Activity in the 2019 General Assembly is going strong! We are just over a week away from Crossover, which is the time when all the bills passed by the House head to the Senate and all of the Senate bills come to the House. We have already passed several major pieces of legislation in the House of Delegates and we look forward to building on that work.
School Safety Legislation Passes the House
The Virginia House of Delegates passed five pieces of legislation last Tuesday that were the direct results of the 24 priority recommendations from the House Select Committee on School Safety, formed by Speaker Kirk Cox during the 2018 Session. I am proud of my colleagues for taking the issue of school safety seriously. With the passage of these five pieces of legislation, including House Bill 1729, which I patroned, we are showing our students, teachers, and parents that we will do everything necessary to protect our schools.
● HB1729 requires each public school counselor to spend at least 80 percent of their staff time during normal school hours in the direct counseling of individual students or groups of students. Currently, school counselors are overburdened with administrative tasks that limit the amount of time they can spend providing direct student services.
● HB1733 requires the school board in each school division in which the local law-enforcement agency employs school resource officers to enter into a memorandum of understanding with such local law-enforcement agency that sets forth the powers and duties of the school resource officers.
● HB1738 requires a licensed architect who is trained and experienced in crime prevention through environmental design to approve plans and specifications for new or remodeled public school building construction.
● HB1725 requires each school board, in consultation with the local building official and local fire marshal, to develop a procurement plan to ensure that all security enhancements to public school buildings are in compliance with the Uniform Statewide Building Code and Statewide Fire Prevention Code.
● HB1732 requires each public elementary and secondary school to conduct at least one general safety/emergency training or drill for students per year.
I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to pass these important pieces of legislation so they can head to Governor Ralph Northam for his signature. There are roughly a half-dozen other school safety priority recommendations still making their way through the committee process in the House and I look forward to supporting their passage in the House.
Updates on My Legislation
Last week, the House of Delegate passed House Bill 1657, which creates an annual mixed beverage performing arts facility license, which allows the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption at any multipurpose theater that is located in the historical district of the Town of Bridgewater, 89 to 6. House Bill 1729, which requires each school counselor employed by a school board in a public elementary or secondary school to spend at least 80 percent of his staff time during normal school hours in the direct counseling of individual students or groups of students, passed the House 97 to 0. Finally, House Joint Resolution 717, commending Virginia’s 2019 Teacher of the Year Rodney A. Robinson, passed both the House and Senate.
Honoring Virginia’s Teachers of the Year
As I mentioned, presented House Joint Resolution 717, commending the 2019 Virginia Teacher of the Year, Rodney A. Robinson House Resolution 717 was passed in the Virginia House of Delegates on January 18th and the Virginia State Senate on January 22nd. On Thursday, I had the honor of presenting it to Rodney A. Robinson during a Center Aisle presentation in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Rodney Robinson has spent his career working diligently for the students in Richmond Public Schools and was most deserving of the honor of being recognized with a Center Aisle presentation. HJ 717 reflects his commitment to our students, not only in his current role as a history teacher at the Virgie Binford Education Center, where he has taught since 2015, but through his 19 years of teaching in Richmond Public Schools. He has received numerous accolades for his work and the many lectures on pedagogy he has delivered. In addition to teaching history at the Virgie Binford Education Center, Mr. Robinson worked as a civics and economics teacher at Lucille M. Brown Middle School, a world geography and U.S. history teacher at George Wythe High School, and a government, history, and geography teacher at Armstrong High School. He has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to serving, teaching, and inspiring the students of Richmond and the Commonwealth.
I also welcomed the 2019 Regional Teachers of the Year: Mr. Stephen Legawiec, Williamsburg-James City; Mr. Daniel Reichard, Stafford County; Mr. Timothy Cotman, Jr., Arlington County; Ms. Christine Grim, Rockingham County; Ms. Jamie Nichols, Roanoke City; Ms. Charlcia Jones, Lee County and Ms. Ashley Blackwell, Cumberland County, who were seated in the House Gallery. We are fortunate to have such dedicated teachers here in the Commonwelth for our students!
Legislation to Lift Age Cap on Autism Health Coverage Unanimously Passes Committee
The Virginia House of Delegates Committee on Commerce and Labor unanimously voted on Tuesday to pass House Bill 2577, a bill I have co-patroned, which lifts the age cap on autism health coverage. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Appropriations, where it is supported by Chairman Chris Jones.
This is a great first step to ensuring 10,000 Virginians on the autism spectrum get access to needed healthcare. Studies show that many children are not diagnosed until they are already six or seven years old. These children deserve to have access to needed care for longer than just three or four years.
Currently, state law only says that health insurers must offer such coverage for individuals from age two through age ten. According to a January, 2013 report from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Autism Center of Excellence, the average age of diagnosis in Virginia is between six and seven years of age. This means for many diagnosed, they could only have three years of covered treatment before coverage could be limited. This admirable legislation has my full support.
General Assembly Leaders Unite to End Teen Access to Tobacco Products
Recently, a bipartisan coalition of General Assembly leaders announced their support of legislation to raise the minimum age required to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Legislation to increase the eligibility age, which would apply to both vapor-based and traditional tobacco products, has been filed in both the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia. I fully support this legislation and plan to vote for it when it makes it to the House floor.
With the Surgeon General characterizing teenage vaping as an ‘epidemic,’ and with one-out-of-five high school seniors using these products, raising the minimum age for purchase is the most expeditious way to address this rising healthcare problem. The rapid growth in the number of teenagers vaping, at a time when the use of traditional tobacco is at an all-time low, should set off alarms for every parent. This legislation will help to reverse that trend. The overwhelming majority of high school seniors turn 18 before they graduate, increasing the prevalence of tobacco products in our schools. Obtaining vaping products from friends and classmates who are already 18 years old is just too easy for the younger kids. Raising the age will have a positive effect on our schools.
Congratulations to Owen Streed
Congratulations to Owen Streed of Charlottesville, who last week was named by his fellow pages as the “Page of the Week.” I was happy to recommend Owen as a page. Owen was nominated by a fellow page for his outstanding work. Owen’s enthusiasm, knowledge, and willingness to help other pages were a few of the attributes cited in his nomination. Congratulations Owen and thank you for making the 25th District proud!
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting with Ellen Harrison and Dave Deering from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board; Chrissy Johnston, CEO of Vector Industries; George Mason University President Angel Cabrera and Northern Virginia Community College President Scott Ralls; Brad Sheffield of JAUNT, Annette Medlin of the Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce and Rebekah Gunn of the Roanoke Regional Chamber, Bill Hurt of Americare Plus, and Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni.
My staff enjoyed speaking with members of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy; Wayne Nolde, Sally Newkirk and Joy Loving of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley; Keri Jones, with the Fraternal Order of Police; members of JMU’s Student Government; Matthew Gibson of Virginia Humanities; and Kim Langford and Beth Marcus of the Charlottesville/Albemarle County SPCA.
In Case You Missed It
As always, 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 Pam Stump in my Richmond office.
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Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.