Dear Friends and Neighbors,
And we are off! The 2023 General Assembly session sprang to life on January 11 with the crack of the gavel. Thus began our 46-day sprint to consider 1,800+ bills and several hundred proposed amendments to the biennial budget.
Mark your calendar for my annual Town Hall meeting on Saturday, February 4, from 9-11 a.m. This is one of my favorite traditions and I’m excited that we will be returning to Fairfax City Hall. The meeting will include an overview of major issues and then lots of time for robust Q&A.
Thank you to everyone who emailed in response to my last newsletter, where I invited feedback on the Governor’s budget amendments and other priorities. I am still working through responses – but please know that I have read them all and greatly appreciate the input. I also want to share a more comprehensive overview of the Governor’s proposed amendments by our House Appropriations Committee for those who are interested in more details.
This year I have introduced 14 bills dealing with a wide range of issues. Below are a few highlights. Click here for the full list.
Workers Compensation for Dispatchers. HB1631 would enhance workers compensation benefits for our emergency dispatchers. Specifically, it would make it easier for dispatchers suffering from PTSD to get help. Dispatchers work under extremely stressful situations – being on calls with victims in burning homes, burglaries in progress, suicide attempts, armed robberies, fatal auto accidents, sexual assaults, and more. A recent study found that 8% of dispatchers themselves had recent thoughts about suicide. Making sure that these public servants get the help they need should be a priority.
Tenant Protections. When a tenant moves into a rental unit, at the very least it should be safe and habitable, right? Unfortunately, there are people who get the keys to a new unit and find it uninhabitable due to serious safety and health problems. Right now, that person is faced with two options – move into an unsafe situation or find another place to live while they try to hold the landlord accountable. HB1635 makes it clear that a tenant deserves to move into a habitable unit and allows them to break the lease and get their deposit back when the unit is unsafe.
Invasive Plants. HB2096 is designed to slow the spread of invasive plants that have taken over so many of our stream valleys and open spaces. This bill would require state agencies (including VDOT, public universities, parks, etc.) to lead by example by prohibiting invasive plants in new landscaping. It would also require landscaping contractors to inform a property owner when they propose to use an invasive plant – therefore giving the customer the opportunity to say “No thanks!” I was thrilled that a local native plant enthusiast dropped off a native fringed loosestrife as a thank you. Sorry Gretchen, it is not our color scheme but you will love the flowers!
Drought Planning. HB2095 strengthens our region’s drought management and planning efforts by recognizing the Potomac River as its own planning unit and making sure that our interstate plans are coordinated with state-wide plans. Two-thirds of our water comes from the Potomac River and 60% of the watershed is outside of Virginia – making interstate cooperation essential. I am pleased that this bill has passed committee and will come to a vote in the full House on Monday.
Livable Homes. HB2099 would increase the total cap on the Livable Homes Tax Credit program from $1 million to $2 million. This great program is designed to help people with mobility issues stay in their homes by providing a tax credit for retrofits. Retrofits include things like ramps and widening doorways. While very successful, the program cannot keep up with demand. The total amount has not been increased since it was established in 1999. Click here for more information about the Livable Homes Tax Credit. In addition, I have put in a budget amendment for the Emergency Home and Accessibility Repair Program. This is similar to the tax credit but uses grants to help people with limited income.
Loud Vehicle Exhaust Systems. HB2102 deals with the issue of mufflers that have been purposefully altered to make our roads sound more like racetracks. These startle fellow motorists, rattle windows, and wake people up in the middle of the night. I even had a constituent email me at 2:00 in the morning because one of these vehicles woke up their infant. While I was pleased to be chief co-patron of legislation that reinstated the ability of police to pull these vehicles over, there is no way we will be able to ticket our way out of the situation. HB2102 would prohibit the issuance of a safety inspection approval sticker on any vehicle equipped with these unlawful devices. To me, that is the fairest, most effective way to deal with the situation since you have a vehicle up the rack and a mechanic qualified to determine if the muffler has been illegally modified. Many thanks to Braddock Supervisor James Walkinshaw for testifying on behalf of the bill in subcommittee.
In addition to these bills, I have also introduced several budget amendments. Highlights include the following.
Chesapeake Bay Restoration. I was pleased that the Governor’s introduced budget includes significant funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration, including agricultural water quality best practices and wastewater treatment upgrades. This funding is essential for Virginia to meet a USEPA-mandated deadline to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Missing, however, is funding to clean up polluted urban stormwater. I’ve introduced an amendment for $9.9M to the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund to rectify that situation!
Housing Trust Fund. The Housing Trust Fund is Virginia’s most important funding source to promote affordable housing and leverage private funding. While it has grown significantly in the past few years, it is still very small compared to the need. I’ve introduced an amendment to increase the fund by $75M. According to the Virginia Housing Alliance, this investment will result in approximately 6,000 affordable homes being created or preserved.
Brain Injury Services. Like many key public services, our brain injury service providers are struggling to attract and retain personnel. In Northern Virginia, salaries for those working in brain injury services are on average $10,000 less than jobs with comparable skill levels. I’ve introduced a $1M budget amendment to increase salaries so that we can attract and retain quality case managers and service providers.
Teacher Mentoring and Retention. Virginia faces a serious teacher shortage. According to a Virginia Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission report, 10,900 teachers left in school year 2021/2022, while only 7,208 joined the profession. REACH Virginia is an innovative mentoring program designed to support new teachers and maximize the chance they will succeed in the long-term. Right now the program is only in Northern Virginia. My budget amendment ($630,000) will make the program more robust and expand it to serve teachers state-wide.
You can see my full list of budget amendments here.
Thank you to the many constituents who came down to Richmond this week to visit and advocate for a wide range of issues. It is an honor to serve you in the General Assembly!