As the third week of the legislative session draws to a close, I want to update you on the work we are doing in Richmond. I have been extremely busy meeting with constituents and attending committee meetings. In addition, we are working extra hard to make up for the time we lost due to last week’s winter weather.
As we get into the full swing of the session, the House continues to focus on top agenda items like increased educational opportunities, decreased federal regulations, protection of our second amendment rights, and promotion of religious liberties.
Concealed Carry Reciprocity
Over the last several weeks, a number of you have contacted me with your concerns regarding Attorney General Herring’s severance of Virginia’s reciprocity agreements with a number of states. The House of Delegates has spent a great deal of time and energy looking into Mr. Herring’s actions to determine how we could work to ensure that we protect the constitutional rights of all Virginians.
Just yesterday, we made a huge step forward in restoring our reciprocity agreements. Governor McAuliffe and General Assembly Republicans announced a major, bipartisan agreement that will restore and expand our concealed carry reciprocity.
After some candid discussions, we reached an agreement to grant universal reciprocity in return for allowing voluntary background checks at gun shows, and prohibiting individuals under permanent protective orders due to a domestic violence offense from possessing a firearm.
I believe that this agreement shows strong leadership on both sides of the aisle. This bipartisan agreement took some give and take on both sides. Ultimately, however, it restores and expands the rights of law abiding citizens while sending a clear signal about the House’s commitment to preventing and combatting domestic violence.
On Tuesday, Republican members of the House of Delegates outlined the House’s legislative agenda to promote opportunities in education. This agenda focuses on continuing to enact reforms in public education, promoting choice and flexibility, and encouraging early childhood education. Our ideas will help strengthen Virginia’s public school system so all children have the opportunity to succeed.
Last week I detailed my virtual education legislation, but that is not the only meaningful education reform that House Republicans are championing this year.
Delegate Rob Bell is carrying a constitutional amendment that would give the Board of Education the authority to establish charter schools in Virginia. Charter schools are public schools that are given a bit more flexibility to improve student outcome. Virginia has consistently lagged behind other states when it comes to charter schools. New York has 197 and Washington D.C. has over 115, while Virginia only has nine. If passed, this amendment would set up a framework for the state to establish charter schools, which would hopefully lead to more charter schools in Virginia. This amendment must pass the General Assembly this year before being sent to voters for final approval this fall in the form of a referendum.
Delegate Dave LaRock is once again carrying legislation to create Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). ESAs allow parents to receive 90 percent of the State’s portion of education funding for their child to deposit annually into a savings account that can be accessed via a debit card. The funds can then be used for tuition, tutoring, private courses, instructional supplies for homeschooling, online learning, and more. Funds not used can be saved for college.
The General Assembly is looking at several ways to increase access such as: creating a pilot program to test a mixed-delivery early childhood education model; establishing a stakeholder committee to explore how to break down barriers that limit the use of private providers; and expanding the eligibility of the successful Educational Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit to include early education providers.
Fighting Federal Regulations
On Wednesday, the House passed legislation to require General Assembly approval of Virginia’s implementation of the federal Clean Power Plan thereby restoring legislative oversight of energy regulations. House Bill 2, which would restore legislative oversight by requiring the Department of Environmental Quality to receive approval from the General Assembly for a state implementation plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, passed the House of Delegates 66-34.
These regulations are yet another example of federal government overreach. These attacks on coal will have a devastating impact on Virginia’s economy and will drastically increase the cost of electricity. In fact, the SCC has estimated that these regulations could increase electricity costs in Virginia by $5.5 to $6 billion.
By passing this legislation, we are able to protect Virginians from job losses and significant rate hikes.
I haven’t had any of my own legislation on the floor yet, but still have bills working their way through the committee process. One bill that I am carrying, House Bill 755, will have a direct impact in the 20th District if passed.
This legislation would allow Wayne Theatre to obtain an ABC license. Under current law, they are simply not permitted to obtain a license.
The Wayne Theatre is scheduled to open in March of 2016 and as the law is currently written they are unable to obtain an ABC license without having to meet food ratios. I believe that the opening of this theater will bring with it a wealth of opportunity for additional economic development in Waynesboro and they feel that obtaining an ABC license will help contribute to this success.
This legislation was passed out of the full General Laws committee this week and I expect the final vote of passage on this legislation in the House will be on Monday.
Additionally, last week I told you that the Right to Work amendment had passed in the Privileges and Elections subcommittee. I am pleased to tell you that it passed out of the full P&E committee this morning, and will head to the floor of the House of Delegates next week for final passage.
Throughout my time in the House, I’ve been contacted by dozens of constituents expressing their concern about the safety of that section of I-64, particularly highlighting the hazards created by truck traffic. I’ve communicated these concerns to Virginia State Police, yet we’ve been unable to find a solution. Based on these concerns, I introduced House Bill 178 as a potential remedy to this problem.
This bill, if passed, would have made it illegal for 18-wheelers to drive in the left lane of I-64 on Afton Mountain. If driving in the left lane, these drivers would’ve been charged with reckless driving and charged $500. I realize that the reckless driving component of the bill may have been excessive, but I was open to any alternatives that would make driving on Afton Mountain safer.
While it may not have been a perfect solution, I hoped it would be a step in the direction of finding a solution that would make our drivers safer. After some conversation and debate, this legislation was ultimately tabled in a Transportation subcommittee this morning. I am hopeful that this conversation will continue and that we will be able to keep a dialogue with VDOT and the Virginia State Police on this issue. I will continue to look for solutions and remain committed to increasing safety in this area.
Visitors this Week
Despite the weather we were fortunate to have many visitors this week. It is always nice to see Bo Wilson and Bruce Thompson of Dr. Pepper of Staunton. I was also able to spend a few minutes with Roger Watson of the News Leader and Matt Paxton from the News-Gazette. Tamy Mann, executive director of SafeHome stopped by for a visit, as did Christy Cacciapaglia from Western State Hospital and Donna Gum, who represents the Augusta County chapter of MHA.
We were able to see members of the Augusta County Home Builders Association, as well as representatives from Community Coalitions of Virginia from Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro. Savanna had the opportunity to visit with a number of Murphy Deming students from the Physician’s Assistant program as well as students from their Physical Therapy program.
On Thursday we were visited by Roy Gutshall and Matthew Blagg from the Highland-Bath Farm Bureau, as well as representatives from the Rockingham County Farm Bureau. We were also able to meet with Alexann Westlake, a local certified nurse midwife. Denver Riggleman was here to discuss some legislation important to our local distilleries. Last but not least, I had the opportunity to chat with David Foster, who plays Abe Lincoln in “Mercy Street.”
On Thursday we also had a guest who was here for a very special reason. Major Ben Sprouse, Associate Pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Staunton, was here to deliver the opening prayer to the House of Delegates. He did a wonderful job. You can see the video of his prayer online here.
We love seeing friendly faces from home during Session. If you are going to be in the Richmond area, consider dropping by for a visit. While appointments are not required, we do recommend that you call or email us ahead of time to schedule a time for a visit.
While we make every attempt to see all of our constituents, please understand that our committee schedules can be very hectic and our schedule can change very quickly. We appreciate your patience and understanding.
We will be operating out of our Richmond Office for the duration of the 2016 Session. While we still monitor the voicemail on our District Office phone line, the quickest way to reach us by phone will be by calling the Richmond office directly at 804-698-1020. We will still receive email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.
If you prefer to send us written correspondence, you can send mail to Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.
I look forward to hearing from you on the issues that matter most to you.
As in previous Sessions, I will provide weekly updates throughout our time in Richmond. If you know someone who would like to receive these updates, they can sign up online at bellfordelegate.com or email Savanna at Savanna@BellforDelegate.com.
I look forward to seeing you in Richmond! Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.