On Friday, we finished day 31 of this year’s 46-day session. Two major deadlines passed last week – crossover and the vote on each chamber’s budget. We remain hard at work in this abbreviated session. Here are some of the highlights from last week in Richmond:
Last Tuesday was the halfway point of the 2017 session, known as “crossover”. The Republican-led House of Delegate is making good progress on issues that matter most to you.Whether it is the need to strengthen our education system to maintain our global competitiveness or continuing to enact conservative reforms that make government smaller and more efficient, our first and foremost responsibility is and always will be to govern effectively.
We recognize that creating good paying jobs remains a top priority. The House passed legislation to prohibit local governments from adopting ordinances setting the minimum wage higher than that of the state government. We also passed legislation protecting small business owners that operate franchises from being forced to unionize their employees. A major cornerstone of the House job growth agenda in 2016 legislation that established the Growth & Opportunity Board, the centerpiece of “GO Virginia”. This legislation suffered major cuts by the Governor. However, the House budget restored $7.5 million to continue this initiative that will foster job growth and economic development. GO Virginia is a business-driven initiative facilitating greater collaboration between the business community, higher education and local governments. By aligning the needs of these three segments, we will encourage the creation of good paying jobs in high demand fields, and maximize our economic development dollars.
Education is the gateway to opportunity. No matter where a student comes from or what his or her background is, a good education creates endless possibilities. The House has worked hard to scale back SOL tests that sometimes emphasize rote memorization. This year we expanded on our effort by passing legislation that gives students the appropriate amount of partial credit for a multipart assessment if the entire question isn’t answered completely correct.
Virginia is fortunate to have one of the best education systems in the world, thanks in large part to our great teachers and local leaders who have made it their life’s work to educate our children. The House of Delegates has sought to provide these educators with the tools, resources and flexibility needed to provide our children with a world-class education. That includes reducing burdensome licensure and continuing education requirements. To that end, the House passed legislation to waive certain licensure requirements for teachers with an endorsement in career and technical education. We are also taking action to control college costs. Making college more affordable is not just with more money, but with specific actions to keep costs down. The House has passed legislation to set standard acceptance of dual enrollment credits taken in high school.
In December of last year, Governor McAuliffe announced his introduced budget. The driving force behind adjustments to the 2016-2018 biennial budget is the $1 billion-plus shortfall that was announced last fall. Since the Governor’s presentation, the House Appropriations Committee conducted 5 public hearings across the state to receive input from our citizens on the priorities they would like to see addressed. On Thursday, the House adopted our version of the budget by a vote of 98-2. Our budget reflects the tough choices and priority setting necessary to present a balanced budget. We reviewed all discretionary spending and held fast to conservative budgeting, while investing in the core functions of government.
State Employees and State Troopers
Our budget invests resources to make a compensation package for state employees and law enforcement a reality. All told, the cost the 3% raise for state employees and college faculty, and restoring the 2% pay raise for state supported employees was $88.7 million. Funding is also included to provide our Deputy Sheriffs with their compression pay adjustments. Finally, an additional $15 million is included to address the starting salaries and compression of our State Troopers and Capitol Police Officers.
Last year the House re-established the policy of sending back a portion of the Lottery proceeds to our school divisions on a per-pupil basis without a required local match. This year the House budget sends 40%, or $218.7 million, in Lottery Profits directly back to our school divisions. The schools get much needed flexibility in allocating these dollars where they think it is best served, be it a pay raise for their teachers or funding their share of getting to 100% of the required VRS contribution rate.
Access and affordability in higher education has been a top priority of the House for years. Last session we made a significant additional investment in higher education. However, because of the shortfall cuts of nearly $80 million were announced by the Governor. The House budget restores $21.0 million to Higher Education to reduce cuts so that no school had a reduction greater than 1.4% of their budget.
Health and Human Resources
The House, working collaboratively with the Senate and the Governor, have made significant investments in the area of mental health. The House will provide a $28.5 million increase in mental health services, to include expanding the GAP program to cover individuals up to 100% of the federal poverty level. We will also provide funding for supportive housing and same day access. Our budget recommendations will add an additional 144 DD waiver slots to meet the needs of Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens.
In closing, the House budget recommendations adhere to our commitment to strategically focus our resources, by keeping our promises to our state employees, and to fund the core services of government. I am pleased to note that we are working to achieve that goal with no new tax or fee increases.
I am pleased to note that the vast majority of the bills I introduced have been passed in the House of Delegates and now stand before the Virginia State Senate for consideration. The legislation reflects my commitment and advocacy for promoting economic development, providing the highest quality education for Virginia’s students, and increasing healthcare access, affordability and choice. The following pieces of legislation have been passed by the Virginia House of Delegates and are before the Virginia State Senate for consideration (House vote follows bill summary):
- House Bill 1396 Charter; Town of Grottoes. Authorizes the town council to appoint a member to the office of vice-mayor, to serve in the event of the mayor's absence or inability to act. (99-0)
- House Bill 1401 Public institutions of higher education; speech on campus. Prohibits public institutions of higher education from abridging the freedom of any individual, including enrolled students, faculty and other employees, and invited guests, to speak on campus, except as otherwise permitted by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. (76-19)
- House Bill 1402, Governing boards of public institutions of higher education; leadership; residency. Requires the president of the board of visitors of Virginia Military Institute and each chairman and vice-chairman or rector and vice-rector of the governing board of each other public institution of higher education to be a resident of the Commonwealth. (60-38)
- House Bill 1968 Virginia Small Business Financing Authority; administration of Small Business Investment Grant Fund. Makes changes to the Small Business Investment Grant Fund to make it easier for investor applicants to qualify for grants and provide more benefits for investor applicants. (98-0)
- House Bill 1969 Small Business Jobs Grant Fund Program. Reduces from 50 percent to 35 percent the minimum percentage of revenues that a small business must derive from out-of-state sources in order to be eligible for grants from the Small Business Jobs Grant Fund Program. The bill provides that to be eligible for assistance under the Program a company must make a new capital investment of at least $50,000. Finally, the bill changes the definition of small business for purposes of the Program from a company that has 250 or fewer employees to one that has 50 or fewer employees in its base year and average annual gross receipts of $3 million or less averaged over the previous 24-month period. (98-0)
- House Bill 1970 Creation of economic revitalization zones in counties. Grants counties authority to create economic revitalization zones. The zones shall be for the purpose of providing incentives to private entities to purchase real property and interests in real property to assemble parcels suitable for economic development. Each county establishing an economic revitalization zone may grant incentives and provide regulatory flexibility. This authority currently exists for cities. (98-0)
- House Bill 2053 Direct primary care agreements. Provides that direct agreement between a patient, the patient's legal representative, or the patient's employer and a health care provider for ongoing primary care services in exchange for the payment of a monthly periodic fee is not health insurance or a health maintenance organization, if patients are not required to pay monthly periodic fees prior to initiation of the direct agreement coverage period. The measure also provides that a health care provider who participates in a direct primary care practice may participate in a health insurance carrier network so long as the provider is willing and able to meet the terms and conditions of network membership set by the health insurance carrier. (83-12)
- House Bill 2191 School boards; procedures; sexually explicit instructional materials or related academic activities. Requires each school board's procedures for handling challenged controversial instructional materials to include procedures for annually notifying the parent of any student enrolled in a course in which the instructional materials or related academic activities may include sexually explicit content of the potential for such sexually explicit content in such course and providing, as a replacement for instructional materials or related academic activities that include sexually explicit content, nonexplicit instructional materials or related academic activities to any student whose parent so requests. The bill defines "sexually explicit content" as content that involves any criminal sexual assault defined and punishable as a felony under Article 7 (§ 18.2-61 et seq.) of Chapter 4 of Title 18.2 of the Code of Virginia. (73-25)
- House Bill 2220 Alcoholic beverage control; limited mixed beverage license for retail cigar shops. Creates a new limited mixed beverage license for retail cigar shops. The bill sets out the privileges of this new license, including a requirement that at least 60 percent of the licensee's annual gross revenue be from the sale of premium tobacco products. The bill also defines cigar shop and sets out the state and local license taxes for this license. (84-11-1)
- House Bill 2341 Board of Education; membership. Requires at least two of the nine members of the Board of Education to represent business and industry in the private sector in the Commonwealth. (92-7)
- House Bill 2342 Public schools; regional charter school divisions. Authorizes the Board of Education (Board) to establish regional charter school divisions consisting of at least two but not more than three existing school divisions in regions in which each underlying school division has an enrollment of more than 3,000 students and one or more schools that have accreditation denied status for two out of the past three years. The bill requires such regional charter school divisions to be supervised by a school board that consists of eight members appointed by the Board and one member appointed by the localities of each of the underlying divisions. The bill authorizes the school board, after a review by the Board, to review and approve public charter school applications in the regional charter school divisions and to contract with the applicant. The bill requires the state share of Standards of Quality per pupil funding of the underlying school district in which the student resides transferred to such school. (55-42)
- House Bill 2417 Department of Medical Assistance Services; fraud prevention; prepayment analytics. Directs the Department of Medical Assistance Services to establish a program to mitigate, through the use of prepayment analytics, the risk of improper payments to providers of services furnished under the state plan for medical assistance who commit fraud, abuse, or errors. (94-2)
Last week, Charles Kern of Bridgewater visited with me before viewing session and touring the Capitol and I had the pleasure of addressing students from the Linkous/Bosserman Model General Assembly (pictured left). My staff met with Bruce Phipps of Goodwill, Robert Hill & other members of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Realtors Association. Other visitors included Debbie Knupp and Bob Hill of Rockingham, Pasha Campbell and Carolyn O’Neal of Charlottesville.
In Case You Missed It:
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Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.