RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The General Assembly has agreed to a deal on how to spend — or save — roughly $4.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding allocated to Virginia through the American Rescue Plan Act.
The House of Delegates approved the conference report on a bipartisan vote of 78-20. The Senate voted 23-16 to send the budget bill to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk. Northam is expected to sign off on the deal.
“While other states are closing budget gaps, we are investing in Virginians. We have consistently put resources into helping families, businesses, and communities recover from this pandemic and prepare for the future,” Northam said in a statement of support after the vote.
The agreement includes versions of several amendments endorsed by the state Senate last week.
One of them creates a roadmap for restarting same-day assistance at Virginia’s DMV Customer Service Centers, which are currently operating by appointment only.
After Northam signs the bill, the DMV will have 30 days to submit a plan and another 30 days to implement it, according to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Torian.
Asked why the House and Senate decided on a longer timeline than initially proposed, Torian said, “I think being able to plan and decide on putting personnel in place and how they’re going to utilize their personnel is going to be important.”
Budget conferees also decided to keep language in the budget that clarifies temporary standards for when college athletes in Virginia can profit off of their name, image and likeness following a recent NCAA policy change. For example, the bill specifies that athletes can’t be compensated in connection with gambling, drugs, alcohol, weapons and adult entertainment, among other restrictions.
“The NCAA has put out guidance but our schools have found the guidance not to be that helpful. They would like a consistent approach across the Commonwealth so this is what we’re going to have until we meet again in January,” said Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax).
The proposal was included in the final deal after being removed by the state Senate.
Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke) was among those who felt the General Assembly should’ve waited until the 2022 regular session to address the issue, arguing that the proposal was rushed and didn’t fall into the parameters agreed upon for the special session.
Suetterlein also criticized what he considers a watered down proposal to provide one-time, $3,000 hazard pay bonuses for state-funded sheriff’s department employees, corrections officers and regional jail staff. He said the item included in the final deal was about 20 percent of the initial ask proposed by his Republican colleague and didn’t include local positions that aren’t funded by the state.
“You’ll actually have some sheriff’s deputies working with others that aren’t covered. Some get the bonuses, some don’t, and that’s no way to do things,” Suetterlein said.
The amendment also directs a task force to study compensation structure for various law enforcement groups, which will deliver recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly by October 15, 2021.
“I’m proud of the $3,000 we have negotiated but, as we proceed to the next General Assembly session, please don’t forget our untold heroes,” said Del. Roslyn Tyler (D-Emporia).
Additionally, the deal includes funding to address staff shortages impacting Virginia State Police and the state’s mental health hospitals.
It maintains several other commitments laid out by Democratic leadership before the special session started. For example, the spending package includes investments to expand broadband, replenish the unemployment trust fund, provide additional grant funding for small businesses, boost tuition assistance in higher education and improve air quality in PreK-12 schools.
Additionally, the budget includes language to extend state-level protections for those struggling to pay rent and utility bills due to the pandemic.
“With this budget, we will meet the needs of thousands of Virginians across the Commonwealth. This funding is vital to rebuilding Virginia stronger and will have an enormous impact on the people hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Democratic Majority’s hard work will continue to move the Commonwealth forward,” Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring (Alexandria), and House Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan (Fairfax) said in a joint statement on Monday.