Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2015 Session - Week 6

It’s week six of the General Assembly’s seven week legislative session, and I’m pleased to report that I’ve had 4 bills and 1 resolution pass in both Houses.  I still have 1 bill working its way through the committee process in the Senate.  

The House and Senate conference committees are now working to resolve the differences in their respective budgets. This year, Speaker Howell incorporated a rules change requiring the budget conference report to be posted for the public and the press to view at least 48 hours before the final vote.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch praised this new policy, saying that “the move will increase public access.” I agree that this will add more transparency to the process. It will also ensure that we as legislators have plenty of time to review the budget prior to casting our vote on it. 

Once the budget conferees finish their work, you will be able to find their budget online here.

Constitutional Amendments

This week, both Houses of the General Assembly passed two resolutions for constitutional amendments that I would like to share with you.

As I mentioned last week, I put forth House Joint Resolution 490. This resolution is the first resolution to make our Right to Work laws part of Virginia’s Constitution. Current law provides that a citizen cannot be denied employment for failing to join a union or other labor organization.  The Right to Work law is vital to the success of Virginia’s workforce, and is an important factor in Virginia’s continued high rankings as one of the best states for business. By adding this to the Virginia constitution, we can ensure that the Right to Work law is more permanent, and not subject to the whims of the legislature. 

This resolution passed in the House last week, and passed in the Senate today on a vote of 21-17. 

The House and Senate have also passed identical resolutions to make it easier to establish charter schools in Virginia.  The resolutions would amend the constitution to grant the Board of Education authority, subject to criteria and conditions prescribed by the General Assembly, to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth. 

Throughout my time in the house I have been a strong advocate for increasing educational opportunities and choices for our parents and students. Charter schools provide yet another option that they can pursue in order to find the best fit for their educational needs. I’m glad to see that both houses of the General Assembly have embraced this resolution. 

In order to be added to the constitution, each of these amendments will have to pass in the General Assembly again next year.  They will then go before the voters in the form of a referendum on the ballot for final approval.

 Virtual Education

Several times this Session I have mentioned my virtual education legislation in my weekly updates.  This week, this legislation reached another milestone. House Bill 324 was reported out of the Senate Finance committee with amendments, and passed in the full Senate on a vote of 22-16. 

If you recall, House Bill 324 was carried over from the 2014 Session and in December was referred from the Senate Education and Health committee to the Senate Finance Committee.

The Senate Finance committee met earlier this week, where they made a few substantive changes to the bill.  Together, we added clarifying language ensuring that the School is only for full-time virtual schooling, established an enrollment deadline and a local enrollment cap, developed a model to pay for the administration of the program by charging providers a proportionate administration fee, created a funding model based on the average the state spends on a per pupil basis, and removed any costs to localities.  The Senate additionally added a reenactment clause that requires us to pass this legislation again next year before it can go into effect.

While we would have preferred to pass the legislation without the reenactment, I still believe this is a huge win for virtual education.  I hope that over the interim we can get all of the stakeholders to the table and work to bring the best possible bill forward in the 2016 Session. 

As a result of the passage of House Bill 324, House Bill 1361, a nearly identical bill that passed in the House last week, will be laid on the table.  It is simply unnecessary at this time to move forward with these nearly identical bills.

 “Tebow Bill”

During my tenure in the House of Delegates, hundreds of you have written and called me in support of legislation that would allow homeschooled students to participate in high school sports in the Commonwealth.  

My understanding is, the first legislation to allow this was introduced twenty years ago, and Delegate Rob Bell, a Republican from Albemarle County, has brought forward this legislation for each of the last six years.  The bill passed in the House of Delegates in both the 2013 and 2014 General Assembly Sessions but was killed in the Senate Committee on Education and Health.   

For the first time this year, it not only passed out of the Senate Committee but actually passed in the Senate on a vote of 22-13.  At the request of the patron, the House has accepted the Senate amendments and it is now headed to the Governor’s desk.

Virginia is home to more than 32,000 home schooled students and with the passage of the “Tebow Bill,” local school boards will have the option of allowing their participation in school sports, clubs and group activities.

If you support the Tebow Bill, I would encourage you to reach out to Governor McAuliffe and let him know.  You can reach his office by phone at 804-786-2211.  You can also email him here.  

 Visitors

Due to the winter weather unfortunately many of our scheduled appointments for this week were canceled.  Despite the weather, we did have a couple of groups that braved the cold to meet with us in Richmond.

On Thursday I was able to meet with a small group of Eastern Mennonite University Social Work students. This included one of my former basketball players, Morgan Lotts.  Today, Crista Cabe and several ladies from the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) also joined us in Richmond.

We have just one week left, but that is still plenty of time for a visit! If you plan to be in Richmond this week, we would love for you to drop by.

To make an appointment, call Savanna at 804-698-1020.

Session Contact Information

While we are in Session our contact information will be a little different than it is while we are in the District.

Although we will still monitor voicemail on the phone in our district office, the quickest way to reach us by phone is 804-698-1020.

You can continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

If you would prefer to send us written correspondence, you can do so at Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.

While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.

As always, I thank you for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.

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