Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2019 Session Wrap Up

The 2019 General Assembly session adjourned sine die last Sunday morning. It was a busy few weeks and a very difficult few weeks for the Commonwealth. Despite the potential distractions in the executive branch, however, the General Assembly remained focused and committed to the people’s work.

The end of this session was bitter sweet, as it was the last days of my last session in the House.  Last Wednesday I took the opportunity to reflect on my years of service on the House floor.  You can see my remarks online here.

Now that I am home, I look forward to seeing you as I travel around the district in the last remaining months of my term.

Session Overview

The 2019 Session showed Virginians a stark contrast in state government.  The three statewide office holders were embroiled in controversies that made national news and led to chaos and embarrassment in the executive branch.  The Republican-led General Assembly, however, did not get dragged into the controversy and continued with the people’s work in Richmond.

Although it was a short session, we got a lot of important work done.  Perhaps one of our most important accomplishments in addition to the balanced budget that I will highlight below was the passage of a $1 billion tax relief package.

As a result of the Select Committee on School Safety we passed a robust school safety package that included nearly a dozen bills, which will make our schools safer through threat prevention, counseling realignment and increased mental health services.

We also prioritized healthcare reforms that put patients first, passing legislation to help lower insurance costs, improve transparency, and offer better care.  We passed legislation that makes it easier for small businesses to join together on insurance coverage through “association” health plans and legislation that increases access to short-term health plans. 

The House also defeated an extreme measure to expand access to late-term abortion, even up to the moment of birth, for almost any reason.  House Bill 2491 would have eliminated all meaningful restrictions on abortion but was soundly defeated by the House.

We were not distracted by the scandals that rocked our Commonwealth, and served as an important check and balance on the power of the Governor and his party. 

2019 State Budget

On Sunday, the General Assembly passed amendments to the biennial budget, one of the most important pieces of legislation we deal with each year. We balanced the budget as our constitution requires without raising taxes.  We also removed over $1 billion in new spending proposed by Governor Northam.

Our budget includes funding for a five percent teacher pay raise and $85.7 million in new funding for K-12 education.  This is the fourth teacher pay raise in six years.  This budget also makes targeted investments in our “at risk” programs to ensure that every child has a fair shot at a high-quality education.

A top priority of the General Assembly this year was school safety, and the budget passed on Sunday reflects this.  There are targeted investments of approximately $12 million in funding for school resource officers, infrastructure, and other initiatives designed to keep our students safe.

We also took a step in ensuring higher education affordability.  This includes $57 million to freeze tuition at our colleges and universities and $16 million in increased funding for financial aid. Virginia has the nation’s best higher education system, but we must continually strive to ensure the it is affordable and accessible.

The state budget also includes a three percent pay raise for state employees, who are the backbone of the Virginia government.

Finally, the budget includes longstanding language that prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions.

You can view the full budget by visiting budget.lis.virginia.gov.

Interstate 81

The sentiment from residents of the 20th district and surrounding areas over the last several years has been clear; we must do something about Interstate 81.  This year there was significant focus on Interstate 81 and there was a tremendous opportunity to do something about it.

The General Assembly passed House Bill 2718, patroned by Delegate Steve Landes.  The legislation creates the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund and Interstate 81 Committee.  Any revenues deposited into this fund will be allocated for improvements to the 81 corridor. The Bill also directs the Commonwealth Transportation Board to develop and update, in consultation with the Interstate 81 Committee, an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program.

The committee is also directed to review the Corridor Improvement Plan adopted by the Board in December of 2018 as it relates to funding options and make recommendations to the General Assembly and the Governor regarding funding recommendation and prioritization of projects.  Unfortunately the General Assembly was unable to come up with a funding proposal that both chambers were likely to agree on.

I am extremely disappointed that we were unable to agree on a funding mechanism this year, and that we essentially kicked the can down the road for another year. In the time that it takes for the Interstate 81 Committee to review the improvement plan and make funding recommendations, more hours will be lost to traffic stalls as a result of accidents and unfortunately more lives will be lost. 

My hope is that the passage of this legislation will at least ensure that the issue does not go away.  I hope that the 81 Committee established in this legislation will move forward with a transparent process that will work to put forward a funding plan with citizen input that will hopefully create a stronger position for next year’s session.

Contact Us

Now that session is over, I look forward to spending more time with my family, especially my new granddaughter. 

I have approximately 10 months remaining in my term in the House of Delegates and I intend to finish the term with the same hard work and dedication that I’ve had for the past 9 years.

We are now operating out of our district office. If you would like to reach us in the District you can contact us by phone at 540-448-3999 or by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.  You can send written correspondence to P.O. Box 239, Staunton, VA 24402. 

 

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