End of Session Report for 2020
The Avoli Report
DELEGATE G. JOHN AVOLI
DELEGATE G. JOHN AVOLI
WEEKLY NEWS AND UPDATES
Dear friends and constituents of the 20th District,
We have reached the conclusion of the 2020 General Assembly Session. It has been my honor to serve you in my first year as your Delegate, and I look forward to applying the lessons I’ve learned to future sessions.
Now that I will be home in Staunton for the remainder of 2020, my office and phone in Richmond will not be adequate for meetings or calls. I ask that you call my Legislative Aide, Travis Smiley, at (540) 200-8112 in order to schedule a meeting or have your issues or concerns addressed.
The Governor’s budget increases funding to all areas of education in the Commonwealth. Teachers and school staff will see a 2% pay increase in both 2021 and 2022. Early childhood support programs will become more thorough and more available. The burden on localities to provide reduced-cost meals will be eased by additional state funds. And additional state funds are designated to supplement students from low-income households.
Total funding for K-12 education is increasing by about $1.4 billion over the biennium. Nearly $150 million is targeted for at-risk students, and $46 million provides enough to ensure that one school counselor is employed for every 325 students. An estimated $530 million from the projected VA Lottery proceeds are earmarked to address non-recurring expenditures like renovations and repairs to make sure our students have structurally sound and safe environments to learn in.
Among the most important developments to me, an additional $105.2 million of funding is included for early childhood and Virginia Preschool Initiative programs. With mental health issues plaguing our society, providing early childhood programs and funding for at-risk students is paramount to the health and well-being of our youth. Spreading mental health awareness by identifying and providing early support to children and young people helps to foster personal strengths and skills that prepare children for success in adult life.
As promised, I voted against every bill that infringes upon our Second Amendment rights. It is our constitutional and inalienable right to own and bear arms for protection against tyranny and those who would do harm to others by breaking the law. Anti-firearm laws do nothing to protect law-abiding gun owners from criminals, and I will continue to oppose them all.
Unfortunately, the Democrat controlled legislature passed numerous bills that will adversely affect law-abiding gun owners and do nothing to prevent crime. Thankfully the Senate defeated HB 961, the “Assault” firearms ban, but you should be aware of what passed and how it will affect you.
HB 2 requires a background check for any firearm transfer and directs the Department of State Police (the Department) to establish a process for transferors to obtain such a check from licensed firearms dealers. A transferor who sells a firearm to another person without obtaining the required background check is guilty of a Class 6 felony. The bill also provides that a transferee who receives a firearm from another person without obtaining the required background check is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The bill exempts transfers (i) between immediate family members; (ii) that occur by operation of law; (iii) by the executor or administrator of an estate or by the trustee of a testamentary trust; (iv) at firearms shows in accordance with law; (v) that are part of a buy-back or give-back program; (vi) of antique firearms; (vii) that occur at a shooting range, shooting gallery, or any other area designed for the purpose of target shooting, for use during target practice, a firearms safety or training course or class, a shooting competition, or any similar lawful activity; or (viii) that are temporary transfers that (a) occur within the continuous presence of the owner of the firearm or (b) are necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. The bill removes the provision that makes background checks of prospective purchasers or transferees at firearms shows voluntary.
HB 9 requires you to report a lost or stolen firearm within 48 hours of discovering the loss or theft. Failure to comply will result in a civil penalty carrying a fine of up to $250 per offense. The bill provides that a person who, in good faith, reports the loss or theft is immune from criminal or civil liability for acts or omissions that result from the loss or theft.
HB 421 allows any locality by ordinance to prohibit the possession or carrying of firearms and ammunition within its jurisdiction. This means you must be aware of different gun laws all over the state if you plan on traveling with a firearm or transporting firearms for hunting trips. This bill is a huge burden to law-abiding gun owners. The 20th District alone could have 5 different sets of laws governing firearms between Highland and Nelson Counties.
HB 674 imposes “red flag” laws, allowing the courts to order gun confiscation based on anonymous testimony of another citizen. The bill allows the court to issue the “red flag” order for up to 180 days. Persons subject to such a court order are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor for purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm and are disqualified from having a concealed handgun permit. This bill alone violates your protections under the Second, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments of the US Constitution.
HB 812 prohibits any person who is not a licensed firearms dealer from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period and makes such an offense a Class 1 misdemeanor. The bill exempts from this provision (i) persons who have been issued a certificate by the Department of State Police under certain circumstances and with an enhanced background check, (ii) law-enforcement agencies and officers, (iii) state and local correctional facilities, (iv) licensed private security companies, (v) persons whose handgun has been stolen or irretrievably lost or who are trading in a handgun, and (vi) purchases of antique firearms.
HB 1083 increases the penalty for any person who recklessly leaves a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any person under the age of 14 from a Class 3 to a Class 1 misdemeanor.
After debate between the House and Senate about required vs. optional collective bargaining for state employees, the Senate won out and the legislature adopted revised bills that grant collective bargaining by employees with local government having the option of whether or not to allow it. Taxpayers should view this as a victory given the disaster that could have been mandated by the bill presented by House Democrats. Collective bargaining in the public sector has major consequences to taxpayers, as employees are essentially negotiating against taxpayers for pay raises. The final version of the bill at least grants localities the power to determine the economic feasibility of collectively bargained pay raises and the litigation and arbitration -again paid for with taxpayer dollars- that ensue as a result of public sector unions negotiating with the state. House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert issued the following statement after the House passed its version of the collective bargaining bill, HB 582:
“Even President Franklin Roosevelt knew that unions were all but incompatible with public service. When boards and councils negotiate with labor, a bad deal doesn’t come out of their pocket. This will increase local taxes on hard working Virginia families and isn’t the direction Virginia in which should be moving to improve our educational system.”
Structural changes to the state’s transportation funding system, as embodied in HB 1414 and SB 890, were approved in the session’s final 24 hours. Most transportation revenues are directed to a new Commonwealth Transportation Fund and the existing Highway Maintenance and Operating Fund. Funds are then disbursed, based on codified formulas, to sub-funds established to meet the varying needs of different transportation modes. Under the approved plan, the state gasoline tax would increase by 10 cents a gallon over two years (five cents each year). The bills maintain the requirement for annual vehicle safety inspections but reduce the annual vehicle registration fee by $10.
After the House and Senate reached a compromise on the minimum wage increase, we avoided the potentially disastrous mandate to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The new legislation will require yearly incremental increases in the minimum wage until it reaches $12 per hour by 2023. After that, the bill requires re-enactment by the legislature for increases to continue beyond 2023. Starting in 2022, three state entities will intensively study the feasibility and potential impact of instituting a minimum wage based on regions within the state.
What works for Northern Virginia is not what works for the more rural areas of the Commonwealth. While I am thankful the Senate successfully halted the hike to the $15 minimum wage, I am still concerned about the consequences of increasing the minimum wage so drastically. The Amazon’s of the world are who benefit most from increased minimum wages. Multibillion-dollar corporations can afford to employ tens of thousands of workers and spread the increased costs of labor among their vast catalogs of goods and services without drastically affecting prices. The 20th District relies on thousands of small businesses – retailers, restaurants, skilled trades – and agriculture for employment as well as the supply of labor, goods, and services. The increased minimum wage will inflate the costs of goods and services everywhere in the district while forcing employers to make cuts to staff in order to stay afloat.
The minimum wage has proven to be ineffective as a tool to fight poverty. Steady employment and the opportunity for upward mobility within an industry is the best way attract and retain talented people. A higher minimum wage creates an additional barrier of entry for employment, especially for the young, the untrained, and those seeking a second chance after rehabilitating from mistakes or hardships.
HB 395 is a bad bill for the 20th District. For that reason, I voted against the passage of the bill.
As I made clear numerous times throughout my campaign, I do not support abortion in situations that are not medically necessary or in cases of rape or incest. I voted against a very bad abortion bill that endangers mothers and their unborn children. HB 980 expands who can perform first trimester abortions to include, in addition to physicians, physician’s assistants licensed by the Board of Medicine, and nurse practitioners or certified nurse midwives jointly licensed by the Board of Medicine and the Board of Nursing. The bill eliminates all the procedures and processes, including the performance of an ultrasound, required to effect a pregnant person’s informed written consent to the performance of an abortion; however, the bill does not change the requirement that a pregnant person’s informed written consent first be obtained.
This bill is a total reversal of Democrats’ long-held belief in “safe, legal, and rare” abortions decided upon “between a woman and her doctor.” By expanding the scope of who can perform abortions in Virginia, a doctor no longer needs to be consulted before a woman terminates her pregnancy. Abortions will now be less safe and more readily available because of the expanded definition of who shall by licensed to perform them. Sadly, abortions are sometimes necessary due to horrific circumstances such as rape, incest, or imminent death of the mother. But abortion should never be used as a form of birth control. Expanding the accessibility and scope of licensed abortion providers is explicitly intended to increase the volume and frequency of abortions, all while making the procedure more dangerous to mothers.
I voted to let Virginians decide to support impartial redistricting in November and I encourage every citizen to vote in favor of amending the Virginia Constitution to end partisan gerrymandering. In response to overwhelming support from Virginians of all political persuasions for fair redistricting, Republicans introduced and passed a Joint Resolution in 2019 for a Constitutional Amendment to enable the 2021 redistricting to be drawn in a manner that is both fair and bipartisan. Despite an easy passage in the 2019 Session along with an agreement from both parties to pass the amendment for the required second time in 2020, the new majority sought to abandon the agreement and hold the power of drawing districts in 2021. I am thankful that enough of my Democrat colleagues honored their commitment to pass the amendment a second time, sending the measure for a referendum vote on the ballot this upcoming November. Now voters can decide to put an end to partisan gerrymandering by voting in support of the amendment to Virginia’s Constitution. This amendment will see that lines drawn in 2021 and every 10 years after will be fair and will let the people choose their representatives, not the other way around.
Democrats passed numerous bills that will increase taxes that you won’t notice coming out of your paycheck. Instead, you will pay for them at the gas pump, grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, and utility bills.
As I noted above, additional taxes of 5 cents per gallon of gas for each of the next two years increase the price you’ll pay at the gas pump.
HB 534 authorizes a new tax on plastic bags for grocery stores, supermarkets, and any wholesaler or retailer that uses plastic bags for the products you purchase. This 5-cent tax will undoubtedly translate to a higher cost on goods as these businesses will be forced to raise prices to offset the increased costs on their end.
HB 785 and SB 588 grant new tax authority to counties- without a referendum from local voters- including the ability to apply a meals tax of up to 6%. While this increases revenues for county operations, the voter base has no voice in determining the level of taxation. Expect to see the price of dining out increase in counties as these meal taxes are applied. These bills also allow for an increase in lodging taxes up to 5% and allow new cigarette taxes at 40 cents per pack.
Like I said before, although you will not see new taxes on your paychecks, all the legislation in this section authorizes hidden tax increases for goods and services you purchase. Anything that diminishes your purchasing power is a tax increase.
VIRGINIA CLEAN ECONOMY ACT
I want to talk about the “Virginia Clean Economy Act” in its own section but make no mistake- this is the biggest increase you will see in Cost of Living as a result of the 2020 Session. I voted against this bill.
According to the State Corporation Commission, the Clean Economy Act will raise your power bill by nearly 25%. HB 1526 aims to combat climate change by forcing energy companies to close coal and fossil fuel facilities in favor of renewable energy plants that currently do not exist or do not provide the necessary energy output to power our electrical grid. This bill carries an enormous price tag which energy companies will pass directly to you in your monthly electric bill.
I believe in protecting our environment and doing what we can to combat climate change. However, I do not believe that the state mandating the closure of the facilities we rely on to power our homes and businesses before we have the capacity to provide the necessary energy through alternative energy sources is responsible stewardship. It is neither the place nor the job of the Commonwealth to interfere with market forces and the demand for existing sources of energy production and the jobs these industries create and fill. The bill does not include adequate cost protections for the building of wind power by utilities, which even the Democrat Attorney General’s office voiced concern about. Consequently, ratepayers will be on the hook for Democrats’ pie-in-the-sky illusions masquerading as solutions.
The House and Senate needed an extra couple days to compromise on the final budget for the 2021-2022 biennium. The house voted in favor of passing the budget by a vote of 66-24 and the Senate followed suit voting 27-11.
I voted to pass the Budget because it provides funding for most of my legislative priorities in the areas of:
Education: in addition to the K-12 improvements and salary increases noted above, the budget includes funding for the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant – dedicated to making higher education more accessible to qualifying students who may struggle to afford the rising tuition costs at 4-year institutions – and the G3 program for students interested in pursuing trade skills from Valley Career and Technical Center and Blue Ridge Community College. It also includes $250,000 in funding for additional planning for the Virginia Museum of Natural History exhibit in Waynesboro. Once designed and constructed, the VMNH-W exhibit will offer a wonderful new educational facility in the 20th District and provide a destination for millions of dollars in tourism for Waynesboro and the surrounding hospitality industry.
First Responders and Emergency Services: State-supported Local Employees receive a 2% bonus in the first year (effective December 1, 2020) AND a 3% raise in the second year (effective July 1, 2021). State employees receive a 3% bonus in the first year and a 3% salary increase in the second year. State Police receive a compression adjustment, a 2% first year salary increase, and a 3% pay raise in the second year.
Broadband: The Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) receives $35 million in both years of the biennium, increased from $19 million in 2020. $275,000 per year is earmarked for broadband administrative support and the budget language determines appropriate investment levels from private sector partners in projects receiving VATI funds. This major increase in broadband funding will help ensure high speed internet access for parts of the state, including the 20th District, that lack broadband access.
Improving Interstate 81: The package makes major funding commitments to passenger rail and public transit, while allowing the sale of $2 billion in bonds for improvements to I-81 adopted last year and a $3.7 billion passenger rail package that Northam announced in December.
Health and Human Services: The budget fully funds the reforecast of state Medicaid spending that exceeds $600 million. It includes a funding increase of nearly $44 million for the Children’s Services Act (CSA) over the biennium to fund projected growth in CSA, driven by growth in private day expenditures. It includes $47 million to increase provider rates for nursing homes, residential psychiatric facilities, skilled and private duty nursing and adult day health care. The spending plan provides $56 million over the biennium to continue the implementation of STEP-VA outpatient, veterans, mobile crisis and peer support services. The budget includes more than $50 million for community services to transition individuals from state mental health hospitals, including discharge assistance plans and permanent supportive housing for individuals with serious mental illness. And it includes $45.9 million to fund 1,385 new waiver slots to Community Living and Family & Individual Supports as well as additional transitioning and emergency slots.
Public Safety: The adopted budget increases state support for localities with police departments (HB 599 funding) by $17.3 million over the biennium. $9.6 million is included for pilot medical programs, including $7 million for UVA to provide Hepatitis C treatment at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. The spending plan includes $6 million to implement the Community Policing Act (as contained in HB 1250), which prohibits and requires tracking of law enforcement activities related to bias-based profiling. The spending plan provides $2.5 million for the Emergency Shelter Upgrade Assistance Fund grants to localities to upgrade emergency shelter facilities. Budget language continues the workgroup studying the workload, policy and fiscal impacts of using body-worn cameras.