As the General Assembly enters the final days of this year’s session, last week marked the passing of two noteworthy events. In the first instance, delegates finished voting on the proposed house amendments to the 2016-2018 biennial budget and have presented a bill that is now in conference with that proposed by the senate. Secondly, the governor has now signed into law legislation resolving the concealed handgun reciprocity controversy instigated last year by the attorney general. I will here address each matter accordingly.
Without question, passing a budget is a primary function of our lawmaking responsibilities. Unlike Washington, D.C., your state government must balance its obligations with actual revenue projections. This means, of course, that every proposed spending item is not approved as priorities are recognized pursuant to the Commonwealth’s constitutional obligations and the needs of localities. It also means that the budgets of families and individuals should be considered, recognizing always that ultimately it is the taxpayer who funds the government.
Recognizing this, the house version of the state budget includes no tax increases. Nevertheless, in addition to addressing basic public safety and infrastructure concerns, this year’s budget proposal makes education a spending priority. With it, over $270 million from the lottery program will be distributed to public schools. Teachers also benefit with inclusion of the state’s share of the allowed 2.0% salary increase. In all, K-12 public education will receive about 30% of the state’s general spending. For community colleges, over $6 million dollars is put forward, with $2.5 million designated each year for increased Career and Technical credentialing and equipment.
With respect to the firearm legislation that garnered much concern, I am happy to report that the hopeful agreement negotiated by the speaker of the house with the governor early in the session has now come to pass. On Friday of last week, the governor signed into the law each of the agreed measures. In addition to providing for voluntary background checks at gun shows and prohibiting firearm possession by persons under domestic protective orders, the agreement included the executive’s signature to House Bill 1163, a bill to which I am a co-patron.
Having passed the house by a vote of 72-26, this bill, now scheduled to become law in July, will require that valid permits from all other states with concealed-carry programs be recognized in Virginia. This reverses the action of the Attorney General when he jeopardized the safety of permit holding Virginians who travel to those states requiring mutual recognition. Furthermore, reciprocity agreements will now be expanded beyond the status previously enjoyed. Specifically, the state police superintendent will be required to enter agreements with other states within 60 days of the law’s effective date.
As I have previously stated, the governor’s willingness to negotiate this agreement early in the session was a pleasant surprise. I applaud his judgment in recognizing the importance of this issue to law-abiding citizens throughout the commonwealth. It is satisfying to know that such an important public policy objective has been met in the year it was needed.