Wow! The first weeks of session have flown by fast!
The 2024 Virginia General Assembly commenced on January 10 and immediately made history by unanimously electing Delegate Don Scott as Virginia’s first Black Speaker of the House. Since then, it has been non-stop as committees tackle the work of considering, debating, and voting on 1,546 bills. And that is just on the House side!
TOWN HALL MEETING
I am pleased to carry on a time-honored tradition by hosting a mid-session Town Hall meeting. The meeting will include a session overview and lots of opportunity for Q&A. I will be joined by State Senator Saddam Salim.
I was honored to again be appointed chair of the General Laws Committee (I served in this capacity from 2020-2021). This is one of the oldest, and most active, committees. First organized in 1677 as the Committee on Propositions and Grievances, the name was changed to General Laws in 1901. The committee deals with alcohol, gaming, cannabis, procurement, Freedom of Information Act, regulation of professions and occupations (anything from engineers to barbers), administration of government, housing, symbols of the Commonwealth, cemeteries, conflict of interest, and consumer protection – plus anything else that does not fit into one of our sister committees.
In addition to General Laws, I am grateful to serve on the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee (where I chair the Chesapeake subcommittee) and the Appropriations Committee (where I chair the Commerce, Agriculture, and Natural Resources subcommittee). These definitely keep me busy – in a good way!
In addition to committee assignments, I have been appointed to the Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission and the Joint Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education Funding. The MEI commission is responsible for reviewing and making recommendations on large economic development projects that involve state funding. The Joint Subcommittee is new and has been charged with making recommendations for how to adequately fund K-12 education in light of a recent report showing that Virginia spends $1,900 less per pupil than the national average. Underfunding by the state is a significant contributor to higher real estate taxes, since local governments are left to make up the difference.
This year, I am carrying 18 bills. Below are a few highlights. You can see all my bills, as well as bills I have co-patroned, by clicking here.
HB68 – Workers Compensation for Dispatchers. This bill would provide workers compensation benefits to emergency dispatchers who suffer from PTSD. Right now, they are not eligible under workers compensation. These professionals remain on the line under the most stressful circumstances – hostage situations, suicide, sexual assault, fatal accidents, and more. A recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that 17% of dispatchers suffered from moderately severe to severe depression. Making sure that these public servants can get the help they need should be a priority.
HB69 – Interim Appointments for Local Elected Office. This bill was brought to me by the Coalition for Open Government. When a vacancy occurs on a town or city council, Virginia law allows the remaining members to appoint an interim member. While necessary, it is still highly undemocratic and can impact the outcome of council votes. Currently, there is no required transparency to the appointment process. My HB69 simply adds some sunshine by requiring a public hearing to be held prior to appointing an interim member.
HB245 – PFAS/Forever Chemicals. Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) are fast becoming one of our greatest health concerns. These chemicals are widely used in consumer and industrial products, including cleaning products, water-resistant fabrics, grease-resistant paper, and non-stick cookware. They are also found in firefighting foam. Because PFAS does not easily break down, we are now seeing increasing concentrations in our water, food, and even in the blood of people and animals. The US EPA is on the verge of setting limits for drinking water – which will require installation of new, expensive water treatment technology. Fairfax Water anticipates it could cost rate payers more than $700M in the next few years. HB245 takes a proactive approach by requiring sampling for certain industrial categories known to handle PFAS so that sources can be identified and eliminated.
HB316 – Recycling. Nothing is more frustrating than to sort materials for recycling only to discover that they have been sent to a landfill. While there are many reasons this happens, a major one is the lack of markets for recycled materials. HB316 creates a Virginia Recycling Development Center to further the development of markets for recycled commodities and products.
HB419 – Early Childhood Care and Education. Quality early childhood care and education can set the foundation for a life-time of success. Virginia has come a long way in a relatively short period of time to make child care more affordable and accessible. We can be very proud of that. HB419 builds on this progress by establishing a transparent, predictable formula for funding early childhood education. I am pleased that this bill was reported from subcommittee 6Y-2N with support from child care advocates as well as the business and health care communities.
HB870 – Sewage Sludge Regulations. This one is just fun to say – but also addresses an emerging water quality issue. In the past few years, Virginia has literally spent billions of dollars to upgrade our wastewater treatment facilities to improve water quality. The better job we do of that – the more “byproduct” we have! The sewage sludge is then converted to fertilizers and other products. However, these materials can't be applied on the land during excessively wet periods - which are expected to increase in Virginia due to climate change. That creates a problem if the amount of sludge exceeds storage capacity at the treatment plant. This bill directs the Department of Environmental Quality to develop regulations to address this issue.
HB874 – Campaign Finance Reform. Virginia is one of a handful of states with no limits on giving to political campaigns. This has resulted in skyrocketing campaign costs – with 2023 seeing four of the most expensive state legislative races in Virginia history. Several races topped the $7 million dollar mark. This both discourages otherwise great candidates and undermines the public’s faith in our election system. HB874 would finally set campaign contribution limits in Virginia.
HB880 – Foreclosures. This bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Housing Commission and comes after years of discussion and negotiation among key stakeholders. At issue is that common interest community associations (HOAs and condominiums) have the authority to record a lien for nonpayment of assessments in any amount. That lien is then enforceable by foreclosure. This bill recognizes that foreclosure on a primary residence should be the remedy of last resort and establishes a $5,000 minimum threshold for commencement to foreclose.
HB881 – Hunger Free Campus Program. It is hard to study when you are hungry! According to a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia report, 18% of college students in Virginia experience food insecurity. I was honored to work with George Mason University students to introduce legislation to help tackle this problem.
HB892 – Farmland Preservation. It is easy to forget from a Northern Virginia vantage point that agriculture and forestry are still Virginia’s largest private industries, with a total economic impact of $105B per year! Many of our family farms, however, struggle to make ends meet. I was pleased to introduce this bill to merge two existing agencies into the Office of Working Lands Preservation. This will take advantage of economies of scale and help better support the both agriculture and forestry.
WHAT AN HONOR!
Speaking of farmland preservation, I was honored to receive the 2024 Distinguished Friend of Agribusiness Award at the Virginia Agribusiness Council’s 52nd Annual Legislative Banquet. I’ve always considered agriculture to be an extension of my love for the environment. They are inextricably linked to a respect and love of land and water. Pretty cool for a kid who grew up in suburban Fairfax!
Please do not hesitate to contact me during session if you have thoughts about one of those 1,546 bills we are debating! I look forward to seeing you at my February 3 Town Hall meeting.
Good communication makes good neighbors! I am proud to represent George Mason University in the House of Delegates. At the same time, it is very important to ensure that growth at GMU is done in collaboration and harmony with the surrounding communities.
George Mason University will host a virtual community meeting on Monday, January 29, from 6:30 to 8:00 to present a West Campus update for community feedback, comments, and questions.
While everyone is invited to join, the meeting will be of specific interest to communities surrounding West Campus (the sports fields west of Ox Road and north of Braddock Road).
The update will include members of the Washington Freedom and details on a proposed temporary stadium that would bring cricket to the region. The plan would also improve the university's baseball program facilities.
Attendees can use the following link and do not need to pre-register to attend the virtual discussion. Please enter the Zoom meeting with your video off and mics muted. Questions and comments will be shared through the chat feature.
The Zoom meeting can accommodate up to 1,000 attendees. If you are not able to join the meeting, it will be recorded and posted to construction.gmu.edu.
Please don't hesitate to reach out to me with any questions.
Happy New Year and warmest wishes from the Bulova family!
The 2024 General Assembly session is right around the corner. On January 10 at high noon, we will convene in Richmond and continue a tradition started 405 years ago in Jamestown. This year is a long-session (60 days). Typically, between 2,000 and 3,000 bills are introduced for debate. This is also the year when Virginia adopts its biennial budget.
FAIRFAX DELEGATION PUBLIC FORUM
You can help shape this year's session by sharing what is important to you. The easiest way to reach me is by email at email@example.com. I greatly value the diversity of expertise and perspectives of my constituents.
In addition, the Fairfax Delegation to the General Assembly will hold its annual public forum this Saturday. The forum is limited to Fairfax residents (both County and City) speaking for themselves and/or a community-based organization. Speakers are allotted up to three minutes.
Date: Saturday, January 6
Time: Starts at 9:00 a.m.
Location: Fairfax County Government Center
Those wishing to speak must register online no later than noon on Thursday, January 4. Click here for more details, including how to register and watch remotely.
GOVERNOR'S PROPOSED BUDGET
In Virginia, the Governor gets the first crack at the budget, which is introduced as House Bill 30. In addition, he has an opportunity to recommend changes to the current budget as House Bill 29 - known as the "Caboose Bill."
As the old adage goes, "The Governor proposes and the Legislature disposes." In practice, though, the Governor's proposed budget sets the stage for debate by the General Assembly, which then votes on amendments to the budget bill. The Governor unveiled his budget (HB29 and HB30) to the Joint Money Committees on December 20. You can find a detailed presentation on the proposed budget here.
In addition to his spending plan, the Governor has proposed several tax structure changes - including a 12% cut in income taxes across the board. This would be partially offset by increasing the sales tax and expanding it to cover more goods and services (such as digital downloads). While Virginia's tax structure is definitely ripe for reform, the concern here is replacing the modestly progressive income tax with one that is regressive. This has a greater impact on low and moderate income families.
While there are things to like and dislike about the proposed budget, the one I really like is the "Building Blocks for Virginia Families" initiative. During the pandemic, the federal government provided Virginia with funding to expand access to quality early childhood education programs. That funding is set to expire, creating the potential for thousands of families to lose critical support. Early childhood education has largely been a bi-partisan issue and I am glad that the budget proposes $437 million to ensure that Virginia does not take a giant leap backward.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that the budget includes ZERO dollars to shore up Metro - which could be forced to make draconian cuts without action by Virginia, Maryland, and DC. There are many reasons for the Metro shortfall, and operational reforms and efficiencies must be implemented as part of any funding package. However, Metro is too important to our region to put at risk. Securing additional funding will be one of our region's highest priorities.
Other focus areas include K-12 education, mental health, Medicaid spending, natural resources, workforce development, and flood resilience. Check out this Virginia Mercury article for a good summation of the Governor's proposed budget.
TOWN HALL SAVE THE DATE
Mark your calendar for my annual Town Hall meeting on Saturday, February 3 from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. at Fairfax City Hall. We will be joined by Senator Saddam Salim and go over major issues and the status of our own legislative initiatives. Watch for additional details.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you in the House of Delegates! As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback!