Goodbye 2022 regular session. Hello special session!
On Saturday, the General Assembly adjourned Sine Die – meaning the regular session is now over. While we were able to wrap up most of the legislative agenda, the FY2023-2024 budget is still a work in progress. Instead of extending the regular session, we will go back to Richmond once the conferees are able to come to final consensus.
The primary area of disagreement on the budget centers around the extent of tax reductions and rebates – the resolution of which will drive resources available to invest in K-12 education, higher education, teacher/state employee raises, school construction and modernization, transportation, health care, water quality, housing, and economic development. We also have the opportunity to significantly reduce unfunded liabilities to our Virginia Retirement System and stabilize the Virginia Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. All of this is set against the backdrop of whether the increases in revenue we are experiencing are short-term versus sustainable in the long-term.
Comparing versions of the budget (Governor versus House versus Senate) can be difficult since each (not surprisingly) is usually presented in the best or worst light possible. Thanks to the Commonwealth Institute for putting together this great side-by-side comparison of the competing budget policies that will be considered over the next couple of weeks.
Highlighted Issues – Facial Recognition, THC, and Charitable Gaming!
The last week of session is usually when the more complicated bills hit the House floor – since they take more time and effort to get through the legislative process. This year there were several bills fitting that profile.
Facial Recognition (SB741). This bill sets the conditions under which law enforcement can use facial recognition technology. Facial recognition technology involves the use of algorithms to compare an individual’s facial features against pictures aggregated from across a wide range of existing sources. The concept is very similar to technology used by many social media companies. While this can be a powerful tool to identify criminals as well as crime victims (such as victims of human trafficking), it is also an imperfect technology that can be abused without the right guardrails. Ultimately, I think we got it right by ensuring that there is always a human component before law enforcement can act on a potential match and by imposing very stiff penalties for misuse. The bill passed the House 54Y-42N and the Senate 27Y-13N with Democrats and Republicans splitting both ways.
Regulation of THC (SB591). Throughout the debate on legalizing marijuana, there has been strong consensus on the need for consumer safety and keeping these products out of the hands of children. While THC is most often associated with marijuana, different variations can be produced synthetically, including hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD). One of these variations, delta-8 THC, has spread throughout Virginia and has resulted in an alarming spike in poison control calls and hospital visits. Because these products are not technically defined as marijuana, there are no age-restrictions, no labeling requirements, and no required third-party quality control testing. In response, SB591 shifts from regulating marijuana to regulating the amount of THC across the board. The legislation also prohibits THC products from being sold in forms that are attractive to children (such as animal or fruit shapes). Groups profiting from the current loophole worked very hard to kill the legislation. However, thanks to a fascinating coalition of the Virginia Farm Bureau, Family Foundation, Virginia Catholic Conference, and pro-legalization organizations such as NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) the bill passed and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.
Charitable Gaming (HB763). Charitable gaming sponsored by social and fraternal organizations has long played an important role in supporting community charities. The idea is that charitable gaming can occur in the social quarters of these organizations for the enjoyment of members and guests. Unfortunately, several unscrupulous organizations and manufacturers have taken advantage of a loophole that allows them to declare a local bar or similar area to be their “social quarters” and to set up in multiple locations. This has resulted in a proliferation of unregulated gaming that actually undercuts legitimate organizations. In response, the Office of the State Inspector General conducted a study to make recommendations for how to protect legitimate charities while reigning in those taking advantage of the loophole. Through many iterations (and much valued feedback from genuine charities) I supported the final legislation, which closes the loophole and increases enforcement at the state level.
Out of my 24 bills introduced, 14 made it through the Senate and are now awaiting action by the Governor. A couple of highlights include:
Early Childhood Education Delivery (HB389). This bill strengthens Virginia’s early childhood education system by establishing regional entities to help parents better understand their options and connect providers to resources to help them improve overall quality.
Cocktails-to-Go (HB426). This bill extends the ability of restaurants to provide cocktails-to-go, while also tightening up safety requirements designed to ensure that deliveries aren’t made to underage customers.
Public Meetings for State Projects (HB437). This bill ensures that large state capital projects take local concerns into consideration by requiring the state agency in charge of the project to have at least one public meeting at the request of the locality.
Campaign Finance Reform (HB492). This bill enhances oversight of campaign finance disclosure requirements by requiring the Department of Elections to review a certain number of disclosure reports each election cycle. Currently, there is no review of these reports for accuracy after they are filed by a candidate.
Climate/Flood Resiliency (HB516 and HB1309). These bills expand and strengthen Virginia’s resilience planning efforts and create a Resilient Virginia Revolving Loan Fund. Virginia is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
In addition, I am pleased that the Governor has signed into law my HB473. This bill was at the request of the Virginia Retirement System and is designed to make the system more efficient and provide employees with greater flexibility in how they invest their retirement funds.
Meeting with Your Organization
My most important job is to engage my constituents – both to ensure that they understand the issues being debated and to gather feedback to help inform my votes. In that spirit, I would be pleased to speak at one of your community meetings or events. My legislative assistant, Rama Van Pelt, is available during the week to help with scheduling. He can be reached at (703) 310-6752 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is great to be home! Thank you for the opportunity to represent our community.
I am looking forward to my annual Town Hall meeting this Saturday, February 12. Senator Chap Petersen will be joining us. We will be meeting at Katherine Johnson Middle School to allow for greater social distancing. Please also bring a mask to make sure everyone stays safe and comfortable.
What: Town Hall Meeting
Location: Katherine Johnson Middle School
Address: 3801 Jermantown Road, Fairfax, VA 22030
Time: 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
You can also join the meeting virtually from your computer, tablet, or smart phone. We will have someone monitoring the chat room to relay your questions.
Access Code: 357-422-253
Finally, you can dial in using your phone at +1 (224) 501-3412.
We will begin the meeting with an overview of the General Assembly session to-date and then open the floor for Q&A. Coffee will be served.
I am looking forward to a great discussion!
The 2022 General Assembly session is now in full swing as both bodies work to get bills through committees prior to crossover. Crossover, February 15, is the last day that the House and Senate can act on their respective bills. That makes for some busy days (and nights). This past Wednesday I had eight bills up before different committees – each of which, of course, seemed to be located on opposite ends of Capitol Square!
Town Hall Meeting
I am pleased to host my annual Town Hall meeting on February 12. We will be at Katherine Johnson Middle School to allow for greater social distancing. You can also join us virtually. We are still working out details, but information about how to join virtually will be on www.davidbulova.com prior to the event. Senator Chap Petersen will be joining us. The meeting will include an overview of issues being considered before the General Assembly and lots of time for Q&A.
What: Town Hall Meeting
Location: Katherine Johnson Middle School
Time: 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
Legislative Groundhog Day!
Much like the classic movie Groundhog Day, many of the issues being debated in the House this year are the same as the last two years – only this time in reverse. For example, HB58 would undo a law that allows local governments to require contractors to pay the prevailing wage. HB827 would repeal the authority of local governments to prohibit firearms in public buildings, public parks, and public areas subject to an event permit. HB1301 would end Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (the proceeds of which go to flood resilience and energy efficiency programs). Several bills would shorten the period for in-person early voting (HB945, HB178, HB39) and bring back the requirement to have an excuse to vote absentee (HB35). And HB320 would freeze the ramp up of the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026 (which now stands at $11 per hour). To put that into context, $11 per hour equals $22,880 annual salary – which is the poverty level for a family of three. I voted in support of the original bills and against the repeal measures.
Another issue that is being hotly debated is the role of charter schools. I have nothing against charter schools in concept. Just like anything, there have been spectacular successes and dismal failures. However, I do believe that to be successful, charter schools need to be publicly accountable and have the buy-in of the local community. This is especially true for us here in Fairfax where local taxes pay for the lion’s share of public education. If a charter school fails, we get left with the academic and fiscal consequences. Current law, in my opinion, strikes the right balance. The Virginia Board of Education provides support and technical assistance in the review of charter school applications. However, ultimate approval is the responsibility of the locally elected school board. The proposal by Governor Youngkin (HB344) would bypass the current system and allow the unelected Board of Education to approve charter school applications over local objections.
Unsung Good Legislation
While not headline makers, there are often bills that come to the General Assembly where you think to yourself “Wow, that is a great idea!” Two such bills have passed in the last week.
The first deals with “free trials” where the service automatically starts to charge after the trial period ends. HB78 requires the service provider to notify the customer at least seven days prior to the expiration of the free trail and obtain the customer’s affirmative consent to the renewal. In addition, it requires that if the service provider allows for signing up through the website, it must also allow cancelling through the website (no having to send in cancellation by mail or waiting hours on the phone). This one passed the House 99Y-0N and is now on its way to the Senate.
Another good idea (at least I think so), is to eliminate the practice of quotas for writing tickets or making arrests. Now, that doesn’t mean I think people shouldn’t be ticketed for parking too long or going over the speed limit. However, law enforcement should be about enforcing the law – not bringing in a certain amount of revenue. HB750 prohibits any law-enforcement agency from establishing a formal or informal quota system. The bill passed the House 100Y-0N.
A frequent complaint I receive is the proliferation of cars with modified exhaust systems designed to make them purposefully louder. Anyone who lives even somewhat close to a major road knows that the noise from these vehicles can literally rattle windows and ruin the tranquility of our neighborhoods. While not the cause of the problem, well meaning legislation passed in 2020 has made it nearly impossible to ticket these vehicles (I voted against the bill, for the record).
Kudos to my colleague Delegate Vivian Watts for introducing HB367, which would give law enforcement numerous new tools to deal with the situation. This includes detection of modified mufflers during the state safety inspection process. I was proud to be a chief co-patron of the bill. Unfortunately, that bill failed to report out of subcommittee. However, a more narrowly crafted bill (HB632) did make it out of subcommittee. While not perfect, I plan to vote for the measure on the House floor.
This year I introduced 24 bills. So far, 13 have been voted on in the affirmative and are moving through the system (either committee or full House). Six were not quite as fortunate. Another five will be heard next week. A couple of highlights include:
I am looking forward to seeing many of you at the Town Hall and hearing your thoughts and questions!
Greetings from Richmond! This past Wednesday the 2022 General Assembly roared to life. That evening, Governor Northam provided his State of the Commonwealth address, where I was thrilled to get a shout out for my work on increasing opportunities for outdoor recreation. And, on Saturday, Glenn Youngkin will be sworn in as the 74th Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. While hard to believe, I have now been around long enough to be part of the escort ceremony – so look for pictures on of me in an English morning suit!
In addition to a new administration, the House is now back under Republican leadership. I am pleased to have been re-appointed to the committees on Appropriations, General Laws, and Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources. Sadly, the shift means that I will no longer be serving on Education. I will continue to be a strong advocate for public education through my bills and budget amendments!
2022 Budget Priorities
Many of my priorities are already in the proposed budget. While the outgoing Governor introduces the budget, the General Assembly can amend it in any way it likes. There is an old saying “The Governor proposes, the General Assembly disposes.” My goal is to make sure we “dispose” as little as possible!
There are a lot of important investments in the budget. This includes funding for a 10% pay raise for teachers, mental health, services for people with disabilities, water quality, school construction/modernization, affordable housing, and higher education – just to name a few. Click here for a great overview of the 2022 budget. While we go into session with a healthy surplus, it is important to ensure that our budget remains structurally balanced – that is, not committing to long-term programs with short-term funding. I am also mindful that many of our essential state services haven’t yet recovered from drastic cuts we made during the 2008 Great Recession. Ensuring that we meet our existing commitments needs to be a priority.
While there is a lot to love, I have filed several budget amendments! Here are two that I want to highlight:
My Legislative Agenda
Thank you to the many constituents who have written about their legislative priorities or have suggest bills. This year I have introduced over 20 bills. Click here for the full list of bills. See below for highlights.
So far, 1,170 bills have been filed - with more on the way! While there are lots of good bills, I am also tracking bills that give me great cause for concern. One example is a suite of bills that would roll back progress on improving access to the ballot box -- including making it harder to vote absentee. See here and here. More to come in future updates.
I love hearing from constituents during session! Click here if you are interested in looking through all bills filed to-date by category. It is an honor to serve you!