From school funding to opioids to short-term rentals (like Airbnb), a lot happened in Richmond during the recent 45-day session of the Virginia General Assembly. While most legislation impacts all of us as residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia, below are some highlights of local note. The legislation either became effective when it was signed by the Governor or it will be effective on July 1, when the Fiscal Year 2018 begins.
- 2,959 bills and resolutions were introduced.
- 1,830 bills were reviewed by county staff.
- 214 bills on which the Board of Supervisors provided formal positions.
- $100 billion biennium (two-year) statewide budget for 2016-2017.
State funding for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is the top priority for the county’s legislative efforts. The 2016 state revenue shortfall created a school funding problem. The state’s share of a salary increase for teachers and other instructional personnel was contingent on state revenues in Fiscal Year 2016 meeting their projections, which they did not. As a result, some school divisions (including FCPS) provided teacher salary raises in Fiscal Year 2017, but did not receive any funding for the state’s share of the raises. FCPS would have received $4.4 million. However, the General Assembly will provide the funding in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2018 budget. (School districts qualify if they provided at least a 2 percent salary increase in fiscal years 2017 or 2018, which FCPS did.)
The General Assembly also chose to not change the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) rate increases for full-time educational, administrative and support employees, which negatively impacts the FCPS Fiscal Year 2018 budget.
Overall, the 2016-2018 biennium budget amendments adopted this year by the General Assembly were helpful to Fairfax County. They included both the funding for salaries and an increase in Virginia Lottery funding that will be distributed to the state’s school divisions.
A series of bills were introduced during the General Assembly to tackle the epidemic of opiate addictions, which Gov. McAuliffe has declared to be a public health emergency in Virginia. New legislation includes limits on initial and refill prescriptions of an opioid pain relieving drug, as well as limiting certain pain relieving drugs for pregnant women. In addition, bills to expand access to Naloxone (which effectively treats overdoses and saves lives) were also successful, along with bills calling for the training of a wide range of people who may be confronted with an individual who has overdosed.
The most significant legislation pertaining to Northern Virginia transportation this year is the establishment of the Metrorail Safety Commission (MSC), designed to oversee and make improvements to safety issues for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Metrorail system. Federal law requires the establishment of the MSC by Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, along with certification by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) that the MSC is able to assume safety oversight of the Metrorail system.
During the 2017 General Assembly Session, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation announced that FTA would begin withholding funds provided to Virginia, Maryland and D. C. until the MSC is in place and fully certified. This action highlights the importance of improving safety at WMATA, as well as the importance of the Metrorail system to the county and the commonwealth, as federal funding is now being withheld from transit systems throughout the state.
Related to concerns about community impacts of short-term rentals (such as Airbnb), new legislation authorizes a locality to adopt an ordinance requiring the registration of persons offering property for short-term rental. The bill defines “short-term rental” as renting a room or space suitable for sleeping or lodging for less than 30 consecutive days. (Examples of exceptions include hotels and established B&Bs.) The bill authorizes localities to impose fees and penalties on those who do not register or who offer short-term rentals that have multiple violations of state or federal laws or ordinances, including those related to alcoholic beverage control. The bill expressly preserves existing local zoning authority to regulate short-term rentals, and makes clear that it is not intended to affect any contracts, including any property associations’ (such as home owners associations) agreements or covenants.
It should be noted that the county already has rules about short-term rentals in place. The Board of Supervisors has directed staff to form a work group, with input from the community, to help update and modernize the county’s ordinances to address short-term rentals. Any changes made by the board will be done through a public process.
The General Assembly authorized the creation of a Joint Subcommittee on Local Government Fiscal Stress, which is charged with studying:
- Savings opportunities from increased regional cooperation and consolidation of services
- Local responsibilities for service delivery of state-mandated or high priority programs
- Causes of fiscal stress among local governments
- Potential financial incentives and other governmental reforms to encourage increased regional cooperation
- The different taxing authorities of cities and counties.
The General Assembly also directed the Auditor of Public Accounts to establish a work group to develop an early warning system to identify localities that may be experiencing fiscal stress.
The General Assembly passed a bill that modifies the approval process for the siting (or locating) of small cell wireless facilities that attach to existing structures, and retains state and local government authority to determine whether or not to allow access to government-owned structures. The bill involved extensive negotiations among representatives of the wireless telecommunications services industry, cable companies and the telecommunications infrastructure industry, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal league, and local governments such as Fairfax County. Because of local government efforts, and with strong support from numerous legislators, a compromise was reached to remove provisions that would have limited the county’s ability to weigh in on the location of tall telecommunication towers and would have allowed telecommunications companies to attach their small facilities to any public building with nominal compensation. Some amendments were made to the bill during the reconvened General Assembly session on April 5, and the Governor has 30 days to sign or veto it.