This evening the General Assembly adjourned the 2015 session early for the first time in recent memory. While the session overall was fairly uneventful from a headline perspective, a number of significant policy items were addressed.
First, a budget agreement was reached last weekend and passed both chambers yesterday with overwhelmingly bi-partisan majorities. The agreement includes $129.5 million in rainy-day fund pre-payment for FY17, eliminates $11.7 million in fees from the introduced budget, and provides $153.5 million in funding for a comprehensive compensation package for state employees, state police officers, state-supported local employees, teachers, and college faculty.
Second, comprehensive sexual assault reform on college campuses was addressed including mandatory reporting requirements and support services. Schools are required to establish a memorandum of understanding with an unaffiliated sexual assault support service to make sure every victim can get support and advice from an unbiased group. All decisions regarding public safety will be made by a review team and every charge of felony sexual assault will either be released immediately to the police or sent for review to the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Third, two major transportation reform initiatives, championed by Governor McAuliffe, passed. HB 1887 creates a new formula to allocate transportation dollars, replacing the current $500 million CTB and 40-30-30 formulas, becoming effective in 2020. Some dollars will transition through the new formula starting next year. The new formula allocates 45 percent of transportation construction dollars to a new “state of good repair” program, 27.5 percent to a newly established “high priority” projects program, and 27.5 percent to a highway construction district grant program. HB 1886 requires that a finding of public interest be made before procurement on all projects undertaking pursuant to the PPTA.
Fourth, two bills created a regulatory framework for the operation of Transportation Network Companies (TNC) like Uber and Lyft. While they have been operating in the Commonwealth since last summer, this legislation provides a permanent solution to their ongoing operations.
Fifth, legislation increasing the regulations on family day homes passed both chambers. The bill increases the background screening required of day home care providers plus adds additional barrier crimes to those who are not permitted to provide care. Homes providing care for five or more children, not including children that reside in the home, must be licensed by the Department of Social Services. The bill also requires the department develop additional regulations to implement these safeguards.
Finally, as their last action before adjourning members agreed on a comprehensive ethics reform bill. The annual lobbyist registration fee was increased from $50 to $100. All gifts to elected officials, both tangible and intangible, were capped at $100. Due to the new gift ban, the bill added an exemption for “widely attended events” where at least 25 people have been invited. Last, the Council was given the power to approve travel paid for by certain third parties. In doing so, the Council must consider how the travel relates to the official duties of the requester.
These are just a few of the highlights from the last two months. Members will be returning on April 15th for the reconvened session where they will consider amendments and/or vetoes from the Governor. Lastly, with the members adjourning this evening we are officially in campaign mode. As a reminder, all 140 members of the General Assembly are up for reelection this November and with eight members already announcing they won’t return there is sure to be some turnover.