Today we begin the fifth week of session. As of Friday, the House has completed 24 of the 46 days of the 2017 session. Yesterday, the committees responsible for the budget bills unveiled our complete proposals. Two important deadlines will happen this week. Tomorrow is Crossover, the deadline with which each chamber must complete work on bills that originated in their chamber. Thursday the House will vote on their version of the budget.
House of Delegates Proposes Balanced Budget
We were pleased to announce our amended two-year state budget yesterday. The proposed budget invests in core functions of the government, while containing no tax or fee increases. I am pleased to announce the inclusion of a number of my budget amendments that reflect my commitment to economic development, providing high-quality education for Virginia's students, and increasing healthcare access, affordability and choice. I have also included a number of cost saving amendments. You can read more about all of these amendments here and other legislative highlights below.
Supporting Our Schools (10-10-10 Plan)
Statewide, education is going generally well. Virginia children are scoring higher on their pre-college entrance exams, we rank 3rd in the nation in AP achievement, and accreditation and graduation rates are up. But if you look closely at the Southside, Southwest, Northern Neck, and Eastern Shore regions, things aren’t going as well. For years now, schools in rural areas have been struggling, primarily due to the economic downturn and enrollment losses. As jobs left, so have students and their families. Enrollment has been on a steady decline, even spiking at times with unexpected enrollment losses. In fact, last year, the coalfield districts lost about 3 percent of their enrollment in the span of about six months. Since our education funding formulas are based on a per pupil basis, as the students leave the schools, so does our education funding. Fewer students means fewer dollars to fund education.
Many of our schools have taken a major financial hit. They have cut programs, consolidated buildings, all in an effort to save money to balance their budgets. A group of budget leaders, led by Delegate Nick Rush (R-Montgomery), came up with a way to fix this growing problem. The House has a plan called the 10-10-10 formula. This initiative will look at the last 10 years of a school districts population. If in the last 10 years, there is a 10% or more decline of students, and the school district has a population of less than 10,000 students, we will provide a 15% enrollment loss supplement. It will allow them to invest in the future of our children. The House recognizes that education can help lift people out of poverty. Education equips people with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in life. This new initiative will give our children a better and brighter future.
Progress on Increasing College Access
The House has taken several steps to address access and affordability in our public universities. In previous sessions we’ve capped student athletic fees, part of the largest driver of increased college costs in Virginia; increased online learning options; required universities to post consumer data, such as 6-year graduation rates and undergraduate tuition online; and passed legislation to offer flat-fee degrees.
This year several caucus members are championing legislation to hold public universities accountable to more in-state students. House Bill 1410 requires Virginia public universities have 70% in-state students and 30% out-of-state students. If an institution chooses to have more than 30% out-of-state students, any excess tuition the university accepts from the out-of-state student that covers more than is required to educate that student must go to cover financial aid for in-state students.
Opioids Package Passes House
If you’ve watched the news over the last 6 months, you’ve no doubt heard about the heroin and opioid epidemic sweeping across Virginia. No city or county has been untouched. While the Department of Health is still evaluating the numbers, Virginia is on track to meet the Health Department’s projections of over 1,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, the highest in the history of the Commonwealth. This week Delegate Todd Pillion (R-Washington) spoke on the House floor about that gravity of the situation. He discussed the many House bills we are advocating to address the various aspects of this epidemic to include: creation of workgroup to identify resources to help substance-exposed infants; developing core competencies and standards for our health professionals in training; and directing the Board of Medicine and Dentistry to develop regulations on the prescribing of opioids, including dosage limits, treatment plans and Prescription Monitoring Program utilization.
Criminal Justice Reform
The House is taking positive steps on reforming the criminal justice system by removing obstacles for offenders who are trying to get their lives back on track. Currently, if offenders cannot pay their court fees they can have their driver’s license suspended. This can create an unfortunate cycle where if a fine is not paid, people cannot get to work to earn the money to pay off their court fines and get their licenses back. House Bill 2386, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-Chesterfield), allows courts to establish a payment plan for offenders unable to pay court-ordered fines to avoid a driver’s licenses suspension. The legislation also allows offenders to earn credit for community service that can be applied to their costs. The legislation passed the House unanimously on February 2nd. This legislation will help those offenders who are struggling to get back to work so they can provide for their families and assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society.
I am pleased to note a number of the bills I have introduced, House Bills 1396, 1401, 1402, 1968, 1969, 1970, 2053, and 2341 have been passed in the House of Delegates and now stand before the Virginia State Senate for consideration. All of these bills are part of my broader efforts to promote economic development, provide the highest quality education for our children, and to increase healthcare access, affordability and choice. Below is a brief summary of each of these bills:
- 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.
- 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.
- House Bill 1402, Higher educational institutions; governing boards, residency. Requires each chairman, vice-chairman, rector, and vice-rector of the governing board of a public institution of higher education to be a resident of the Commonwealth.
- House Bill 1698 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.
- 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; provides that to be eligible for assistance under the Program a company must make a new capital investment of at least $50,000; and changes the definition of small business for purposes of the Program.
- 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.
- House Bill 2053 Direct primary care agreements. Establishes a 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, provided that the health care provider does not require patients to pay monthly periodic fees prior to initiation of the direct agreement coverage period.
- 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.
Legislative Survey Results
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the approximately 250 constituents for responding to the 2017 Legislative Survey. Your concerns and opinions are important to me and the results have helped me evaluate and better represent the needs of the people of the 25th District. The issues of creating jobs and improving the economy, and cutting wasteful government spending, were the top two issues identified by survey respondents as the top priority for the General Assembly to focus on. You can view the full results of the survey here. Thanks again to those of you who took the time to complete this survey. Your answers and input keep me focused and help me better represent the 25th District in the House of Delegates. I strive to always be mindful of the views of my constituents and to keep you in mind while in committee and on the floor of the House Chamber casting my votes. It is truly an honor to serve you and one I do not take for granted.
I enjoyed meeting with Augusta County Administrator Timothy Fitzgerald, and Augusta County Supervisors Gerald Garber, Carolyn Bragg, Michael Shull, Terry Kelly, and Michael Coleman (pictured above). I also met with Deb Hedrick of Dayton.
My staff met with Gayl Brunk and members of the Valley Associates for Independent Living, Inc. (pictured left), Mikki Salsburg of Crozet, Misty Ward of Rockingham, Kim Crater of Charlottesville, Scott Williams of Fishersville and Cleve Brannock of Crozet, and Jane Greyson of Charlottesville. Other visitors included Ashley Simson of Charlottesville, Sue Utterback of Rockingham, Rafael Saenz of Crozet.
In Case You Missed It:
My Legislative Director, Judy Wyatt, Communications Director, Will Wrobleski, and I are here to serve you. If you need help with a state government agency or issue, we can be reached by phone at 804.698.1025 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our address is Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23219. For scheduling requests, please contact my Administrative Assistant Carolyn Musika in my Richmond office.
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Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.