By Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights The 2019 General Assembly just adjourned sine die Sunday. Over the course of the 46-day legislative session, the... House Speaker gives legislative update

By Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights

The 2019 General Assembly just adjourned sine die Sunday. Over the course of the 46-day legislative session, the House and Senate considered thousands of bills on a wide range of issues. Despite the distractions taking place elsewhere on Capitol Square, the General Assembly was laser-focused on getting our job done in a timely and responsible manner.

State budget passed
The final action of the legislative session was the passage of amendments to the state budget. As is required by the Virginia Constitution, the budget is balanced and does not spend more than we bring in.

First and foremost, the budget eliminates $1.2 billion in new spending proposed by the governor. The budget includes no tax or fee increases. $120 million in healthcare savings are included in the budget as a result of lower than expected Medicaid costs and updated forecasting language.

We have included funding for a 5 percent teacher pay raise and $85.7 million in new funding for K-12 education. This is the fourth teacher pay raise in six years. The budget also makes targeted investments in our “at risk” programs; every student deserves a fair shot at an education regardless of their ZIP code.

School safety was a major priority for the General Assembly this year and our budget reflects that, including approximately $12 million in funding for school resource officers, infrastructure, and other initiatives designed to keep our students safe in schools.

In the higher education field, the budget takes a huge step on higher education affordability. We included $57 million to freeze tuition at our colleges and universities, and increased funding for financial aid by $16 million. Virginia has the nation’s best higher education system, but we must continually strive to ensure the it is affordable and accessible.

The state budget also includes a 3 percent pay raise for state employees. Our state employees are the backbone of Virginia government and often go without recognition.

Finally, the budget includes longstanding language that prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions.

Legislation update
House Bill 2577, patroned by Del. Bob Thomas, eliminates the age cap for autism-related insurance coverage. Presently, insurance companies stop offering coverage for necessary services at age 10. This bill will greatly impact Virginians with autism and their families. HB 2577 passed the House and Senate in a bipartisan manner and will now be considered by the Governor.

House retirements
Several of my House colleagues announced their retirement from the floor this week – Del. Dickie Bell, R–Staunton, Del. Gordon Helsel, R–Poquoson, Del. David Toscano, D–Charlottesville, and Del. Riley Ingram, R–Hopewell. I’ve enjoyed working with each of them during their time in the legislature on a wide range of issues.

As our districts border each other, Ingram and I have come to be good friends throughout the years. I’ll particularly miss his quick wit and humor. He’s been a force for good here in the Tri-Cities and will be sorely missed by the body.