Fifth Week of Session
This week we have been working on a myriad of Senate bills sent over from crossover and working on bills that I have going through on the Senate side. At the start of session I told you that I would support policies to reform K-12 education, make government work more efficiently, make higher education more affordable and accessible, and oppose new taxes on Virginia families. Throughout session, I have heard from many of you that those are your priorities as well.
A Conservative Budget
Members have made difficult choices over the last year in the House of Delegates to address the budget shortfall caused by President Obama’s sequestration and tax increase. Governor McAuliffe proposed in his budget more than $10 million in new fees on Virginia families and $42 million in new government debt. The House took a different approach, paying for building projects with existing revenues and eliminating $10.2 million in fees.
We put $99.5 million in Virginia’s rainy day fund to guard against future tax increases. The Governor wanted to expand Medicaid and tried to bypass the General Assembly in creating his own new health care entitlement program. Through a conservative approach, opposing Medicaid expansion, we have also worked to strengthen existing safety net programs for those in the most need by nearly doubling operational funding for free clinics and sets aside $124.5 million for a healthcare safety net.
The House targeted more money to classrooms and making college more affordable and accessible, where it can make the most difference for Virginia families.
Overall, the House general fund budget this year spends $1.1 billion dollars less than last year’s budget.
I supported House Bill 1790, introduced by Delegate Massie (R-Henrico), that passed the House to prevent state agencies from spending beyond their means with IOUs that have not been approved by the General Assembly.
The legislature has a responsibility to make sure that your tax dollars are spent wisely, and the House of Delegates once again served as a check on runaway government spending.
Classroom Success K-12 Education Agenda
The House budget includes $55 million in state funding for a 1.5 percent teacher pay raise, as well as $1.1 million in state funding to support teacher, principal and school board members’ professional development.
I supported several bills that improve Virginia’s Standards of Learning Assessments so that they better measure student learning and give students additional opportunities to succeed. A key piece to this was my House Bill 1336 which developed a standardized system for granting college credits for high school AP or other advanced classes.
The House made historic reforms to K-12 education in Virginia this year. House Joint Resolution 577, introduced by Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle), was passed in support of a constitutional amendment to make it easier to establish charter schools in Virginia. For the first time, an identical resolution, House Joint Resolution 256 by Senator Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), also passed in the Senate. We passed legislation put in by Delegate Richard Bell (R-Staunton), House Bill 324, establishing a full-time virtual school available to all students in the Commonwealth. Education savings account reforms came through a bill by Delegate Dave LaRock (R-Hamilton), House Bill 2238, to give special needs students more choices than a one-size-fits-all public school education that may not meet their needs.
While more than 40 states have adopted “Common Core” curriculum, Virginia has its own high quality assessments, as it should. I supported legislation House Bill 1752 also by Delegate Dave LaRock to prevent the executive branch from bypassing the General Assembly to adopt Common Core in Virginia.
Virginia has some of the top colleges and universities in the country, but costs have been increasing and too many Virginia students find themselves on waitlists or unable to attend our best schools. Members of the House worked to address both of those issues in the budget by targeting funds to opening up new enrollment slots and providing additional funding to make it more affordable to transfer from Community College to a four year institution.
Important legislation was passed to make college more affordable. The House passed bills that cap student athletic fees (House Bill 1897 by Delegate Cox, R-Colonial Heights), that allow colleges to offer lower-cost “flat-fee degrees” for in-demand fields (House Bill 1692 by Delegate Rush, R-Christiansburg), and that offer significantly less costly online bachelor’s degrees (House Bill 2320 by Delegate Cline, R-Amherst). I supported these bills to give Virginia students more affordable pathways to the opportunities that a good education provides.
My House Joint Resolution 707 recognizes the quality and value of diversity and innovation in the institutions of higher education in the United States and strongly disagrees with the proposal of the President of the United States to create a federal Postsecondary Institution Ratings System.
I am in Richmond right now to serve you, my constituents, and represent you in the General Assembly. It is a responsibility that I take seriously. Lawmakers are not entitled to the public trust; it must be earned.
Over the last two years, that trust has been shaken in Virginia. That is why I supported additional reforms passed in the House this year to Virginia’s ethics laws that create a $100 gift cap and $500,000 for the Ethics Advisory Council to bolster Virginia’s independent advisory panel. Last year, the House passed legislation that also prohibits the governor from accepting campaign contributions from companies knowingly seeking grants from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed that legislation. The House has included it again in this year’s ethics reform package through House Bill 2070 by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock), because the public deserves confidence that their tax dollars are being spent on core government functions, not political considerations.
Visitors February 9-13
Early on in the week, constituents Joshua Huffman of Harrisonburg, Jane Kennedy and William Herr of Weyers Cave, Pamela Burke of Crozet and Mark Setaro and Donald Clark from Charlottesville stopped by for visits. Mid-week we were visited by several groups of Realtors from Staunton/Augusta/Waynesboro, Harrisonburg/Rockingham, and Albemarle/Charlottesville. Also visiting this week were our friends from Martha Jefferson Hospital led by Ray Mishler and Augusta Health led by Mary Mannix.
Wednesday constituent Sarah Earhart, teacher at Fort Defiance High School, brought students in to discuss items of interest.
Thursday, I was happy to welcome students with the Linkous-Bosserman Model General Assembly. I got to speak with them about legislation that was being worked on and some of my responsibilities as Chairman of the House Education Committee and Vice Chairman of House Appropriations.
As always, my staff and I are here in Richmond to serve you. My full time Legislative Director, Judy Wyatt, who works session as well as in the District, will be handling constituent concerns, legislative issues, and ensuring things run smoothly. During session, James Lawrence is onboard as a legislative assistant to aid me in my Education and Appropriations duties as well as to assist Judy with constituent inquiries and office duties.
Carolyn Musika, our Session Secretary, is the main contact for appointments. This year our intern is Emily Herring, a Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) senior, who has been assigned to our office through the Virginia Capital Semester Program.
I want to hear what you think about the legislation pending before the House, or if there's anything we can do to help you in dealing with a state government agency. While in Richmond, my office can be reached by phone at 804.698.1025 or by email at email@example.com.
Ifyou are planning to visit Richmond during Session, I encourage you to call our Secretary to make an appointment. Our office location is on the 9th Floor, Room 947. Our Richmond address is Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218. Please visit my website at www.stevelandes.com for my newest press releases and newsletters.
Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.