The 2016 General Assembly session officially reached the halfway point this week, known as “Crossover.” The Republican-led House of Delegates is making good progress on the issues that matter most to you. This has so far been a productive and successful session, and I’m happy to report back on several key priorities.
Our work will continue through the second half of this session. We will consider legislation from the Senate and complete work on the state budget before we adjourn on March 13.
The House of Delegates is fighting to defend and advance a number of common sense conservative principles this year. Our top priorities include jobs and economic development, education reform, and protection of our First and Second Amendment rights.
This session the House of Delegates advanced several major pieces of legislation aimed at fostering private-sector economic growth, promoting a positive, pro-business climate and protecting small businesses through regulatory reform. Virginia’s economy is unfortunately recovering more slowly than the national economy and still faces threats from sequestration and federal spending cuts. Creating good paying jobs and growing Virginia’s economy is our top priority.
We are also working to make sure all children have the opportunity to get the education they deserve by promoting choice and flexibility. The House passed a constitutional amendment on charter schools and legislation creating Education Savings Accounts.
In addition, I’m pleased to report that my virtual education bill passed in the House this week on a vote of 58-40-1. I am glad to see that the Virginia House of Delegates has once again shown strong support for virtual education here in the Commonwealth. While virtual education may not be the answer for every student, we need to provide this as an option. We have a responsibility to our children to provide an education to them in the environment that best meets their needs. For some of our children, this is undoubtedly virtual education. Over 30 states have already established statewide full-time virtual schools, and I believe Virginia should be next.
As previously mentioned, one of our biggest accomplishments so far has been the passage of a bipartisan agreement to restore and expand concealed carry reciprocity. To read more about this agreement, click here.
The House of Delegates is committed to protecting our constitutionally guaranteed right to the free exercise of religion. The House passed a number of bills to protect religious liberty. Among these is HB 791, introduced by my colleague Les Adams, which re-affirms that Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is the policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
This week we also passed HB773, introduced by Delegate Todd Gilbert. This bill prohibits a government entity from taking any discriminatory action against a person that speaks or acts in accordance with their sincerely held religious belief in traditional marriage.People of faith should not be denied basic government services or access simply because they believe in traditional marriage or natural gender roles. The bill would prohibit the government from revoking or denying tax exempt status to churches, denying grants, contracts or scholarships, and denying licensure or certification just because of someone’s religious beliefs.
To read more about the status of our legislative priorities at crossover, click here.
This Sunday, the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees will release their respective budget proposals. I am confident that the House will introduce a conservative, fiscally sound and responsible budget that makes targeted investments in the core functions of our state government.
I understand that the House budget will place a high emphasis on the Virginia Retirement System to ensure the program is solvent for our state employees and teachers. It will also make investments in our public education system and seek to provide local education leaders with flexibility in how they spend educational dollars.
The Appropriations Committee previewed part of the state budget on Thursday. To learn more, click here. I will share more about the House budget proposal next week when I know more details.
Republican members of the Military and Veteran’s Caucus met this week to highlight the legislative accomplishments of the 2016 session. The Commonwealth is home to approximately 800,000 veterans and 150,000 active-duty military members and their families. With this type of military presence in the Commonwealth, we must continue to strive to be the most veteran-friendly state in the nation. We have continued these efforts this year with legislation designed to provide our veterans with the care they deserve, access to affordable education, and good job opportunities.
Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) introduced HB477 which would establish two new veteran care centers, one in Hampton Roads and one in Northern Virginia, to help provide veterans with quality long-term healthcare. The two new centers will hopefully free up more space for our local area veterans at the already existing care centers in Richmond and Roanoke. Delegate Scott Taylor (R-Virginia Beach) introduced HB90, which would allow members of the Virginia National Guard to conceal-carry while they are on duty. Delegate David Yancey (R-Newport News) introduced HB405, which will extend the temporary occupational license period for spouses of military service members to help them find meaningful employment.
Delegate Taylor is also carrying HB450 that requires seven comprehensive community colleges with the highest veterans enrollment in the Commonwealth to employ at least one full-time veterans’ advisor to provide comprehensive and intensive enrollment and advising services to current and prospective students who are veterans. It also requires the establishment of a veterans’ resource center on campus to provide access to federal and state veterans’ resources. This legislation will be a big help to new veterans and service members leaving the military.
Delegate Chris Stolle’s (R-Virginia Beach) HB825, which I mentioned in a previous newsletter, helps transitioning military personnel. It establishes a pilot program in which military medical personnel may practice and perform certain delegated acts that constitute the practice of medicine under the supervision of a licensed physician or podiatrist.
In addition to my virtual schools legislation, HB 36 also passed in the House this week. House Bill 36 is my bill that would require each local school division to include all information and concepts contained in the civics portion of the U.S. Naturalization Test into twelfth-grade government classes. Civics education is unfortunately lagging in our country, which I believe is one of the reasons we have such low civic participation. I hope that by incorporating this information into our government classes we can allow our students to develop a better understanding of how our government works. This bill passed the House on a vote of 61-36. It was reported out of a Senate Education and Health subcommittee yesterday on a vote of 3-2 and could be voted on in the Senate as early as next week.
I am pleased to have had 7 bills and 1 resolution pass out of the House and they are working their way through the Senate. They are:
The week of Crossover is always a slow week for visitors, but we were still delighted to see a few folks from home. James Gibson dropped by representing the Virginia Governmental Employees Association. Deidre Koch from Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro Habitat for Humanity visited us, as did Frank Rogan from Goodwill Industries of the Valleys. I saw Dr. John Downey and Dr. Frank Friedman as well as a number of Realtors representing the Greater Augusta Realtor’s Association. Representatives from Americare Plus in Staunton dropped by, as did Kelsey Sheffer who was here to discuss Family and Consumer Sciences. I had an opportunity to see Augusta County Republican Chairman Georgia Alvis-Long and her husband Ed Long. Last but not least, I had an opportunity to speak with a group of kids from the Linkous-Bosserman Model General Assembly from Augusta County.
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.