The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn one week from tomorrow, on Saturday, March 12. We are sprinting to the finish-line, having nearly finished most committee work and continuing work on Senate bills, Senate amendments to House bills, and conference reports. All signs seem to indicate that we will likely be able to adjourn on time.
Last week, I detailed the House’s conservative budget proposal. I am pleased to report that our budget passed by a wide bipartisan margin in the House. The Senate also passed their version of the two-year budget.
House and Senate Conferees are working hard to hammer out the differences and finish up the budget. The Speaker has named House Appropriations Committee Chairman S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta), Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Delegate John O’Bannon (R-Henrico), Delegate Tag Greason (R-Loudoun), and Delegate Luke Torian (D-Prince William) as the budget conferees.
The Senate and House conferees met throughout the week to discuss a final budget proposal. While I would prefer less government spending than contained in any of the proposed budgets, I have faith that our conferees will remain committed to conservative principles and ensure the final budget does not contain any tax or fee increases, reduces the amount of bond borrowing, and increases the Commonwealth’s rainy day fund.
Many of you have been following my House Bill 8, which establishes a full-time virtual school program in the Commonwealth. This week, House Bill 8 was heard by the Senate Finance committee. It had previously been heard by the Senate Committee on Education and Health, who reported it out and referred it to the Finance committee who needed to take a look at the financial aspect of the bill.
After a lengthy discussion, the Senate Finance committee reported the bill out on a vote of 10-4. They did make some amendments, including an amendment that would cap the program at 5,000 students and an amendment that would delay the enactment of the bill to the 2017-2018 school year.
While I am not fully happy with these amendments, I am still pleased that the bill advanced out of committee and will be heard on the Senate Floor. Should the bill advance out of the Senate, we will be able to request a committee on conference to allow us to hammer out the differences between the Senate and House language.
The House of Delegates has included funding for the Virginia Virtual School in their version of the budget and I remain confident that this funding will stay in the final budget.
Passage of this legislation would be a huge win for school choice in Virginia. While virtual school is likely not the solution for every child, there are thousands of students across the Commonwealth who will undoubtedly benefit from this program.
Technology is changing many aspects of our lives. Most colleges and universities already offer virtual learning and we are beginning to see the rise of telemedicine and telepsychiatry practice to under served areas of the Commonwealth. I believe that Virginia could be a leader in virtual programs in K-12, but the longer we wait, the more we risk falling further behind the curve. I look forward to continuing these discussions and hope to be able to provide a positive update next week. The final vote in the Senate should be early next week.
Clean Power Plan Update
This past week, Governor McAuliffe announced his veto of Senate Bill 21, which is identical to a House bill that would require General Assembly approval before Virginia complies with President Obama’s Clean Power Plan regulations. This legislation would protect the Commonwealth from expending taxpayer resources on a set of unconstitutional regulations that are now being reviewed in court. In fact, the Supreme Court stayed the official implementation of the plan because it may be unconstitutional.
Because of the Governor’s veto, the House included a budget amendment that would prohibit any funds from being spent to comply with the Clean Power Plan. This budget amendment will effectively stop the Governor from continuing to implement this plan without approval of the Commonwealth’s elected representatives.
Aside from House Bill 8, which will be heard next week, all of my legislation that passed in the House have already advanced through the Senate. The bills passed are:
House Bill 4 – Provides for a referendum on the Right to Work Constitutional amendment for the 2016 Election
House Bill 36 – Requires local school divisions to include the concepts contained in the U.S. Naturalization Test in their high school government classes
House Bill 369 – Adds representation to the membership of the State Executive Council for Children’s Services
House Bill 535 - Provides that a beekeeper shall not be liable for any personal injury or property damage that occurs in connection with his keeping and maintaining of bees
House Bill 600 - Imposes certain mandates related to the protection and encouragement of children, including a requirement that certain information and options be given to a child in connection with foster care plans, the imposition of certain age-appropriate restrictions, and requirements of both the courts and the Department of Social Services regarding foster care plans
House Bill 755 - Authorizes the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to grant an annual mixed beverage performing arts facility license to persons operating food concessions at any performing arts facility located in the City of Waynesboro (Carried at the request of the Wayne Theatre)
House Joint Resolution 2 – Right to Work Constitutional Amendment
Visitors this Week
With Session drawing to a close, we are not seeing quite as many visitors. Still, we were happy to see a few folks from the Valley in Richmond this week. Roger Boles dropped by from Home Instead, as well as representatives from Columbia Gas. We were also glad to see Crista Cabe, General Djuric, and representatives from the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership from Mary Baldwin College.
We only have one week left, but it’s not too late to visit. If you’ll be in Richmond this coming week, feel free to drop by for a visit. While appointments are not required, we do recommend that you call or email us ahead of time.
For the last remaining week of Session, we are still operating out of our Richmond Office. 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.
I look forward to hearing from you on the issues that matter most to you.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.