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VA Sen. Barbara Favola Summarizes What Happened (and What Didn’t Happen) in the State Senate Last Week

"I continue to be concerned about proposals peddled by some Republicans to embarrass our transgender kids"; "The big story of the Senate Budget is the money allocated to public education."

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See below for a good summary by State Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington/Fairfax/Loudoun) of what happened last week in the Virginia General Assembly.  A few key points by Sen. Favola include:

  • “My advice to the Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle regarding ‘tax and spend’ issues is: ‘Targeted child care tax credits and other strategies for helping struggling families become financially more stable are investments that pay dividends.’  Tax cuts for corporations are not needed and do not bolster the infrastructure that grows our human capital.”
  • “As you might expect, House sponsored anti-abortion bills and other extreme measures that were already rejected by the Senate Education and Health Committee because Republican Senators had carried the same bills, were summarily rejected once again.  This abbreviated process was used as an excuse by the House Republican leadership to table all of the gun-safety bills, including my bill to monitor the relinquishment of a firearm in domestic violence cases.  It is common knowledge that these bills were going to be defeated in the House.  However, these bills were not given a public hearing or the courtesy of a conversation.”
  • “The big story of the Senate Budget is the money allocated to public education.”
  • “I continue to be concerned about proposals peddled by some Republicans to embarrass our transgender kids, prevent them from playing on sports teams and requiring teachers to ‘out them.’  Schools must be a safe place for all of our children.  Transgender youth have a disproportionally high rate of suicide attempts and struggle with acceptance and self-confidence.  We need to establish support networks for these youth and their families, not isolate or demonize them.”

By Tuesday evening, February 8, at 8:00pm, all Senate bills and joint resolutions that were reported out of their respective committees were acted on by the entire Senate.  Those that garnered at least 21 votes had the stamp of approval from the Senate and were transmitted to the Speaker of the House.  That same process was followed in the House of Delegates with 51 votes being the magic number needed for approval in the House.

Many Senate authorizing committees had very heavy dockets for the remainder of the week since all House bills with a fiscal impact had to be re-referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee by close of business on Friday.  This deadline was applied to enable the budget conferees to start work on finding common ground on tax and spend issues with the House.  More details on the Senate adopted budget are provided in subsequent sections.

Investments versus Taxes: My advice to the Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle regarding “tax and spend” issues is: “Targeted child care tax credits and other strategies for helping struggling families become financially more stable are investments that pay dividends.”  Tax cuts for corporations are not needed and do not bolster the infrastructure that grows our human capital.  In fact, the less money we invest in improving early childhood education, bolstering our public schools and expanding workforce training opportunities will mean higher costs to corporations in the long run.

Session Deadlines and Abbreviated Processes Envelop Hot-Button Issues — The tight deadline Committee Chairs were given to act on “money related bills” resulted in some streamlined processes that irritated our House colleagues.  As you might expect, House sponsored anti-abortion bills and other extreme measures that were already rejected by the Senate Education and Health Committee because Republican Senators had carried the same bills, were summarily rejected once again.  This abbreviated process was used as an excuse by the House Republican leadership to table all of the gun-safety bills, including my bill to monitor the relinquishment of a firearm in domestic violence cases.  It is common knowledge that these bills were going to be defeated in the House.  However, these bills were not given a public hearing or the courtesy of a conversation.

Senate Budget Funds Public Education & Human Services Rather than Give Away $1B in Tax Cuts.  Below are highlights of the Senate Adopted Budget in areas I think you might be interested in:

K-12 Public Education — The big story of the Senate Budget is the money allocated to public education.  The budget, adopted in the chamber this past week, provides state money for an additional 2 percent increase in teacher pay in FY 2024.  This means that enough state dollars have been allocated for FY 2024 to provide a 7 percent increase in pay to our hard-working and often under-appreciated public school teachers.  If you combine the state dollars available for FY 2023 and 2024 for teacher pay, enough state dollars have been allocated in the Senate budget for a 12 percent increase in pay, albeit with local dollars needed to access these funds, as required in the composite index formula.

The education associations, especially the superintendents’ association, identified the removal of the support personnel cap as the single most beneficial action the General Assembly could take.  I am proud to say that the Senate budget accomplishes this goal.  Moreover, we increased funding for the “Reading by Grade 3 Initiative” and we increased dollars going to our most at-risk schools.

I continue to be concerned about proposals peddled by some Republicans to embarrass our transgender kids, prevent them from playing on sports teams and requiring teachers to “out them.”  Schools must be a safe place for all of our children.  Transgender youth have a disproportionally high rate of suicide attempts and struggle with acceptance and self-confidence.  We need to establish support networks for these youth and their families, not isolate or demonize them.  I stood with Delegates Danica Roem, Dawn Adams, Senator Adam Ebbin and other lawmakers to shine a light on these hurtful pieces of legislation.  Equality Virginia is an incredibly effective partner and advocate on human rights issues for our LGBTQ+ community.

Behavioral Health Funding — We increased funding in the Virginia Mental Health (MH) Access Program, a program which enables primary care practitioners to access information and services for their young patients while their patients are in their offices for check-ups.  This is the second year of funding to reduce the ratio of counselors to students in an effort to provide important MH intervention services at the earliest time when conditions present themselves.  We re-arranged the MH funding allocations offered by the Governor to emphasize more preventive care.  The Senate budget robustly funds crisis intervention and stabilization programs.  These appropriation marks are sometimes in line with the Governor and sometimes more generous. 

Healthcare Professionals and the Pipeline — The Senate budget funds numerous nursing programs in colleges and universities around the state in an effort to help our educational institutions attract and retain nursing faculty.  There is also a scholarship program in the budget to help Licensed Practical Nurses continue with their education to become Registered Nurses.  There are other items in the healthcare workforce space covered in the budget.

Higher Education & Workforce Development — The Senate budget puts more money into the G3 program.  This was initiated by Governor Northam and is commonly known as “Get a skill, Get a job and Give back.”  Families earning less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level can receive a credential or associate’s degree at one of our community colleges, free of charge, after the application of other grant dollars.  This program is targeted at students entering hard-to-fill workforce tracks.

Money Bills Heard by the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee & Funded in Senate Budget:

Medical Cannabis and Hemp — The transfer of regulatory authority over medical cannabis from the Board of Pharmacy to the Cannabis Control Authority is an important piece of legislation that is intended to locate the regulatory oversight over growers, distributors and retailers of medical cannabis in an agency that has subject matter expertise.  The Senate also passed and funded an effort to remove contaminated hemp products from retail shelves.  However, I do not see the creation of a retail market for recreational marijuana becoming a reality as long as Mr. Youngkin is Governor.  Governor Youngkin is strongly opposed to the use of recreational marijuana.

Social Services — The Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee also has purview over human services and prison reform. My bill to create and fund a program to support relatives who serve as foster parents did not have a companion bill in the House, but $4.2M is set aside for this program in the Senate adopted budget.   I am hopeful that this funding stays.  Fortunately, Governor Youngkin and his team have indicated that they see value in supporting relative foster parents.  I was delighted to see that the Senate budget contains a 10 percent increase in the monthly payment to TANF families.  This increase is a result of continued advocacy and education.

Prison Reform — Some progress will be made in reducing solitary confinement based on language in the Senate budget intended to limit the practice of solitary confinement and provide more oversight over its use.  The Senate budget also directs the Department of Corrections to come up with strategies for reducing the cost prisoners must pay to communicate with family and others.  I expect that new technology tools will ultimately reduce the cost to the prison system for enabling communications; and I will attempt to ensure that these savings are passed on to the prisoners.  It is well documented that regular communication with the outside world is the single most important strategy in preparing offenders to re-enter society.  I have to give a big shout out to SALT and the ACLU for their tireless efforts in helping to move these issues forward.

In summary, I will continue to keep you updated as my bills move through the House committees and the 2023 session comes to closure.  It is an honor and privilege to serve you and I look forward to connecting with you in person soon.

Sincerely,

Senator Barbara Favola

31st District – Representing Parts of Arlington, Fairfax, & Loudoun

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