So when it comes to “creative” ways to syphon money out of our public schools, I will lead the fight to put a halt to that kind of math.

I want to thank our page and messenger from Glasgow Middle for their service during the General Assembly. I also applaud their teachers for their efforts to accommodate these aspiring young students who in addition to their Richmond responsibilities, were able to keep up with their academic endeavors. This is a nationally acclaimed program and I am always proud of the students that I get to appoint.

Many of you visited my office in Richmond. Thanks for making the trip and participating in the process. We had three town halls in January and early February. I appreciate all of you attending those and for staying in touch during the session. Once again, I am seeking re-election and am in your neighborhood to get petitions signed to get on the ballot. I look forward to seeing you soon.

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,