This was the first full week of the 2013 General Assembly Session, and it was a busy one. Things are in full swing. The first committees began to meet this week, and legislation is working its way through the process.
This was also the first week of a brand new administration. On Monday night, Governor McAuliffe addressed the House of Delegates and State Senate to outline his priorities for the Commonwealth.
Though there are some areas where I disagree with Governor McAuliffe, I believe there are also several areas where we will be able to work to find common ground. In his top priorities he included job creation, modernizing and reforming our K-12 education system, and workforce development. These are priorities that I and my colleagues in the House have held for many years.
Though we do not always agree on specifics, Republicans and Democrats can both agree that our K-12 education system needs reform. We have made a lot of progress with K-12 over the last four years, and that work must continue. On Tuesday, House Republicans outlined key elements of our K-12 Education Agenda.
We already have legislation introduced that will reduce and improve Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, increase virtual education opportunities, and support career ladders for our teachers.
We know that in some ways SOL tests are a necessary evil. They provide basic benchmarking and allow accountability. At this time, however, the best students take 34 tests, starting at grade 3. Those who do not pass the test and are required to retake it take more than 34. There has been legislation filed that would reduce the number of tests to 26.
Additionally this legislation establishes SOL “Revision Committees” that will be comprised of educators and experts of the various subjects. They will work to incorporate more critical thinking and knowledge-application skills into the test. Our hope is this will better able Virginia students to thrive in the competitive business and college environments after they graduate.
SOL tests have taken years to fully develop, and we will certainly not be able to reform everything in just 60 days. While this is by no means a perfect solution, I do believe that it is a step in the right direction. By reducing the number of tests, we hope to allow teachers to have a bit more flexibility, giving them the opportunity to promote critical thinking and problem solving rather than simply regurgitating information.
Additionally, the House is focused on broadening access to virtual education across Virginia. Throughout my tenure in the House of Delegates I have been a strong advocate for virtual education, and that will continue. Virtual education provides students the opportunity to create their own curriculum that meets their needs and allows them to achieve their educational goals. They are not simply limited to the classes that their school offers. I believe this will be especially beneficial for students in more rural areas of Virginia, where many school divisions cannot afford to offer a large number of elective classes. Virtual education also allows instruction to continue when school close due to bad weather or when students are home sick or serving suspensions.
Legislation filed will also support the development of “Teacher Career Ladders” that will ensure we retain our best teachers in the classroom where they will have the greatest impact on student success. Too often teachers must leave the classroom to find higher paying jobs. This legislation will help keep our best and brightest teachers in the classroom, and help them move to better opportunities and higher paying jobs as they gain experience.
I believe our K-12 education reform proposals provide a solid base for House Republicans to work with the McAuliffe Administration to improve the Commonwealth’s K-12 education system for all our children. I look forward to these continued discussions.
There are also areas where I must disagree with the Governor. The first and most important among these is Governor McAuliffe’s call for a Medicaid expansion decision by the end of the 2014 Session. Medicaid expansion could have serious financial implications for the Commonwealth, and without reform, Virginians could be paying an additional $1 billion each year.
The Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission has been working to identify cost saving reforms in the way Medicaid is currently administered. These reforms include ways to recoup money and punish people who falsely claim Medicaid eligibility.
Putting 400,000 more Virginians in a broken program fraught with waste, fraud, and abuse will make things worse. The federal government has promised to pay for 100% of the cost of expansion for the first three years and 90% thereafter.
Unfortunately the federal government appears to be both broke and broken and the likelihood that they could keep that promise is slim. Even if they could, paying the 10% for an additional 400,000 enrollees plus current Medicaid enrollees spells deep fiscal trouble for the Commonwealth.
Governor McAuliffe believes that expansion is a money maker for Virginia. However, promises concerning the Affordable Care Act have already been broken. With the federal government $17 trillion in debt, it is unreasonable to commit Virginia taxpayers to federal promises that could easily be broken.
As with previous sessions, our office receives calls and emails to inquire about certain bills. As your representative, it is vital that we have an open exchange. This is a cornerstone of our representative government and it is a responsibility that I do not take lightly.
With the election of our new Governor, this year the legislation is slanted towards his agenda. He and his supporters are pushing for an expansion of Medicaid that forces us closer to Obamacare. I cannot impress upon you enough that I believe this would be detrimental to Virginia, to our families, and to the quality of health care in general.
The supporters of these changes are in Richmond in full force and my attention is focused on the legislation they hope to get passed.
If we are not careful, the very important gains we have made will be lost.
One of the most difficult things to manage during the General Assembly Session is the volume of legislation that is considered in such a short amount of time. As I send this, there are over 2000 bills, not including resolutions, already submitted and there are still more coming.
While we work on the major issues, the day to day business of the House continues. I have introduced several bills, resolutions and budget amendments thus far in support of our veterans, mental health services, K12 education reform and workforce development/job expansion. I have also asked the budget be amended to reflect a raise for Virginia State Police officers who were left out of the budget left behind by Governor McDonnell.
2014 Legislative Survey
If you haven’t already had a chance, please take our 2014 Legislative Survey. You can find the survey online by clicking here. The results of these surveys are immensely helpful to me in better representing you in Richmond. You are welcome and encouraged to forward the survey to any friends and family, as well as community, social, and/or church groups.
We will continue to run the survey through January, and will publish the results once we close the survey and tally the results.
Though we did our best to include a wide range of topics, we are unable to cover everything. If there is an issue that is important to you that we didn’t include on the survey, please feel free to email or call us with your thoughts.
Visitors This Week
This week we were able to meet with a few folks from home. We met with Edward Misker, who was here for the Military Officers Association of America Storm the Hill Day.
While I was in committee, my assistant, Savanna, had the opportunity to meet with Justin Beard and a group of representatives of the Staunton Professional Fire Department. She also was visited by Dr. John Downey and a group of students from Blue Ridge Community College.
Just Yesterday I was visited by Dr. Don Henry, who was in Richmond representing the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association.
We are always grateful to see friendly faces from home. If you plan to be in Richmond over the next few weeks, we would love for you to drop by.
Even with the tight committee schedule, we do our best to see as many constituents as possible. Though appointments are not required, they are strongly encouraged. To make an appointment, call Savanna at 804-698-1020.
While we are in Session, we will be operating out of our Richmond Office. To contact us in Richmond, please call 804-698-1020. You can also reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov. If you would like to send written correspondence, you can mail it to Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218. You can also fax it to 804-698-6720.
We look forward to hearing from you over the next few weeks!