By Senator Lynwood Lewis
While Session is only just underway, having been gaveled in at noon on Wednesday, January 8th, Richmond is busier than ever. A change in majority in both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate has brought about office moves, changes to Committees and changes to leadership. While we are still in E609 in the Pocahontas Building adjacent to the Capitol, there have been changes to my Committee assignments. I have been appointed Chairman of the Local Government Committee and will continue to serve on the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and Education and Health Committees. I have also been appointed to serve on the Commerce and Labor Committee and the Rules Committee. In addition, I will serve as Chairman of the Health Subcommittee in Education and Health and serve on the Joint Rules Committee, which is a bipartisan subset of both the Senate and House Rules Committees.
In addition to my Committee assignments, I am carrying thirty Bills and several Budget amendments. While I’m certain this will mean a very busy 2020 Session, I am looking forward to the added responsibilities, as they enable me to better serve the needs and priorities of the Sixth Senate District and the Eastern Shore.
I am carrying several Bills of interest to the Eastern Shore, including one of my top priorities: Cost of Compete Funding for Northampton and Accomack Counties. Without this funding in coming years, it will be increasingly difficult to compete with Maryland as we work to recruit and retain teachers here on the Shore. The Department of Education and our Fiscal Office are still working on the exact cost for the full implementation of the COCA program, but I have put in a Budget amendment as well as legislation to include both of our public school systems here on the Shore in the Cost of Compete designation originally given to localities in Northern Virginia.
In addition to COCA funding, I have put forth several Budget Amendments to further serve the Shore, as this is a Budget-writing year. My office has submitted a request for $7.3 million in additional funding for the Virginia Waterway Maintenance Fund which, in working with Delegate Bloxom, we established in 2018. In 2019, both Northampton and Accomack Counties were awarded grants from this fund that did not require local matches. These grants enabled both counties to complete the pre-dredge work for King Creek and Quinby Creek, with a goal of completion in July of this year and the intent to submit applications to actually dredge both creeks from July 2020 to July 2021 timeframe. Allocating additional monies to the Virginia Waterway Maintenance Fund will increase the likelihood of more of our navigable small channels and waterways being dredged on a faster timetable. I’ve also submitted a Budget Amendment to increase the current dollar amount allocated to our Riverside Shore Memorial Obstetrics program by $600,000, further enabling our hospital to serve the needs of our community.
I am continuing to work on other major issues pertinent to the Shore through legislation and Committee work, including Broadband infrastructure, the oversight of the menhaden fishery, funding improvements to our public school infrastructure, flooding and resiliency, water quality and affordable housing, among many others. I am looking forward to what I hope is a productive Session for the Eastern Shore and the Commonwealth.
While it is certain to be a busy year, there is nothing better than having visitors from home. We are in Session until Saturday, March 7th and are looking forward to visits from folks from Cape Charles to Chincoteague, and I encourage you to make it to Richmond if you are able. If you can, make sure to call our office ahead of time and our team will do everything we can to make sure I can get a few minutes with anyone making the trek from the Shore to our state Capitol. I also encourage everyone to monitor the activities of the legislature on the General Assembly website VirginiaGeneralAssembly.gov. I can be reached at our legislative email District06@senate.virginia.gov and while in Richmond by telephone at (804) 698-7506. Please do not hesitate to contact me on issues with questions about legislation or on issues of concern.