The General Assembly adjourned Sine Die on Saturday, March 12th after 60 contentious but rewarding days with a number of legislative decisions and the conflicting House and Senate biennial budget proposals still unresolved. The central cause of this delay was the somewhat unearned but unabated inertia of the recent campaign cycle. Governor Youngkin, who won by a margin of only 63,000 votes, one of the narrowest in Virginia’s history, and a House majority that won their seats by a total of less than 500 votes in two districts, entered the session claiming a “mandate” from the voters on their agenda. While the Senate budget prioritizes investing our historic surplus in valuable services, infrastructure, and people while also providing tax relief, the House version is singularly focused on reducing ongoing revenue to these programs for short term tax reductions. This view has moved us away from compromise and towards the partisan disputes which so often lead to roadblocks.
Things are in limbo – however I expect our experienced budget conferees to soon strike a deal, at which point we will be called back for a special session to take up unresolved legislation and pass a final compromise budget. In the meantime, despite much still to be resolved, there are successes to report.
Some of these include the banning of negative dark money ads in political campaigns, an expansion of state funding for free and reduced fare transit programs, and banning abusive juvenile detention “boot camps.” This session we also passed legislation to extend the popular “cocktails to go” program, train law enforcement officers and hotel industry workers to recognize and support victims of human trafficking, enhance criminal penalties for persons with power of attorney to financially abuse the elderly in their care, remove sales tax from drugs prescribed by veterinarians, and create penalties and enforcement for the use of loud, altered exhaust systems on vehicles. Importantly, we passed comprehensive legislation to begin much needed reforms to the Virginia Employment Commission.
Several key priorities still remain in “conference committees” where the sticking points between House and Senate positions will need to be hashed out before we return for the Special Session. These include legislation I oppose to create an incentive package for the Washington Commanders to locate their next stadium in Virginia, which unfortunately I believe will pass. Still up for debate are proposals to create “lab schools” which are public schools administered by public universities, increase rates of reparations for those wrongfully incarcerated, and to expand the membership of our Board of Elections.
For my part, I was glad to get twelve bills to the Governor’s desk. While their fate remains unclear until his signature is inscribed on them, I believe each represents strong and needed public policy and merits his approval, even in this hyperpartisan environment.
I look forward to returning to the District to share updates on this session and work together to plan for the year ahead. I hope you will join myself and Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker for a virtual town hall this Saturday at 10AM. You can register in advance at this link: https://bit.ly/LegTownHall2022.
It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District.
Adam P. Ebbin
Member, Senate of Virginia
P.S. If you are a member of a civic group or organization and would like me to provide a post-session legislative update in the late spring or early summer, please email my office at firstname.lastname@example.org
When session adjourns sine die on March 12th, every member will return to their district with a winnowed legislative agenda. This is always the case, but it is particularly true in a year with split party control of the legislative chambers. Often at this time of the year, I get asked, “What happens next? Does this bill have any future?” Understandably, some constituents are disappointed when hard-fought legislation falters. Some are fired up and ready to continue their advocacy. Regardless, the afterlife of legislation plants the seeds for future bills. We don’t let hard work go to waste.
Of my original twenty-five bills, thirteen will not advance to the Governor’s desk. Each faced unique challenges, and for those interested in the debate on each bill, the Senate and House archive all videos of the Committee and Subcommittee hearings where the bills were heard. Three bills were passed by in order to study the problem they sought to address before next year’s legislative session. These include my bill to provide pay parity for public defenders compared to their counterparts in Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices (SB282), legislation to reduce negative interactions during traffic stops and improve data on racial profiling (SB277), and a bill seeking to establish privacy for individuals genetic data, such as that collected by services like 23andme (SB419). The work of our public defenders is a cornerstone to the fairness of our justice system, and I look forward to the results of the study examining their compensation. Addressing the potentially tense moments of traffic stops remains a priority of mine as does codifying consumer protections for personal information in the growing field of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Based on the results of the study and work groups established this session, I may develop new legislation next year to address these concerns.
Two bills were continued to next year, meaning that committees can review them in the interim if they choose, but they will likely need to be brought back in a different form next session. One was my bill aiming to address eviction defenses (SB284) and the other was my major continued effort to establish a legal-adult-use market for cannabis (SB391). This legislation would have comprehensively stood up a legal adult-use sales market, created health and safety regulations to ensure public health and effectively banned youth access to the product. It also would have reformed our criminal justice system, expanded expungements and allowed for resentencing for those with prior cannabis convictions, was the product of two year’s hard work, two studies by the nonpartisan Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, and intense review by the Cannabis Oversight Commission, which I chair. House of Delegates Republicans, though promising to take action to create an adult-use marketplace that would cut down the growing illicit market and create an avenue for burgeoning Virginia small business, killed the bill with minimal debate on a party line vote. Lack of action on this topic means another year of proliferating synthesized cannabis (like “delta-8”) in gas stations and convenience stores and illicit trade which will drown out the legal marketplace without swift action. The House's inaction this year was an abject failure for Virginians and public safety.
Five of my bills were killed outright, including my two measures aiming to address gun violence (SB643, and SB310) and my constitutional amendment affirming the right to marry (SJ5). The Republican House killed the amendment in an early morning subcommittee meeting. In doing so they denied voters the right to decide whether or not to repeal a stain on our state constitution — an inoperable provision denying the right to marriage to same-sex couples and replacing it with an affirming right to marry regardless of gender or sex. I will continue to fight both to defend and affirm the rights of LGBTQ Virginians, as well as to protect our communities from gun violence caused by the proliferation of firearms and unaddressed criminal loopholes.
My bill repealing a cumbersome and unnecessary triennial audit requirement for home care organizations was rolled into SB580, introduced by Senator McDougle (R-Hanover) and I’m pleased to report this bill passed both the House and Senate and awaits the Governor's signature to become law.
Though it does not always turn out as we hope or worked for, the legislation that dies does not disappear. Rather, it lays the foundation for what comes after we all leave Richmond and return home. We will refer to it, build upon it, or modify it as we move ahead. Throughout the year, I will be connecting with constituents, speaking to community members, organizations, and businesses about their ideas for how we can improve legislation and what new bills may be needed. This will help inform what we start drafting for next year.
It is an honor to serve you in Richmond. I look forward to reporting on the successful bills we pass soon.
Virginia operates on a biennial budget comprising some $158 billion in spending on state programs and services. This budget must pass each legislative body and receive the Governor’s signature after our “long” 60-day session. During the process, each body reports their version of the budget, which include some of the amendments offered by members for funding that was not originally included in the introduced budget. These two, often competing, Senate and House versions of the budgets must then be negotiated and reconciled in a “committee of conference” during the final two weeks of session.
A budget is more than a balance sheet — it reflects the values and the priorities of those who craft it. It tells us, arithmetically, what areas, issues, projects, and programs are most important by those who influenced the budget. With differing parties holding majorities in the Senate and House this year, the reported versions of the budget are vastly different and reflect the difference in the priorities and values of each body. These differences create a significant challenge for those tasked with negotiating a compromise proposal. The Senate proposal contains major investments in education and unemployment benefits, prudent tax cuts, and a number of key wins for the 30th District which I hope will be retained in the final spending bill.
A major theme on the campaign trail this year was needed investments in education. I am glad that the Senate budget invests in our teachers, our school infrastructure, and critical programs including Pre-K for at-risk students. We increased the number of student support positions such as school nurses, counselors, and reading specialists from 17.75 per 1,000 students to 20 per 1,000 students, and proposed a ten percent raise for all teachers over two years, along with a one-time, $2,000 bonus. Our teachers have worked diligently and dedicatedly during the pandemic under unforeseeably difficult circumstances — their prioritization in the budget begins to reflect this. Additionally, we increased the investment in educating at-risk Pre-K students by $700 per pupil per year and proposed $500 million for school construction. More than half of Virginia’s schools are over 50 years old, and the renovation of existing facilities paired with the construction of new ones is critical to providing a healthy, functional learning environment for our students, teachers and staff.
We continue to work on reforming the Virginia Employment Commission, proposing $110 million to replenish our depleted unemployment trust fund and $500,000 to initiate a comprehensive review of its efficiencies and processes.
The Senate included some $300 million in funding to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which builds and subsidizes affordable housing. We additionally included $47 million in tax subsidies for the construction of new affordable housing. I have long been an advocate for deliberate investment in affordable housing and am glad we are finally moving to meet the market demand, which is felt so strongly, especially in Northern Virginia.
The Senate budget also includes thoughtful, pragmatic tax relief for Virginians to reduce the increasing cost of living caused by supply chain issues, conflict in Ukraine, and inflation on certain goods felt heavily in Northern Virginia. We provided a one-time tax rebate of $250 for single taxpayers and $500 for married taxpayers filing a joint return, reduced the grocery tax by 1.5% while retaining the locality share for school and transportation funding, and expanded the refundability of the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income Virginians. This will provide crucial dollars directly back into the pockets of those who need it most, without gutting ongoing funding for the programs and infrastructure of the Commonwealth.
I was pleased to get a number of key priorities included in the Senate budget via amendments offered in subcommittees. During the interim, constituents often approach me with very specific, niche concerns related to the state budget, which are frequently not on the radar of the Governor or the Secretariats who help prepare the introduced budget. This year I was glad to get $200,000 to preserve and digitize records at Central State Hospital at the request of Racial Justice Alexandria. These funds will support a research team currently digitizing the records of Central State, which served as the first segregated Black sanitorium in the United States, opening nearly immediately after the end of the Civil War. Without digitization, these records are at risk of deterioration and eventually will be lost to history. I was also able to obtain $8.8 million to complete the installation of air conditioning at several adult correctional facilities which are currently without AC, subjecting those incarcerated to severe summer heat. I worked to secure funding to establish an education center on naval history in Alexandria supporting the Tall Ship Providence. The John Warner Maritime History Center will serve as a major tourist and economic development draw to the waterfront and enhance the already rich history of our city. We also allocated $200,000 for a Veteran Farmer Training Program through Arcadia Farms in Mount Vernon, which I visited along with former Governor Northam this summer. Since 2016 Arcadia has trained 125 military veterans, active-duty service members and family members for new careers in agriculture. Arcadia offers three training tracks: the Veteran Farmer Reserve, the Veteran Farm Fellowship, a GI Bill-compliant on-the-job training program apprenticed to professional farmers, and the Arcadia Veteran Farm Incubator. Additionally, I was glad to see two million dollars included in the Senate budget to increase public access to historic River Farm, which has been saved from sale and development due to ongoing advocacy from local and state leaders and citizen activists. Finally, the Senate budget retains key funding for the remediation of Alexandria’s combined sewer overflow system. The House budget fully removed this funding, which is incredibly concerning for ratepayers in the city, and I will work to ensure it is reinstated in the conference committee.
We will have to wait a couple of more weeks for the differences in the Senate and House budget to be reconciled and for the final budget to be announced. It will be the result of collaboration and compromise, and I hope it will reflect our values while bringing much-needed and worthy investments to every corner of the Commonwealth.
It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District,
Adam P. Ebbin
Member, Senate of Virginia