The 2013 General Assembly Session began Wednesday with what hopefully is the start of a new tradition- the Richmond Symphony Chorus singing a beautiful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Wednesday evening, Governor McDonnell delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth address.
The Governor began his speech by reminding us how far the Commonwealth has come over the past three years. Our unemployment rate is now the lowest in the southeast at 5.6%. Additionally, we have created 150,500 net new private-sector jobs. Our public schools continue to rank among the nation’s best, and we have balanced our budget without any tax increases on Virginia’s families or businesses. This is clear evidence that under Governor McDonnell, we are on the right track.
In his speech, Governor McDonnell laid out a bold agenda for his final legislative session that focuses on the issues that matter most to Virginians. The Governor’s legislative priorities are to improve our schools, create new opportunities for small businesses, and help ensure that we are able to find a long term solution to improve and maintain our roads. My House Republican colleagues and I share Governor McDonnell’s commitment to finding solutions to these key issues, and I look forward to working across the aisle to ensure that this gets done.
I encourage you to read the full text of Governor McDonnell’s speech online here.
I am honored to be carrying one of the Governor’s education bills that he has made a top priority for this Session. As Governor McDonnell mentioned during his annual State of the Commonwealth address, I am carrying House Bill 2151. This legislation is much improved over the Teacher Contract legislation that I carried last year.
In addition to a 2% raise for all teachers, House Bill 2151 makes several changes to the processes by which teachers and certain administrators are evaluated and to the grievance procedure process. The bill requires teachers, assistant principals, and principals to be evaluated every year, either formally or informally, and such evaluations will include student academic progress as a significant component and an overall summative rating. The bill increases from three years to five years the term of probationary service required for a teacher before becoming eligible for a continuing contract, and requires local school boards to provide a new principal with a mentor. The bill does not eliminate the contuinuing contract.
The bill also changes the grievance procedure for teachers. It gives local school boards the option to assign a grievance hearing to be heard by a hearing officer designated by the local school board. The option for a grievance to be heard in front of a fact-finding panel would no longer be available.
I am honored to be carrying this important part of the Governor’s Education package, and I look forward to the conversation we will have with teachers, administrators, and school boards regarding these improvements.
In addition to House Bill 2151, I am carrying 11 other bills and one house joint resolution. You can see my entire slate of legislation online here.
Of this legislation, there are a couple of pieces that I would like to highlight.
House Bill 1344 requires local school divisions to ensure that Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams consider the specific communication needs of children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and address those needs as appropriate in the child's IEP. This is an important piece that was brought to me by a constituent who sits on the Board of Visitors at VSDB. It is to help ensure that students who are deaf and hard of hearing can get the best education possible in Virginia.
House Bill 1370 creates an individual and corporate income tax credit beginning January 1, 2013, for small businesses creating new full-time jobs in the Commonwealth. I believe this is a great incentive for job creation in the Commonwealth.
House Bill 1406 requires each school board to annually provide parent educational information or screen public school students from 5th to 10th grade for eating disorders. Eating disorders are a growing problem among teens, and are often undetected for far too long. My hope is that this legislation will allow for earlier detection of eating disorders and result in more lives saved.
House Bill 1469 directs the State Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive financial audit of Virginia's four-year public institutions of higher education, to be completed by July 1, 2015, and report the findings to the General Assembly. My hope is that this audit will reveal areas of cost savings, and help our institutions get the most for their money.
House Bill 1555 will establish the Virginia Statewide Virtual School and establish a Board of Visitors for the Virginia Statewide Virtual School. We established virtual education in Virginia in 2010, and this will help solve the funding questions that local school divisions have. There are many parents across Virginia that find that the traditional classroom is not meeting their needs. Our hope is that through allowing students to take virtual classes, public schools will be more able to meet the needs of those students.
House Joint Resolution 536 is an amendment to the Virginia Constitution establishing the Right to Work laws as part of our constitution. Right now Virginia has great right to work laws on the books. Making these laws a part of the constitution will make it much more difficult for a future legislature to remove them from our code. Once the right to work amendment becomes part of the constitution, the only way to change it would be by referendum of the voters of Virginia.
As you are likely already aware, this week Governor McDonnell unveiled his transportation plan. The key feature of his proposal is a plan to eliminate the 17.5 cents gas tax and replace it with a 0.8 cent increase to the Sales and Use Tax (SUT) dedicated to transportation.
I encourage you to check out the components of the transportation plan online here.
I would like to get as much feedback as possible from my constituents regarding this bill before it is brought before me for a vote. If you could please email me your comments at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov, I would very much appreciate it.
I also welcome any suggestions that you may have on how to improve the proposal.
It was a short week but we still were able to see a few friendly faces from home. Thursday was “Banker’s Day” in the Capitol, and I was pleased to see Greg Godsey drop by to share with me the concerns of bankers in Virginia.
My staff and I are here in Richmond to serve you. We would love to hear from you regarding legislation before the House, or if there's anything we can do to help you in dealing with a state government agency.
If you are planning to visit Richmond during Session, I encourage you to visit me in Room 517. We certainly do not require appointments, but if you know ahead of time that you’re planning a visit, appointments are encouraged.
In addition to email and phone, we also encourage you to track us throughout this Session on social media. You can find me on facebook, or follow me on twitter at @DelDickieBell.