The 2016 session of the General Assembly ended a day early, with legislators approving a balanced budget and fulfilling their constitutional duty to appoint judges to the Commonwealth’s courts. And for the second year in a row, it completed its work a day ahead of schedule.
The seven-month-long vacancy on the Supreme Court of Virginia was filled in the final days of the session. Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Stephen McCullough was elected to a twelve-year term, winning majority support in both the House and Senate.
The media frequently covered the lengthy standoff over the selection of a new justice as another partisan struggle. It was actually a constitutional dispute. The Constitution of Virginia vests the power to elect judges solely with the General Assembly. With the election of Justice McCullough, the Supreme Court – and the Constitution it is bound to uphold and interpret – is once again whole.
The 2016-2018 biennial budget we approved by enormous bipartisan majorities prioritizes spending on education. Here are some highlights:
- The budget does not contain any tax or fee increases on hard working Virginians.
- We are taking steps to set Virginia on a responsible fiscal course – eliminating state liabilities, decreasing the amount we are borrowing and making one-time investments rather than committing to long-term spending.
- We are investing over $900 million in new funding for K-12, significantly more than Governor McAuliffe proposed. Our funding also gives local school divisions added flexibility. It also gives a 2% pay increase to teachers.
- We are providing over $114 million in new funding for higher education to hold down tuition costs for Virginia families.
- We are making strategic investments in economic development, but adding additional oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
- The plan allocates $1.5 million for broadband access in areas that are currently underserved.
- More than $12 million to establish the New Economy Workforce Credentialed Grant, an initiative I have promoted the last two sessions.
On the second to last day of the session, Governor McAuliffe signed HB 66, my legislation to create these grants. It was no ordinary bill signing. Held on the Capitol’s south-facing portico, the event featured the Governor, myself, Senators Frank Ruff and Steve Newman, several of my fellow lawmakers, and many representatives of the Administration.
Since it was my legislation, I was given the opportunity to deliver a few remarks. The legislation transforms what we think of as higher education. With this bill, Virginia recognizes that high-demand jobs require industry credentials, not just degrees. The bill, along with the funding for it contained in the budget, represents the first time Virginia has directed performance-based tuition assistance to non-credit credentials. And since 40-65% of all jobs over the next decade will require credentials, this program is right on time.
Of great importance to me, the grant program links the incentive to the student, not an institution. Whether you are a student, or you’re underemployed, or you’re a career-switcher, you will now have a resource to help fund real career pathways.
The General Assembly also reached a bipartisan agreement to restore concealed carry reciprocity following Attorney General Herring’s announcement to rescind those agreements. The major bipartisan agreement restores and expands concealed carry reciprocity to every state in the nation with a concealed carry law. I am proud of our work to secure the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding concealed carry permit holders.
Even though it was the last week of the session, we still had visitors. Students from New Covenant Schools stopped by to visit and see their government in action. We also had a group from the Road Less Traveled Homeschool Cooperative. While we always have a lot of visitors during session, it is always heartening to see so many student groups coming to the Capitol to learn about their government.
With the session’s conclusion, our offices have moved back to Lynchburg for the remainder of the year. You can reach us here by calling (434) 582-1592 or emailing us at DelKByron@house.virginia.gov