2023 Session Update - Week 7
To the Constituents of the 19th House District:
This past Saturday, the General Assembly adjourned sine die. The 46-day session was marked by spirited debate, productive negotiations, and diligent consideration of thousands of bills. House Republicans came to Richmond with a plan to make life more affordable for Virginians, protect our communities, and restore excellence in education. Despite a political divide in the Senate that blocked the progress of some common-sense policies, we were still successful in passing legislation out of the House that serves all Virginians.
Though legislative work is complete in the House of Delegates, passing Virginia’s budget remains a work in progress. As a budget conferee, I am urging my counterparts in the Senate to finalize negotiations in earnest. The House version passed a few weeks ago with significant tax relief for Virginians and investments in our schools and public safety initiatives. Republicans intend to focus on retaining these elements as discussions evolve. What did emerge over Saturday was a “stop-gap” budget that keeps Republicans’ promise to fix the Department of Education’s math error that left schools short on money, addresses cost overruns on existing building projects, and authorizes a deposit of funds into the Virginia Retirement System. Until a final budget is agreed upon, the Commonwealth’s current $3 billion surplus cannot be returned to taxpayers or be spent on shared priorities that include teacher pay raises, additional funds for law enforcement, and appropriations for behavioral health.
While the General Assembly cannot directly control the rate of inflation, we can alleviate its effects by lowering costs and cutting taxes. Our budget amendments will cut taxes for every working Virginian and put more money back into the pockets of working families. It also raises the standard deduction so that more Virginians would pay less in taxes. These reductions in individual income tax mean 86 percent of taxpaying Virginians will enjoy the benefits of a lower top tax rate and an additional 14,000 Virginians will pay no state income taxes. We also passed legislation in the House to disconnect Virginia from California emissions standards that made it more costly to purchase a vehicle, but this failed in the Senate.
House Republicans continue to work towards lowering energy costs and diversifying Virginia’s energy portfolio. The goal of all our utility legislation this session has remained the same: find the right balance between the regulated utility companies and affordability for consumers. As a result of House Republican leadership, legislation passed on Saturday that will provide meaningful relief for ratepayers by restoring State Corporation Commission oversight and placing a cap on power company earnings. The intention is to minimize the sudden spikes in energy prices that have recently been experienced.
Maintaining a reliable power grid requires a diversified energy portfolio, and a major component to a low-carbon, diversified energy future is nuclear power. This is why Republicans patroned and passed multiple bills that will position Virginia to be a leader in the nuclear energy sector. Several of these bills embrace the technological benefits of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), which can utilize the unused coalfields in Southwest that were once the powerhouse of Virginia. Not only will SMRs create jobs in Southwest and Southside Virginia, but they will also bolster our grid without adding new power plants or transmission facilities. With the passage of these bills, Virginia can have a reliable electric grid and lower costs – they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Education is the first legacy we leave for our children, which is why we were eager to pass legislation that restores excellence in education and invests in our school systems across Virginia. This session, House Republicans passed legislation to empower teachers with the support they need to allow them to regain control of their classrooms. We also advanced legislation that earmarks emergency funds to invest in our students and combat learning loss. Unfortunately, these measures also did not make it out of the Senate.
Thankfully, two pieces of legislation did make it out of both chambers and are headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. These bills expand proven and effective reading support to more students across Virginia and establish a Virginia Parent Data Portal to make student assessments more accessible for parents.
Importantly, the House budget increases investments in school divisions across the Commonwealth to ensure students and teachers are postured to succeed.
Rather than promote a restrictive gun control agenda that punishes responsible gun owners, House Republicans advanced a legislative package this session to more effectively deter crime. We promoted legislation that would put criminals who commit particularly heinous offenses with a firearm behind bars for longer periods of time. We also passed legislation in the House that would ensure individuals accused of serious crimes abide by stricter conditions before being allowed out on bail. Once again, these measures did not make it out of the Senate.
House Republicans also advanced legislation, that nearly became law in 2019, to ensure drug dealers responsible for fatal drug overdoses could be charged with felony homicide. Despite bipartisan support, Governor Ralph Northam vetoed the original bill. This year, with Governor Youngkin ready to sign the bill into law, we were optimistic that the bill would finally get across the finish line. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats defeated the legislation even though it mirrored identical language they once supported.
As for my legislation, I am happy to report that my respective bills creating a license plate to support the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, updating insurance requirements for transportation network companies, streamlining Virginia’s commuter rail services funding, allowing towing operators on Interstate 81 to recover attorney fees, and placing the VA250 Commission under the legislature, all passed out of both chambers and will be headed to Governor Youngkin’s desk for his signature. Once signed, they will become law on July 1st.
Overall, I am proud of the work that my House Republican colleagues and I were able to accomplish in Richmond this session. If I can be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at DelTAustin@House.Virginia.gov or 804-698-1019.
Delegate Terry L. Austin
19th House District