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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

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.

 

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