Ending session at the General Assembly

Published 12:21 pm Friday, March 18, 2016

For the second year in a row, the Virginia General Assembly completed its work on the budget and finished the session a day early. Considering the volume of bills considered and some of the genuine disagreements among lawmakers on a variety of issues, the ability of legislators to complete their work with such efficiency is commendable.

The final tally of over 800 bills winning approval and being sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe is impressive.

Because many of these bills were completed early in the session, the governor has already acted on 366 of those bills. As a result, the reconvened or “veto” session scheduled for April 20 is likely to be manageable and much shorter than previous years.

The reason the governor has already acted upon so many bills is due to a provision in the Constitution of Virginia.

When legislation is sent to the governor while the legislature is in session, he has seven days to sign, amend or veto it.

In the past, there were few bills that were completed that early in the session.

As a result, more bills are already enacted by the time we adjourn. Still, the governor will have a lot more time to consider his actions on most of the bills we approved, including the budget. He has until April 10 to act on the remaining bills, and we will consider his actions on April 20.

My fellow legislators who were tasked with ironing-out the differences between the House and Senate budget plans completed their work this week.

As a result, the final budget won overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers.

The new budget invests heavily in our public schools. Providing $73 million more to our public schools than McAuliffe proposed, it includes a 2 percent pay raise for our teachers and increases the number of available placement slots for students in the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

The plan makes economic development a top priority. It includes $35 million in funding for the GO Virginia economic partnership initiative and more than $12 million to create New Economy Workforce Grants. That latter initiative will provide new financial assistance for students pursuing educational programs that lead to skill-based certification. This is the area where our national economy will be growing the fastest over the next two decades.

Ensuring our students have opportunities to match the demand for high-paying jobs is essential to Virginia’s ability to compete for growth industries.

One thing missing from the final budget is Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion scheme, which the governor advocated. Alternatively, the budget includes $16 million for hospitals to offset inflation and creates 355 new Medicaid waiver slots, strengthening Virginia’s safety net.

With the passage of a budget and completion of all our work on bills, we’re back home in our offices in Victoria. You can reach us here by calling (434) 696-3061 or emailing DelTWright@house.virginia.gov.

This is our final column for 2016. I especially want to thank this paper for publishing them.

Del. Tommy Wright represents Lunenburg County in the House and is a resident of the county. He can be contacted at deltwright@house.virginia.gov.