Update from VLA's Legislative Committee regarding the Virginia General Assembly

Report to VLA from Phil Abraham of The Vectre Corporation, Richmond, VA, given April 2021 to the VLA Executive Committee and Council and updated July 26, 2021:

One of the unique aspects of the short session this year was that there was a tight limit on the number of bills that could be introduced. Senators could only introduce 12 bills and House members could only introduce 7 bills. This resulted in slightly less than 1,000 bills being introduced at the 2021 regular and special sessions (about half of what you would see in a normal session). The session was also totally virtual in regard to the public and lobbyists being able to monitor committee meetings. All lobbying activities had to be conducted via text, cellphone, or video conference. It was a lot more challenging as lobbyists couldn’t catch legislators in person in the hallways or offices. The amount of time we had to testify on legislation ranged for a low of 30 seconds to a high of 2 minutes. The 2021 Session was unique in that it began with a 30-day Regular Session that was rolled-into a Special Session that last about 18 days.

The major issues legislators dealt with at the 2021 General Assembly were  abolishing the death penalty, legalizing marijuana (simple possession as of July 1, 2021), passing the revised state budget, and legislation providing for the expungement of many criminal convictions. 

 For VLA, our primary issue, as in recent years, was to increase state aid.  $1M increased funding is what we asked for in the second year of the current budget to restore the funds that were eliminated due to Covid-19 in 2020.  We had two great new champions for our efforts including Delegate Betsy Carr, who  chairs the Higher Education subcommittee of the House Appropriations that handles state aid to local libraries. She put in the amendment for us on the House side as she did at the 2020 Regular and Special Sessions. Senator Mamie Locke, who is from Hampton and is the Senate Democratic Caucus Chair as well as Chair of the Higher Education Subcommittee of Senate Finance and Appropriations, put in the amendment for VLA  on the Senate side.  This was the first year Senator Locke had been asked to introduce the state aid budget amendment.  For the first time in many years, both the House and Senate agreed to fund the increase in state aid we requested and included the $1M restoration of funds in the budget conference report.  We also had strong support from Delegate Mark Sickles, who is Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Committee from Fairfax County, and from Senator Tommy Norment, the Senate Republican Leader, who use to chair the Higher Education Subcommittee of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee and is  from James City County.. We also had new staff assigned to the state aid budget amendment because Sarah Herzog is now the budget director for Christopher Newport University.  Tyler Williams is the new Senate staffer on all education matters, including state aid to local public libraries, and Tony Maggio remains the House Appropriations Committee staff member assigned responsibility for state aid matters and all Higher Education funding.. Both House and Senate staff members were supportive of the VLA budget amendment request in 2021.

 The only other bill that concerned libraries in particular was legislation that allowed Fairfax South Boston regional system to get their full amount of state aid in the wake of their reversion to town status that occurred a number of years ago. They were the only city that had previously reverted to town status that has not been held harmless regarding state aid to public library funding levels following their reversion. When this bill was heard in the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, the Chair of that Committee, Senator Janet Howell from Fairfax County,  said, “Aren’t you aware, Delegate Edmunds, that we already put $1M in the state budget for increased local aid to public libraries?” I thought that comment was positive and  demonstrated the interest of Senator Howell in funding for local public libraries.  

At the upcoming 2022 session our focus will be continued progress on fully funding the state aid to local public libraries program . We hope to get there in four years by dividing the shortfall up into four segments and phasing them in as annual increases of a little over $2.5M each year. With support from Delegate Carr and Senator Locke, we can hopefully make real progress towards our full-funding goal.

Members of the House currently are focused on elections  because all 100 of them are up for reelection in November.  Statewide elections  for Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General will be held the same day. The Democrats held a statewide primary on June 8th of 2021, and the Republicans held a virtual convention at roughly 35 sites around the state in May 2021. We’ll do our best to educate the candidates for Governor on the importance of fully funding state aid and try to get some commitments during the campaign to move towards full funding.