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‘Political will,’ funding needed to combat increased flooding issues, experts say

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RICHMOND, Va. – Yvonne Rife was in the attic holding her dog Lucy as her Buchanan County home was swept off its foundation and carried a quarter of a mile by the water.

A large oak tree lodged in a trestle bridge eventually halted the home, she said. She lost everything, Rife said, including two cats, the house she lived in for over 40 years, and the precious memories it contained.

Rife’s cousin, Opal Mildred Rife, died and 70 residences were destroyed or seriously damaged last August in Hurley, a small community located in Southwest Virginia. A heavy downpour of rain combined with mudslides over the course of a few hours resulted in a flood Rife said she’s never seen before.

“I was hitting things and things were hitting me, just awful scratching and banging,” Rife said. “It was worse than any carnival ride.”


Climate change advocates and some officials warn that flooding due to increased precipitation – such as the one in Hurley – will cost Virginia billions of dollars and threaten residents’ safety. This is something they warn will get worse unless mitigation efforts receive proper funding – sooner rather than later.

Rising waters

The total annual precipitation in Virginia has trended slightly upward since 2000, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information 2022 state climate summary. The wettest consecutive 5-year interval in the state’s history was recorded between 2016 and 2020. The highest rates of 2-inch extreme precipitation events were recorded between 2015 and 2020 and are projected to increase over time.

TV weather reports estimated the area around Guesses Fork Road in Hurley received as much as 7 inches of rain in a few hours. Similar events have happened all over the state, like in 2019 when a month’s worth of rain fell around the Northern Virginia area in an hour, turning roads into rivers, flooding basements, and causing massive sinkholes, according to the Washington Post.

Heavy rain in Radford during 2013 caused the New River to overflow and peak at 21 feet, consuming parks, the Radford Animal Shelter, and more than 100 cars, according to WSET.

Precipitation events like prolonged or intense rainfall can inundate areas throughout the state with flooding, caused when runoff overwhelms natural or built drainage systems, according to the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan. Heavy rainfall can also cause rivers and streams to overflow and lead to flooding.

Rising costs

Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster, according to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. It is estimated that 1 inch of water in a home can cause upwards of $25,000 in damages.

Rife estimated she lost over $500,000 during the flood, between the home, property, and total belongings. She said she canceled her flood insurance months before the incident due to financial struggles, leaving her with no coverage on the day she most needed it.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, denied requests for private assistance for residents of Hurley, according to multiple news outlets. Donations and efforts from churches, individuals, and the United Way of Southwest Virginia have supported residents for months. FEMA distributed public assistance funds for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities.

While projects aimed at mitigating damages from flooding could cost the commonwealth billions, not investing in them would cost significantly more, said Norfolk City Councilwoman Andria McClellan.

The cost of flood damages annually for coastal residential, public, and commercial buildings is projected to increase by over 930% from $550 million to $5.7 billion by 2080, according to the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan.

“When you talk to FEMA, they say for every dollar invested now, you’re saving between $7 to $10 of post-disaster recovery money,” McClellan said.

Hurley “still looks like a war zone,” eight months after the event, Rife said. The town has not received enough assistance through the county, state, or federal government, she said.

“We are tired of waiting and we’re just praying that we do get help,” Rife said.

The underlying issue that McClellan and other climate advocates consistently point out is there is not nearly enough funding from the state to support current flood survivors and invest in mitigation projects.

Where’s the money?

Virginia never prioritized funding flood mitigation projects until the Community Flood Preparedness Fund was created in 2020, McClellan said. Proceeds of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, are the sole source of financing for the fund, which has received approximately $142 million since March 2021, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

“The bad news is, one project in my neighborhood costs $80 million,” McClellan said

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has called to end Virginia’s participation in RGGI. He signed an executive order which failed to take effect, and then released a report from the DEQ which outlined reasons why the initiative would not benefit taxpayers.

It would be detrimental for Virginia to withdraw from RGGI, said Jay Ford, Virginia policy and grassroots adviser for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat that we are not where we should be in our response to rising waters and recurrent flooding,” Ford said. “The consequences would be significant.”

Localities are sometimes able to access federal funding in the event of a natural disaster, such as when FEMA provided assistance after Tropical Storm Gaston struck the state in 2004, as well as Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The Olde Towne Stormwater Pump Station in the City of Portsmouth received over $7 million from a FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant. The improvement of the drainage system showcases how federal funding can support the construction of critical flood mitigation projects.

“Federal funding can be helpful, but is not a consistent revenue stream,” Ford said.

This is the case with Hurley, when FEMA denied assistance to individuals, saying the flooding lacked “severity and magnitude,” according to United Way of Southwest Virginia.

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, D-Va., along with Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., announced in February $174,458 in funding for Hurley from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

House Republicans proposed $11.4 million in state funding explicitly for survivors of the flood in Hurley, in the fiscal year 2022. Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell County, initially introduced legislation to create a designated fund for flood victims using RGGI money. Morefield requested to table the bill after determining “a clearer path in securing private assistance,” for Hurley residents.

The solutions

Faith Williams Schesventer is the Hampton Roads community organizer for Mothers Out Front, or MOF, a mother-led volunteer group aimed at developing solutions to create a livable climate.

She is proud of the work MOF has accomplished, like creating alternative school bus routes when streets flood, but acknowledged that large-scale change comes from protections and funding implemented through legislation.

Lawmakers should look at what grassroots organizations like MOF are doing and use it to inform policy, Williams Schesventer said.

“If they looked into the communities and all the solutions that are already there,” Williams Schesventer said, “then we would have it all figured out, right?”

Implementing tree steward programs is a step towards mitigating the effects of flooding, said Desiree Shelley, community organizer for MOF in Roanoke.

Restoring previously deforested and degraded riparian areas would serve as a buffer to prevent runoff, Shelley said.

Shelly has also seen design efforts that help prevent flooding in parking lots through the use of permeable pavers to help to absorb water.

The Agrarian Commons, a nationwide effort with members in Virginia, works to put land into a trust so that it stays within a sustainable agriculture model unthreatened by development – another solution Shelley said can help the effort.

The Ohio Creek Watershed Project in Norfolk is funded through a federal grant that protects the area from increased flood hazards and connects the Chesterfield Heights and Grandy Village neighborhoods with a multi-use park that could be used for community gatherings, McClellan said.

Virginia Beach residents approved a referendum last year that will allow the city to issue up to $567 million in bonds to cover the cost of a flood protection program designed to deal with stormwater and sea-level rise issues.

The bond issuances will increase real estate taxes for residents over the next decade to fund over 20 flood protection projects.

The new normal

“Flooding in the Hampton Roads area is a regular life occurrence,” Williams Schesventer said. “Anything from water into the yards to being completely immobilized.”

Another challenge to building mitigation efforts is that some people accept heavy precipitation and flooding as normal events, not as a direct result of climate change, Shelley said.

In the current political atmosphere, some policymakers and citizens won’t admit climate change is a real thing and recognize that it would be a huge step toward building solutions, Shelley said.

“If we have to keep pretending that flooding is just this random thing that’s happening and we don’t know why it’s happening, it’s really hard for us to have a real conversation about what we are going to do about it,” Shelley said.

Williams Schesventer has heard from community members stuck at home sometimes for days because of flooding.. Homeowners, especially those without flood insurance, are left with costly repairs when rooms or basements are flooded.

Mold and mildew were present inside the homes of about a third of the Portsmouth households with asthma, according to a 2021 Old Dominion University study on the link between asthma in children and neighborhoods that experience flooding. Researchers reported the prevalence of pediatric asthma in the Hampton Roads area is above the state average, and that low-income households had a higher rate of children affected. The authors said the study should “ring alarm bells.”

One of McClellan’s constituents took their paddleboard out to the bus stop to get their kids home because of flooding, she said.

Flooding also leads to school cancellations, in which families said their kids weren’t performing as well because they were missing days of school, according to Williams Schesventer. Flooding is causing financial, environmental, and social-economic problems, she said.

“All of everything is affected by climate change,” Williams Schesventer said.

Moving forward

McClellan emphasized the importance of getting lawmakers to truly understand the consequences of inaction when it comes to funding these efforts.

“What we really need is the political will,” McClellan said. “That is a piece of the puzzle that has been missing.”

The lack of acknowledgment and flood mitigation funding can be frustrating, Shelley said, but it’s important to realize that climate change might not be the first thing on people’s minds when other issues are directly affecting them.

“We’re in a pandemic and people are just trying to survive day to day,” Shelley said.

While people can understandably feel overwhelmed, getting in touch with legislators to let them know this is a priority is important, Ford said.

“We are gonna make some concrete steps this year because of citizen support for resilience efforts,” Ford said. “We need to keep doing that.”

Rife has been reaching out to legislators for help and supports the effort toward funding mitigation projects, she said.

“I don’t want anybody to ever have to go through what I went through,” Rife said.

By Meghan McIntyre
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Statement of the Lieutenant Governor Earle-Sears – Dobbs v. Jackson Decision

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The Lieutenant Governor supports the Governor’s actions to ensure the safety of the Supreme Court justices and their loved ones. “We support the First Amendment and the right to protest peacefully but not at the expense of the safety of others. We are a civilized society. The baby in the womb wants to live. We ask for God’s protection for our commonwealth and our country”, stated Winsome Earle-Sears in the decision for Dobbs v. Jackson.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization argued this term before the Supreme Court, will determine the constitutionality of a state’s right to make laws allowing or prohibiting abortion. This case was heard in reference to legislation passed by the state of Mississippi: the Gestational Age Act (HB 1510), prohibiting most abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dobbs, giving power back to the states to make decisions on abortion. The court has recognized that the 1973 decision was an example of judicial and federal overreach. The important question of abortion has now been returned to statehouses across the country, in order for them to make their own policy decisions- which is exactly what the founding fathers envision when they wrote the 10th amendment to the Constitution. I applaud the Court for recognizing this wrong and having the courage to correct it. I look forward to working with the Governor and the General Assembly in the next legislative session on legislation that respects life,” the Lieutenant Governor added.

“The 10th Amendment to the Constitution says, ‘The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.’ This ruling supports this amendment.”


 

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Governor Glenn Youngkin statement on Supreme Court’s Dobbs Ruling announcement

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RICHMOND, VA – Governor Glenn Youngkin released the following statement today on the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling announcement:

“The Supreme Court of the United States has rightfully returned power to the people and their elected representatives in the states. I’m proud to be a pro-life Governor and plan to take every action I can to protect life. The truth is, Virginians want fewer abortions, not more abortions. We can build a bipartisan consensus on protecting the life of unborn children, especially when they begin to feel pain in the womb, and importantly supporting mothers and families who choose life. That’s why I’ve asked Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, Senator Steve Newman, Delegate Kathy Byron and Delegate Margaret Ransone to join us in an effort to bring together legislators and advocates from across the Commonwealth on this issue to find areas where we can agree and chart the most successful path forward. I’ve asked them to do the important work needed and be prepared to introduce legislation when the General Assembly returns in January,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.

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Attorney General Miyares argues Congress to take action to protect children on THC look-alike products

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Attorney General Jason Miyares submitted a bipartisan letter to Congress, joined by 21 other attorneys general, urging them to take action regarding copycat tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly knowns as THC, food, and edibles. These products are designed to look like popular snack items and have increased accidental THC consumption by children.

On June 16, the FDA issued a warning that between Jan. 1 – May 31, 2022, the National Poison Control Center received 10,448 single substance exposure cases involving edible products containing THC. Of these cases 77% involved patients 19 years of age or younger.

THC is a psychoactive substance found in Cannabis plants. Widely available, and easily mistaken for name-brand snacks such as Oreo cookies, Doritos chips, Cheetos, NERDs, and more, THC copycat products often are unintentionally given to children or mistaken by children for the brand name snack products, resulting in unsuspecting children ingesting large amounts of THC.

“As THC-infused edibles become commonplace, some distributors have started advertising their products to look like popular candy and snack items. Their deceiving appearance and packaging can confuse young children who come across them and have led to an increase in accidental consumption, putting their health at risk. To address this growing issue, I’m urging Congress, with a bipartisan coalition, for a comprehensive legislative solution,” said Attorney General Miyares.


“As states across the country, including my own, take steps to legalize and regulate cannabis, rules have been put in place to protect children from unwitting consumption,” said co-lead Nevada Attorney General Ford. “However, there are those who attempt to work around these rules. Copycat products that mimic snacks and candy trademarks can entice children, leading to situations that can threaten their health and safety. We urge Congress to pass legislation granting these trademark holders the legal tools needed to hold these counterfeiters accountable.”

“Tackling the proliferation of online THC copycat edible sales and their potential harm to children requires a layered approach from all stakeholders, from law enforcement and policymakers to regulators and consumer groups, to be effective in reining in this health and safety issue. Consumer Brands welcomes the dedicated efforts of Attorney General Miyares to be a leader in bringing attention and action to this issue,” said Stacy Papadopoulous, Consumer Brand Association.

The attorneys general state that while they do not all agree on the best regulatory scheme for cannabis and THC, they all agree on one thing: copycat THC edibles pose a grave risk to the health, safety, and welfare of our children.

The attorneys general believe that Congress should immediately enact legislation authorizing trademark holders of well-known and trusted consumer packaged goods to hold accountable those malicious actors who are marketing illicit copycat THC edibles to children.

Attorneys General from Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington joined Attorney General Miyares’ letter.

Read the letter here.

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Attorney General Miyares announces $1.25 million multistate settlement over 2019 Carnival Cruise Line data breach

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RICHMOND, VA – Attorney General Jason Miyares announced that his office, along with 45 other attorneys general, has obtained a $1.25 million multistate settlement with Carnival Cruise Line stemming from a 2019 data breach that involved the personal information of approximately 180,000 Carnival employees and customers. Over 3,000 Virginia residents were impacted by this breach. The Commonwealth’s share of the settlement is $25,048.05.

In March 2020, Carnival publicly reported a data breach in which an unauthorized actor gained access to certain Carnival employee e-mail accounts and personal information. Breach notifications sent to attorneys general offices stated that Carnival first became aware of suspicious email activity in late May of 2019—approximately 10 months before Carnival reported the breach.

“It is imperative that businesses that collect or maintain sensitive personal information take every precaution to keep that information secure,” Attorney General Miyares said. “This matter also highlights the importance of promptly notifying the relevant government agencies and consumers when personal information is compromised, and I am pleased that we were able to reach a fair and reasonable settlement that addresses the conduct at issue.”

Under the settlement, Carnival has agreed to a series of provisions designed to strengthen its email security and breach response practices going forward. While there is no consumer restitution under this particular settlement, the settlement contains important injunctive provisions aimed to curb lax information security practices that led to the breach such as:


  • Implementation and maintenance of a breach response and notification plan;
  • Email security training requirements for employees, including dedicated phishing exercises;
  • Multi-factor authentication for remote email access;
  • Password policies and procedures requiring the use of strong, complex passwords, password rotation, and secure password storage;
  • Maintenance of enhanced behavior analytics tools to log and monitor potential security events on the company’s network; and
  • Consistent with past data breach settlements, undergoing an independent information security assessment.

The settlement, in the form of an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, will be filed for approval with the Henrico County Circuit Court.

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Governor Glenn Youngkin announces Hanley Energy to expand in Virginia, creating 343 new jobs

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RICHMOND, VA – Governor Glenn Youngkin today announced that Hanley Energy, Irish-owned global innovators in Critical Power and Energy Management solutions, will invest $8 million to expand its Hanley Energy Electrical division in Loudoun County. The company will open a new facility at 44381 Russell Branch Parkway in Ashburn to meet the increasing demand for installation and service of its equipment serving the growing data center market. The project will create 343 new jobs, including electricians and apprentice electricians.

“Virginia has emerged as one of North America’s premier locations for technology and Loudoun County is the epicenter of the data center industry. This contribution is a perfect fit for Hanley Energy and its vital services that keep this sector growing,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “From establishing its U.S. headquarters and expanding its Hanley Energy Electrical division, the company continues to grow its footprint in the Commonwealth and reinforce our many industry advantages.”

“Hanley Energy chose Virginia as the site of its U.S. headquarters more than five years ago, thanks to Loudoun County’s global reputation as a data center destination,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick. “The company’s decision to again expand its capacity is a testament to the region’s business climate, infrastructure, and strong tech talent pipeline, which continues to attract and retain high-caliber corporate partners. We thank Hanley Energy for its continued investment and creating 343 quality jobs in Loudoun County.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Governor Youngkin for taking the time to speak with senior leadership of Hanley Energy recently,” said Hanley Energy CEO, Clive Gilmore. “We are greatly looking forward to moving into our new facility next month. This impressive facility will increase our output, range of products, and services to our ever-growing U.S. market. Additionally, I am delighted to announce that this manufacturing facility will expand our workforce by a further 300 + staff. Another ‘Good News’ story for Virginia and Loudoun County.”


“It’s been incredibly exciting to watch Hanley Energy grow in Loudoun, from establishing their U.S. headquarters here in 2016 with 20 employees through this expansion to a new location and 343 new jobs. Hanley has been able to leverage the density of ‘Data Center Alley’ into a thriving and growing business,” said Loudoun Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer. “Clive Gilmore and his team have been great community partners, and we appreciate their continued investment in Loudoun County.”

“I’m thrilled that Hanley Energy has chosen Loudoun County to expand their operations, bringing 343 skilled jobs to the region,” said Senator John J. Bell. “We have a highly skilled workforce in Northern Virginia and this development will continue to provide opportunities and experience in a rapidly growing industry. We are thankful for Hanley Energy’s continued investment in the 13th Senate District!”

“We’re excited to have Hanley Energy expand in Loudoun’s Data Center Alley! Their decision to make another investment in Loudoun, creating 343 new jobs, highlights that Loudoun is still one of the top destinations for data centers in the nation,” said Delegate David Reid. “With over 70% of the world’s internet traffic flowing through Loudoun’s data centers, our nearby D.C. Wine Country in western Loudoun, and our diverse communities, Hanley Energy will continue to find a welcoming environment.”

Hanley Energy are global innovators in Critical Power and Energy Management solutions with a stable of world-class engineers. The company has been operating at its headquarters in Ireland for 13 years and established its United States headquarters in Loudoun County in 2016. Hanley Energy Electrical, which is the service arm of Hanley Energy, opened in 2020.

The company’s core capabilities cover the design, build, and commission of turnkey mission-critical solutions, delivering secure and reliable power from the grid all the way to the Hyperscale Data Center IT rack. Hanley Energy’s advisory capability guides customers through the challenges of technology transformation, allowing the realization of operational efficiencies underpinned by lifecycle management, service, and maintenance. In this way, the company enables its clients to effectively manage energy strategy, ensure 100% up-time, and optimize operational competitiveness. Hanley Energy’s approach is to develop trusted partnerships with clients as a specialist integrator, ensuring excellent delivery coupled with cost-effective technology solutions.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Loudoun County to secure the project for Virginia and will support Hanley Energy’s job creation through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP), which provides consultative services and funding to companies creating new jobs in order to support employee recruitment and training activities. As a business incentive supporting economic development, VJIP reduces the human resource costs of new and expanding companies. VJIP is state-funded, demonstrating Virginia’s commitment to enhancing job opportunities for citizens.

 

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Governor Glenn Youngkin celebrates signing of Virginia State Budget

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On June 21, 2022,  Governor Glenn Youngkin ceremonially signed the Virginia State Budget, which delivers on his promise to provide tax relief for Virginian families, increase funding for law enforcement, and support the development of lab schools, among other key initiatives of his Day One Game Plan.

Governor Glenn Youngkin Ceremonially Signs Budget at Tom Leonard’s Farmer’s Market on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Official Photo by Christian Martinez, Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin.

“Every day we have worked hard to build a more prosperous Virginia, with greater opportunity for future generations,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “Together, we enacted historic tax cuts and made record investments in education and public safety. Together, we stood for greater accountability and transparency in government. And together, we are building an opportunity society, where Virginians can find the jobs they are looking for right here in the Commonwealth. This has always been about the movement we created together. It’s the people who sent us all to Richmond who make this Virginia we love so great.”

“I’m very proud of the budget that we have put forward. The end result is not only a structurally-balanced budget that protects our AAA bond rating, but a budget that funds our priorities while simultaneously providing tax relief,” said Delegate Barry Knight, House Appropriations Committee Chair. “No new general fund debt, no tax hikes, no higher fees. It’s a budget we can all be proud of.”


“After months of effort, we have successfully completed the state budget process. Working together across party lines, we have made historic investments in our educational system from preschool through grad school, mental health services, economic development programs, and our park systems,” said Senator Janet Howell, Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee Chair.” We have also made unprecedented additions to our reserves, thus protecting our AAAaaa bond rating.”

The final Virginia State Budget includes many critical initiatives to ensure Virginia is the best state to live, work, and raise a family, including:

Cutting Costs For Virginians

  • Provides almost $4 billion in tax relief to Virginians
  • The largest tax relief in Virginia history
  • Eliminates the 1.5% state grocery tax
  • Nearly doubles the standard deduction to $8,000 for single filers and $16,000 for joint
  • Gives every Virginia taxpayer a tax rebate of $250 for single filers and $500 for joint
  • Exempts $40,000 of veteran retirement income tax for veterans over 55

Restoring Excellence In Education

  • Boosts education spending to the largest level in Virginia history with $3.2 billion in direct aid
  • Raises teacher pay by 10%
  • Provides $100 million to launch lab schools with colleges, including community colleges and HBCUs
  • Provides almost $900 million in funding to Virginia’s HBCUs
  • Funds the Virginia Literacy Act with nearly $10 million
  • Puts $7 million towards reading specialists to coach our students who are furthest behind
  • $1.25 billion in grants and loans to support school construction
  • Requires each public college to adopt an official policy on academic freedom and begin reporting on the state of free expression and diversity of thought on their campus

Keeping Our Communities Safe

  • Provides $45 million to fund school resource officers
  • Establishes $13 million for violence prevention grants including Operation Ceasefire
  • Provides $400 million in compensation and additional support for our law enforcement and public safety heroes
  • Prevents the early release of over 500 violent inmates

Reinvigorating Job Growth And Making Government Work for You

  • Invests $150 million in site development to attract job creators
  • $10 million to support transformation initiatives at the DMV, the Virginia Employment Commission, and other state agencies

The re-enrolled Virginia State Budget for Fiscal Year 2023 and Fiscal Year 2024, HB 30, will be formally enrolled in the Acts of Assembly this week.

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