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COLUMN — Budget amendment to help staff PRJ fails

We have completed another week of the 2021 General Assembly session, and I wanted to take a moment to update you on last week’s proceedings.

As I had mentioned last month, House Republicans voted to limit this year’s session to the constitutionally mandated 30 days. With Virginians unable to visit the Capitol and more than 150 legislative days in 2020, we felt extending the session past what the constitution requires was unnecessary. Big decisions should not be made when people don’t have access to their elected representatives.

Unfortunately, Democrats were unable to work with the constitution’s parameters and decided to have Gov. Ralph Northam call a special session for more time to advance their far-left agenda. That session began on Wednesday, Feb. 10, and is scheduled to end no later than March 1.

Last Friday, we completed the House’s work on amendments to the budget. Unfortunately, the two budget amendments I asked to be added to the budget that were important to our area were not included.

I mentioned those in last week’s column. One would add $250,000 to complete a 2.5-mile segment of the Tobacco Heritage Trail from Boydton to Rudd’s Creek. Enhancing access to the outdoors by expanding this walking and biking trail is a key part of the Bluegrass to Beaches Greenway Trail. The others would have provided important funding at Piedmont Regional Jail. These budget amendments would fix a decade-old staffing problem at the Piedmont Regional Jail by providing almost $1.5 million for an additional 47 positions.

I was proud to support an amendment that would require our schools to offer in-person learning to any students and parents who want it. Every day our kids spend sitting in front of a Zoom meeting is a day of learning lost. We are seeing an epidemic of failure among children in virtual formats. We cannot allow that to continue. Our kids deserve better.

House Democrats have announced that their amended budget contains more than $500 million to combat learning loss from virtual schools. The reality is much less rosy. Of the money for learning loss, the majority goes toward teacher pay raises and another large share to funds that will hold districts harmless for decreased student enrollment numbers.

It appears only $80 million or so goes toward true learning loss, including $30 million that will go to grants for selected systems. None of this money will be available until July.

Republicans had a plan to put $100 million into the hands of parents to fight learning loss before it ever took place in the form of the READ fund.

I also voted for an amendment that would have blocked state funding for abortions. This has been a long-standing policy under Republican control. Democrats disagreed, however, and the measure failed. We will continue to fight for life — hopefully next year with a Republican majority.

Another amendment I was proud to support was a bipartisan effort to remove deceased voters from our rolls more often. As of today, that process happens only once per month. At a time when Virginians are more concerned than ever about the security of our elections, this common-sense step would have helped restore confidence in our process. While Republicans and Democrats supported the measure in the Senate, House Democrats defeated this measure.

I also wanted to take a minute to talk about the vaccine registration system in Virginia. Many of you have reached out to my office to try to get appointments. Rest assured, I’m just as frustrated as you are. Gov. Northam wasn’t ready when the vaccine was approved in December, and now our seniors and other vulnerable people are paying the price.

A new system is supposed to go online Tuesday, Feb. 16, but we are being told that registration will be closed on Friday, Feb. 19, starting at 5 p.m. I will provide more information about that system as I learn more about it. We can but hope that it will work far better than the catastrophe that has been in place so far.

WINTER STORMS

A large amount of people across my district are without power and dealing with downed trees and damages from this past weekend’s ice storm. I know that some counties are providing warming stations and other resources. If we can help you find more information about these resources, please give our office a call. Please find information below to report outages.

Southside Electric Cooperative: (866) 878-5514

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative: (877) 632-5688

Dominion: (866) 366-4357

If you would like to view House committee meetings or House floor sessions, you can do so at this web address: https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/house/chamber/ chamberstream.php

DEL. TOMMY WRIGHT can be reached via email at DelTWright@house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.