It’s hard to believe, but we have reached the halfway point of the 2017 Session. A couple of important days are coming up this week that I would like to highlight.
On Sunday, February 5th, the committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals. Additionally, Tuesday is Crossover, the deadline with which each chamber must complete work on bills that originated in their chamber and Thursday each House will vote on their version of the budget.
Opioids Package Passes House
Anyone who has watched the news over the last 6 months is undoubtedly aware of the heroin and opioid epidemic sweeping across Virginia. No city or county has been untouched. The Virginia Department of Health is still evaluating the numbers, but Virginia is on track to meet the Health Department’s projections of over 1,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, a record high in Virginia.
This week Delegate Todd Pillion (R-Washington) spoke on the house floor about the gravity of the situation and outlined the many House bills that have been put forward to address the epidemic. These include: creating a workgroup to identify resources to help substance-exposed infants, developing core competencies and standards for our health professionals in training, and directing the Board of Medicine and Dentistry to develop regulations on the prescribing of opioids including dosage limits, treatment plans and Prescription Monitoring Program utilization.
We have a long way to go, but I am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction when it comes to the opioid epidemic.
Criminal Justice Reform
Another issue we hear from constituents on fairly regularly is criminal justice reform. This year, the House of Delegates is taking positive steps toward reform of the criminal justice system by removing obstacles for offenders who are currently trying to get their lives back on track.
Under current law, if an offender cannot pay their court fees they can have their driver’s license suspended. This punishment can unfortunately create a vicious cycle. Without their licenses, people cannot get to work to make the money necessary to pay off their court fees, and therefore cannot get their license back.
HB 2386, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-Chesterfield), allows courts to establish a payment plan for offenders unable to pay court-ordered fines to avoid a driver’s licenses suspension. The legislation also allows offenders to earn credit for community service that can be applied to their costs. The legislation passed the House unanimously on February 2nd.
This legislation will help those offenders who are struggling to get back to work so they can provide for their families and assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society.
Most of my legislation has worked its way through the committee process, though I still have several bills waiting to be heard and voted on by the full House of Delegates.
This week I would like to highlight one bill that is particularly important to me that passed in the House of Delegates this week.
House Bill 1512 provides that each public institution of higher education is required to count credit for successful completion of American Sign Language courses at institutions of higher education toward satisfaction of foreign language entrance, placement, and course credit requirements.
In 2011, I sponsored legislation that required institutions of higher education to accept American Sign Language as a foreign language for their entrance requirements. House Bill 1512 expands this to allow it to fulfill the foreign language course credit requirements at their public college or university.
I’m pleased to announce that this legislation passed out of the House of Delegates on a vote of 98-0 and I look forward to continued discussions in the Senate. I believe that passage of this legislation will encourage more students to take an interest in American Sign Language and will open up a host of educational opportunities for both hearing and deaf students.
This week we had many visitors from home drop by our Richmond office. Unfortunately, my committee schedule kept me from seeing many of you. I’m sorry if I missed you but I’m glad you made the trip to Richmond!
This week we were visited by: a group of home school students from Staunton and Augusta, Occupational Therapy Students from Mary Baldwin University and James Madison University, representatives from the Boys and Girls Club of Waynesboro, Virginia Tech Students, local school counselors, Becca from the Community Health Worker’s Association, a group of nurses from the University of Virginia, Gayl Brunk and representatives from the Valley Association for Independent Living, Joyce Dull representing AFL-CIO, Christy Miller and Jonas Borntrager representing NAIFA, and General Terry Djuric and a group of VWIL Cadets.
While I make every attempt to see my constituents, please understand that my committee schedule can be very hectic and change very quickly. I appreciate your patience and understanding.
We are operating out of our Richmond Office for the duration of the 2017 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 always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate!