Congratulations on the adjournment of the 2017 session of the Virginia General Assembly, and thank you for your continued leadership on behalf of the people we serve.
Like the three that came before it, this legislative session was marked by bipartisan cooperation on issues that are important to the people of Virginia. When I gave the State of the Commonwealth address in January, I asked for your help in building on the progress we have made together over the past three years and addressing serious problems that we had yet to solve.
46 days later, we have made significant investments in mental health funding and opioid treatment. We closed a budget shortfall while protecting core public services, like K-12 education, from cuts. And we worked together to get state employees, law enforcement and teachers well-deserved raises. These significant steps forward will help us continue to grow our economy and make life better for people in every corner of the Commonwealth.
As we enter the next phase of the legislative calendar, there are a few issues that I will be reviewing carefully in advance of the reconvened session. I remain concerned that the state budget includes no additional funding to provide local and regional jails with the tools and training to perform mental health screenings and assessments. After the death of Jamycheal Mitchell, we must take swift action to prevent another tragedy from occurring.
I will also review budget actions related to the Commonwealth’s economic infrastructure. Investments in emerging economic sectors like solar energy, biotechnology and cybersecurity are proven strategies leading to the creation of new jobs. We should prioritize those initiatives over items like Go Virginia, a worthy initiative that is not yet up and running.
My team and I will also review the hundreds of bills you passed during this session, the overwhelming majority of which improve to Virginia law and I will sign. However, I will not hesitate to veto legislation that I believe would make Virginia less safe, economically vibrant or open to people and businesses from every walk of life. I have already vetoed several pieces of legislation this year, including bills that would restrict access to women’s health care or needlessly expand access to deadly weapons. As I said at the beginning of the session, it would be my preference that such bills never pass the General Assembly. However, I will continue to use my veto power as my review of legislation moves forward.
As the session draws to a close, there are several items that did not pass this year that I sincerely hope you will consider next year. This year I submitted legislation that would subject the student loan industry to stricter oversight in Virginia. I hope you will pass such a proposal next year so that students can get an education in Virginia without falling victim to unscrupulous loan servicers.
I also submitted legislation to reduce gun crime by instituting universal background checks for firearm sales. This is a common sense proposal that will keep guns out of the hands of people who are forbidden from owning them. It is well past time to move forward on this idea.
And finally, I hope you will act next year to bring Virginia’s criminal justice system into the 21st century by adjusting the felony larceny threshold for inflation. We should hold thieves accountable, but subjecting someone who steals one pair of shoes to the lifelong consequences of a felony conviction is unjust and counterproductive.
The story of this legislative session is similar to the story of our more than three years working together. We have had our differences, but we have found ways to work together on important issues that grow our economy and create opportunity for the people we serve. The results are clear. When I took office, our unemployment rate was 5.4 percent. Today it is 4.1percent. And there are 185,100 more jobs across our Commonwealth than when our work began. We are succeeding in building a new Virginia economy, and the steps we took this session will build on our success.
As our final session working together draws to a close, I want to express my sincere gratitude and admiration for the work the men and women of the Virginia General Assembly do every year. Sessions are grueling experiences that require you to leave your loved ones and your jobs. I know that work will not end when you return home.
As Governor, I have worked every day to build a stronger, more diversified, and more equitable Virginia economy. The work we have done together has benefited those efforts and the Virginia families, businesses, and communities we were elected to serve.
-Submitted by Sam Coleman