Legislators Ready Bills For New Session

Proposals Range From Pay Raises To Elections

State Sen. Creigh Deeds is proposing what he describes as a “sustainable method for funding” school construction projects and pay raises for law enforcement officers.

Under his proposal, the state income tax for individuals earning more than $150,000 would be increased from 5.75 to 5.9 percent. He estimates that the increase would generate $134.1 million in fiscal year 2021 and $144.2 million in fiscal year 2022. He proposes earmarking 45 percent of the revenues for school construction grants and the other 55 percent for raises for sheriffs’ deputies and state troopers.

The proposal will be considered by the General Assembly during the 2021 session, slated to get underway today, Wednesday, Jan. 13. Deeds, who represents the 25th District, and Del. Ronnie Campbell of the 24th District, were among the Rockbridge area government leaders who spoke at the chamber of commerce’s state of the community virtual meeting this past Friday.

Alluding to the difficulties of pandemic-plagued 2020, Campbell asked, “Did anything positive happen last year?” He answered his own question, noting that legislators came up with funding for five new full-time positions at Natural Bridge State Park. He credited state Sen. Emmett Hanger, who repre sented a portion of the Rockbridge area years ago, with some “horse trading” with other legislators to secure the funding.

Campbell went over a litany of legislative items of local interest that he’s introducing in this year’s session. He is sponsoring a bill for Glasgow to get a new town charter. He continues to work on legislation to get tractortrailers off of Main Street in Lexington. He said he needs the cooperation of state and federal agencies to get this situation resolved.

Campbell said he is sponsoring legislation to help the Natural Bridge Zoo keep its elephant, Asha. The animal has been at the zoo for more than 30 years but has been the subject of complaints for years from animal rights activists. According to Campbell, “it would be cruel and unusual punishment” to remove the animal from the only home it has known for most of its life.

Campbell is trying to address an issue in the construction industry that’s causing some workers to be underpaid and income taxes to not be collected. This stems from a common practice in which subcontractors are paying their workers in cash and below prevailing wages.

Campbell mentioned that voting registrars are having difficulty finding out in a timely manner when people have died and need to be removed from the rolls. He’s introducing a bill that would require this information to be provided to registrars on a weekly basis.

Deeds said he is introducing two bills related to elections. One would require all localities to count absentee ballots in the same manner to avoid late swings in election totals. The other would permanently codify reforms adopted this past year because of the pandemic. He wants to retain provisions for voting absentee and depositing these ballots in secure drop boxes. Pointing to the record turnout in the November elections, he said, “I believe our democracy works best when more people can participate.”

Addressing economic hardships wrought by the pandemic, Deeds is proposing to take $100 million from the state’s reserve fund and using it to provide long-term unemployment benefits and retraining for workers who have lost their jobs.

Deeds, who has been leading efforts to reform Virginia’s mental health services the past several years, said the study commission he is chairing is set to expire at the end of 2021. Because of the complexities involved and the need for further vigilance, he wants the work to continue in some fashion.

“I want us to have a permanent apparatus to make sure services are available in the communities where people live,” said Deeds. “Institutionalized care – hospitals – is important but we want to put more money in community services.” He added, “Mental health will continue to be a focus of mine for as long as I’m in the legislature.”

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