By Senator Steve Newman
The regular session of the 2019 General Assembly came to an end this week. While most of the media coverage surrounding this year’s session was about the difficulties and revelations involving the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, senators and delegates had a session marked by substantial legislative accomplishments on higher education, K-12, law enforcement, judges, and so much more. In general, it was a very productive session.
Amendments to the 2018-2020 Biennial Budget were approved as the session ended, with a handful of legislators and myself working late nights on behalf of the House and Senate reaching an agreement early Friday. The final bill included was remarkably close to what the Senate approved and I highlighted in my previous columns.
Public school teachers will be receiving a 5 percent pay raise, there’ll be millions more for school construction, a big boost in funding for behavioral health including opiate addiction treatment, and more funds to expand broadband to underserved regions. We also added funds to enhance school safety and increased the availability of certified and credentialed Opportunity Grants at our community colleges. In all, about 1200 pieces of legislation passed this year. More importantly, we were able to defeat hundreds of bills that would have hurt Virginians.
For most Virginians, the most noticeable result of this year’s General Assembly session will arrive in the fall. That’s when they’ll be receiving their tax rebate checks for $110, or $220 for couples, and a 50 percent increase in the standard deduction for their state income taxes. The total tax relief will be nearly $1 billion for working families.
Also, there was a lot of discussion about the potential of adding Virginia to the list of states that allow casino gambling, and I opposed that bill. And fortunately, that did not happen, with the General Assembly deciding to study the issue instead. The minimum age for purchasing tobacco and nicotine vaping products is changing, however. It will go from 18 to 21 on July 1, 2019.
As is often the case for General Assembly sessions, high profile measures that captured a lot of headlines going into the session did not necessarily command sufficient support during session. What did get done, however, will have a positive effect on Virginia.
Legislation I sponsored and supported during this session advanced in the final week. My two school safety bills, SB1213 and SB1215, were approved on February 19 by Governor Northam. My bill regarding commercial vehicle training, SB1347, was also approved by the governor. All three of these bills will go into effect July 1, 2019. My bills; 1214, 1216, 1217, 1219, 1220, 1346, 1348, 1728, and 1787 were all passed through the Senate and the House, awaiting the signature of the governor.
The General Assembly has filled a lot of judicial vacancies over the course of this session, strengthening our courts and ensuring they’ll be operating with greater efficiency. Since Republicans first gained a majority in either chamber of the General Assembly back in 2000, over 100 women have been promoted to judgeships, including four women who have been elected to the Supreme Court of Virginia. The General Assembly elected Stephanie Ayers as the 24th District Juvenile and Domestic Court Judge. She has served for more than 12 years in Bedford County including with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.
The 2019 General Assembly will be remembered as one unlike any other that preceded it. The national attention, the throngs of cameras and news crews on Capitol Square, and the general chaos brought about by revelations involving the three statewide elected officials resulted in some truly bizarre moments.
But, the real story of this year’s session wasn’t the chaos outside the House and Senate chambers, but the attention paid by senators and delegates to the legislation being discussed inside. In an age when a new media firestorm can seem to erupt every day, the work of representative government continues.
With the end of this year’s session, I’ll be back home in the 23rd District. We’ll be returning to Richmond on April 3 to consider the governor’s actions on the legislation we approved.
I want to thank this paper for carrying this column as a public service. It does so to ensure you know what your elected representatives are doing in Richmond. Also, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this column.
It is an honor to represent the people of the 23rd District in the Senate of Virginia. Thank you. Have a great week, and I hope to see you soon.