The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

RICHMOND –  The Senate’s main money committee on Tuesday unanimously backed legislation that would require ballots cast before Election Day to be counted in the voter’s precinct, rather than a central one. 

So-called Central Absentee Precincts (CAPs) are currently responsible for processing mailed-in absentee ballots, where the envelopes are reviewed and sorted, and ballots are tallied by machine or by hand. Because the results collected at CAPs are reported as one rather than by the individual precincts, this process often creates election night mirages that distort early vote counts because of the surge in mail-in or absentee ballots. 

Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, would prevent big blocks of votes being submitted. “This is very important, but it became even more important when we had a huge increase in absentee and early voting, and the folks that were selecting that were more of Democratic party persuasion than on election day, and it created an election night mirage in the presidential election,” Suettelein told members of the Senate Finance and AppropriationsTuesday.

The measure is now headed to the Senate floor for the third time, as Suetterlein had filed this legislation twice before in previous years, but it was defeated in the House of Delegates each time. 

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Hackworth tax relief measure passes committee

The same Senate panel by a 15-0 vote also approved a tax relief measure sponsored by Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, that increases the aggregate annual cap on the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits from $25 million to $50 million. The proposal also increases the value of the credit from 65 to 80% while removing the credit’s current sunset of Jan. 1, 2028. 

The program provides state tax credits for persons or businesses making monetary or marketable securities donations to foundations that offer scholarships to students and children attending eligible private schools and nonpublic pre-kindergarten programs. It is administered by the Virginia Department of Education.

Hackworth’s legislation was merged with the nearly identical Senate Bill 27, sponsored by Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg County.

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Senate P&E kills Suetterlein bill on fund-raising during special sessions

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Privileges & Elections Committee unanimously killed a Suetterlein measure that would have prohibited campaign fundraising on and after the first day of a special session of the General Assembly through adjournment of said session. Under current law, campaign fundraising is prohibited only during regular legislative sessions. Suetterlein told the panel that he had filed this legislation after hearing that a lawmaker had joined last year’s special session remotely while holding a fundraiser. 

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Senate panels backs Stanley bill on school construction

A Senate Finance subcommittee backed a proposal by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, that would require school divisions to use unspent leftover funds from the state to finance capital projects. Stanley’s measure was merged with a similar proposal by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. 

Senate Bill 276 – a recommendation of the newly founded Commission on School Construction and Modernization – seeks to ensure that school divisions use any unexpended tax dollars for school construction and modernization.

Unspent funds from the state currently must revert back to the fund of the commonwealth from which derived unless the State Board of Education directs otherwise. For that reason, school divisions often repurpose funds to benefit administrative needs instead of crumbling buildings. 

Stanley’s measure is now headed to the full Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee. (We earlier published a backgrounder on school construction funding.)

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Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at or 804-822-1594.