Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2016 Session Recap

The 2016 General Assembly adjourned sine die Friday, March 11.  This is the second year in a row that the General Assembly was able to complete their work ahead of schedule and adjourn early.  My understanding is that the early adjournment will save taxpayers over $25,000.

Overall I would consider the 2016 Session a very successful session.  The House of Delegates worked tirelessly to strengthen Virginia’s lagging economy, reform our education system, chart a responsible fiscal course, and improve healthcare without growing government.

Virginia’s economy remains a top priority. While we are seeing slight improvements , our recovery still lags behind the national recovery.  This is caused in large part by the impact of sequestration and changes in federal spending.  For this reason, we advanced legislation to foster economic growth, promote a pro-business environment, and protect small businesses through regulatory reform. This includes legislation to encourage workforce training in high demand fields, legislation protecting workers from forced unionization, and legislation to prohibit artificial wage floors.

Education is the key to increasing job and economic opportunities for the Commonwealth and is always a top priority for the House of Delegates.  We have one of the top education systems in the country.  There is still room for improvement, however,  and some students are still being left behind.  The House passed legislation to create Education Savings Accounts for parents and I was happy to lead efforts to finalize the establishment of the Virginia Virtual School.  This legislation, combined with our investments in public schools, will help make sure all children have the opportunity to succeed. 

In addition, we made a targeted effort to help Virginia families and students who are struggling with the rising cost of college.  Building on our work from last year, we increased funding for higher education.  Most notable is an appropriation of $48 million for undergraduate financial aid.

Prior to the Session, many of you reached out to me regarding the Attorney General’s announcement to rescind reciprocity agreements.  The General Assembly was able to reach a bipartisan agreement to restore and expand these reciprocity agreements. I am proud of our work to secure the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding concealed carry permit holders.

One of the most important tasks of the General Assembly is crafting the two year state budget.    I am happy to report that the House of Delegates passed a conservative, responsible, and structurally-balanced budget that invests in the core functions of government while protecting precious taxpayer resources. 

Here are the highlights of the 2016-2018 state budget:

  • Includes no new tax or fee increases
  • Deposits $605 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund
  • Funds the annual contribution to the Virginia Retirement System at 100% of the Board certified rate (2 years ahead of schedule)
  • Accelerates the $189.5 million repayment to VRS for the contribution rate deferral in 2010 (6 years ahead of schedule)
  • Reduces bond package as compared to Governor’s introduce budget
  • Allocates excess revenues to reduce the amount of money borrowed for the bond package
    • Invests over $900 million in new funding for K-12, including the state portion of a 2% teacher pay raise
    • Makes strategic investments in economic development, while adding additional oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
  • Builds on our work to strengthen the healthcare safety net

I would prefer less spending than the adopted budget contained, however I believe we made some important investments in the future of the Commonwealth. I think we can always continue to look for ways to reduce our spending, but it is important to note that state general fund spending has declined 5% over the last 10 years when adjusted for population and inflation. I hope we can continue this trend in the coming years.

Update on House Bill 8

Throughout the 2016 Session I did my best to keep you updated on the progress of my House Bill 8, legislation that establishes a full-time virtual school program in Virginia. As of my last newsletter, the bill had passed both the House and Senate, and we had requested a committee of conference to help hammer out the differences.

The conference report for HB 8 made the following amendments to the bill:

  • Delays the start of the Virginia Virtual School by one year to the 2018-2019 school year and pushes back one year the Board composition creation and annual report date to be in line with this start date. This delayed date mirrors the funding and language included in the budget. 
  • Adds an additional Senator to the Board making the composition of the Board 14 members--4 of which are Delegates and 3 of which are Senators.
  • Codifies a statewide 5,000 student limitation on the School. This 5,000 student cap is included in the budget. 
  • Clarifies language to allow the Board to provide information to parents regarding the course offerings and capacities of the providers for the School
All other aspects of HB 8 remain the same as when passed by the House earlier this session. In its current form, HB 8 would establish the Virginia Virtual School to begin during the 2018-2019 school year. 

There has unfortunately been some misinformation spread about this legislation, so I feel compelled to set the record straight.  The Virginia Education Association is once again playing fast and loose with the facts.  They are waging an email campaign that asks recipients to tell Governor McAuliffe to veto two bills that they allege siphon funds away from public schools. One of those bills is HB 8.  To be clear, the Virginia Virtual School will be a public school.  This school will not take any money from local school divisions. The money will follow the child, just as it would if they transferred from city to city or county to county.  I find the VEA’s tactics to be deliberately misleading, intended to deprive thousands of students of an opportunity to learn in the manner best suited for them.     

If you agree with me that parents should have the option of enrolling their child in this full-time virtual school, I encourage you to contact Governor McAuliffe and ask him to please sign HB 8.  You can contact him online here

Contact Us

We have returned from Richmond and we are now operating out of the district.  You can reach us by phone at 540-448-3999 or continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.

If you prefer to send written correspondence, you may send it to Post Office Box 239, Staunton, VA 24402.

Additionally, now that the 2016 Session has adjourned we are once again able to accept campaign donations. You can donate securely online at www.bellfordelegate.com/donate.

Thank you to everyone who called, emailed, or dropped by during the General Assembly Session.  I enjoy and appreciate hearing from you.  

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

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