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Commonwealth's Counties

House and Senate release respective budgets


House and Senate release respective budgets
The House and Senate revealed their budgets on February 8. Both budgets amend Governor Terry McAuliffe’s introduced budget for FY 2014 – 2016. VACo staff has identified several key initiatives that impact county governments. A more detailed analysis of the respective budgets will be forthcoming.

Local aid to the state
Elimination of the $30 million in this reversion account is and remains a top priority for VACo. The Senate budget eliminates this reversion account in full while the House didn’t address the reversion account. VACo will continue to advocate this elimination be included in the final budget conference report.

VACo supports additional compensation for state supported local employees and teachers. The Senate budget provides for an additional 3 percent pay increase for state supported local employees while the House provides for a 2 percent increase. The Senate budget implementation date is set for September 2015 while the House budget implements their increase in August 2015. Both the Senate and the House budgets provide for a 1.5 percent pay increase for teachers and funding for deputy sheriffs serving in lowest position grades. This deputy sheriff funding will allow salaries to be raised above the federal poverty level. Additionally, the Senate and House budgets eliminate language in the Governor’s budget that would mandate local governments pay for this increase from local funds in future years.

Unfunded teacher liability
VACo advocated for additional state funding to offset a portion of the unfunded teacher liability. The Senate and House budgets provide funding to accelerate payments to VRS and pay down unfunded liability balances. The Senate budget provides $187.2 million and the House budget provides $190 million.

Voting equipment
VACo advocated for the Governor’s proposal of $1.6 million to reimburse localities for previously purchased voting equipment and $28 million (paid over three years) to purchase equipment that conforms to state guidelines. Both of these proposals were eliminated in the Senate and House budgets.

Jail per diems
VACo advocated for an additional $11.3 million for jail per diems in FY 2015. This funding would account for the fourth quarter reimbursement to localities. Both the Senate and House budgets increased funding based on current estimates to $13.8 million for the local reimbursement.

Stormwater Local Assistance Fund
VACo advocated for additional funding in the stormwater assistance program, which provides grants that assist local governments comply and manage stormwater programs. The Senate budget increased funding by $10 million while the House provided no additional funding over the introduced budget.

Again, further analysis will be provided as your VACo team learns more in the coming days.

VACo Contact: Dean Lynch, CAE

Bill makes major changes to variance standards – feedback sought
A significantly amended version of HB 1849 (Daniel Marshall) passed the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee on February 6 by a unanimous vote. The substitute version that passed through committee is much improved due to lengthy negotiations between VACo, VML and the bill’s proponents. The advocates for the bill include the state’s real property interest groups, including realtors and homebuilders.

The bill is complex and makes major changes to the standards for granting zoning variances, which is a process that has been clarified by years of case law. The bottom line is that the bill will make it easier to obtain a variance. The bill also changes the rules and procedures for local staff interacting with the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). When an applicant has an application for a variance or an appeal of a zoning administrator’s decision, the “non-legal staff” of the locality and the applicant may not talk with BZA members about the matter without the applicant being there. If this rule is violated, the information must be conveyed to the other party. The restriction does not apply to the lawyers for the locality or board.

VACo raised concerns about the bill in subcommittee and committed to getting additional feedback from our membership about the implications of the new version of the bill. Please have your planning and legal staff review the committee adopted substitute and provide VACo with any specific comments about impacts on your locality or suggested amendments.

VACo Contact: Erik Johnston, CAE


Two land use bills with negative local consequences stricken
HB 2327 (Leftwich) and HB 2351 (Leftwich) were stricken from the docket of the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee on February 6. VACo opposed both of these bills and appreciated the patron striking them from the docket. The bills had broad implications for offsite improvements and easement notifications when developing parcels.

VACo Contact: Erik Johnston, CAE


VRS related bills with unfunded mandates are gone
Two more VRS bills with unfunded mandates for localities did not make it out of the House Appropriations Committee on February 6. HB 1659 (Rust) had an annual cost of $2.6 million for all political subdivisions and increased the unfunded teacher pension liability by over $38 million. HB 1377 (McQuinn) proposed expanding the health insurance credit for all retired employees of local school divisions. The bill would have cost localities $8.4 million per year and increased the health insurance credit’s unfunded liability by $98 million.

VACo Contact: Erik Johnston, CAE


Line of Duty Act changes delayed another year
The major overhaul of the Line of Duty Act, HB 2204 (Jones), passed the House Appropriations Committee on February 6 after the patron added a reenactment clause that requires the legislation to pass the General Assembly again in 2016 before becoming law.

The legislation does immediately require the Virginia Retirement System and the Department of Human Resource Management to study the proposed changes and the JLARC recommendations for LODA along with a workgroup of all stakeholders and report back to the money committees by October 1, 2015. The bill proposes to revise the LODA by codifying provisions that are currently in the Appropriation Act, transferring overall administration of the Act and eligibility determinations to the Virginia Retirement System, transferring administration of health insurance benefits under the Act to the Department of Human Resource Management and providing for an administrative appeal process for employers. The bill includes provisions from the December 2014 JLARC study of LODA.

VACo supports the changes to the administration of the program and the appeal process for employers.

VACo Contact: Erik Johnston, CAE


Election equipment unfunded mandate fails to report
Efforts to forbid localities from using direct recording electronic (DRE) machines without funding to cover over $28 million of cost failed last week. On February 5, SB 827 (Miller) failed to secure support in the Senate Finance Committee. VACo also worked to defeat a similar unfunded mandate in the House, HB 2142 (Yancey).

VACo Contact: Erik Johnston, CAE


Local grievance procedure bill does not make it past crossover
Thank you VACo members for weighing in to oppose the original version of HB 1744 (Hugo). The bill sought changes to the local government grievance procedures that would have made the system more cumbersome, lengthy and subject to inconsistent outcomes. VACo appreciated Delegate Timothy Hugo for stripping out all of the provisions that impacted local governments. The House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee referred the bill to the House Education Committee on February 6, which had no more meetings before crossover. The move essentially killed the bill, which in its amended form only impacted the teacher grievance procedure process.

VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, CAE


House panel advances invocation bill
By a vote of 13-6, the House Courts of Justice Committee reported out a substitute version of HB 1437 (Richard Bell), which permits “deliberative” public bodies in state or local government, including local governing bodies and school boards, to adopt a policy of beginning their meetings with an invocation.

The bill sets standards for such a policy that appear to be an attempt to codify the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, which gave constitutional approval to invocations offered by volunteer clergy to open meetings of a local governing body in New York state. The Court in that case expressly avoided deciding whether the same practice is acceptable at school board meetings, which do not have the same constitutional history of “legislative prayer” as state or local legislatures, and may be subject to different constitutional limitations. HB 1437 ends by saying that nothing in it shall prevent a public body from adopting its own policy for invocations, based upon advice of the public body’s legal counsel. This statement raises the question whether the bill gives local public bodies any authority that they do not already have. The bill will be on the calendar for final House action early this week.

VACo Contact: Dean Lynch, CAE


House passes bill allowing appeal of “photo-red” convictions to circuit court
The House has approved, 98-0, and sent to the Senate HB 1355 (Ramadan), a bill permitting persons convicted in general district court of violations of a local traffic ordinance based on a photographic traffic light monitoring system to appeal such convictions to circuit court.

VACo Contact: Dean Lynch, CAE


Regulation of drone aircraft advances in House
The House Courts of Justice Committee unanimously approved a substitute HB 2125 (Kline), which replaces the current moratorium on use of unmanned aircraft for law enforcement purposes. Under the bill as reported from committee, use of a drone to view private property in a criminal investigation would require a search warrant. Use for zoning inspections or other regulatory purposes would likewise need an administrative search warrant. The bill includes exceptions for certain emergency situations. Use of weaponized drones by state or local governments or agencies is prohibited. The bill does not restrict drone use for non-law-enforcement governmental purposes such as traffic counts or monitoring of traffic situations, assessment of fire or flood damage, topographic mapping, or scientific research. Use of drones for commercial or recreational purposes is also allowed. Another bill on the same subject, HB 2077 (Gilbert), has been incorporated into HB 2125.

VACo Contact: Dean Lynch, CAE


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