This Tuesday we reached the official halfway point of the 2017 General Assembly Session known as Crossover. After Crossover, the House of Delegates can only consider legislation that originated in the State Senate, and vice versa.
We have had a good start to the Session and we are making great progress on the issues that matter the most to you and your family. We have also passed a conservative and responsible state budget that invests in core functions of state government.
Our hard work will continue through the second half of this session. We will consider legislation from the Senate and work to hammer out the differences between the Senate and House budget before we adjourn on February 25.
This past December, Governor McAuliffe introduced his version of amendments to the 2016-2018 biennial budget. Unfortunately due to a shortfall in expected revenues, the budget passed in the 2016 Session was approximately $1.25 billion out of balance. This shortfall became the driving force behind the adjustments made by the Governor and by each House of the legislature.
Yesterday, each House voted on their respective budget. The House budget reflects the tough choices necessary to present a structurally sound and balanced budget.
State Employees and State Troopers: One priority in the House budget that was made clear early on was that we needed to keep our commitment to our state employees. The House budget invests resources to make a compensation package for state employees and law enforcement a reality. The cost the 3% raise for state employees and college faculty, and restoring the 2% pay raise for state supported employees was $88.7 million. Funding is also included to provide our Deputy Sheriffs with their compression pay adjustments and an additional $15 million is included to address the starting salaries and compression of our State Troopers and Capitol Police Officers.
K-12 Education: Last year the House re-established the policy of sending back a portion of the Lottery proceeds to our school divisions on a per-pupil basis without a required local match. This year the House budget sends 40%, or $218.7 million, in Lottery profits directly back to our school divisions. This provides the schools with much needed flexibility in allocating these dollars where they think it is best served.
Higher Education: Access and affordability in higher education has been a top priority of the House for many years. Last session we made a significant additional investment in higher education. However, because of the shortfall cuts of nearly $80 million were announced by the Governor. The House budget restores $21.0 million to Higher Education to reduce cuts so that no school had a reduction greater than 1.4% of their budget.
Health and Human Resources: The House, working collaboratively with the Senate and the Governor, have made significant investments in the area of mental health. The House will provide a $28.5 million increase in mental health services, to include expanding the GAP program to cover individuals up to 100% of the federal poverty level. We will also provide funding for supportive housing and same day access. Our budget recommendations will add an additional 144 DD waiver slots to meet the needs of Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens.
Budgets are about setting priorities, especially when resources are limited. I’m proud of the work that the House has done on their budget, which passed yesterday on a bipartisan vote of 98-2. House conferees will now work with Senate conferees to hammer out the differences.
Jobs, Education, and Healthcare are top priorities for many Virginians and as such, the House of Delegates has also made it our priority.
Unfortunately, Virginia’s economy is recovering more slowly than the national economy and we still face threats from sequestration and federal spending cuts. For this reason, creating good paying jobs and growing Virginia’s economy must be one of our top priorities. 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 from burdensome regulations.
In Virginia we are fortunate to have one of the best education systems in the country. This is in large part thanks in large part to our great teachers. This year, we have sought to provide our educators with the tools, resources, and flexibility they need to continue providing our children with a top-notch education. This includes legislation that reduces licensure and continuing education requirements.
We are also working to make sure all children have the opportunity to get the education they deserve by promoting parental choice and flexibility. The House passed a constitutional amendment allowing for the creation of charter schools and legislation to establish Education Savings Accounts. Additionally, we passed my House Bill 1400, which establishes a full-time virtual school program in Virginia. This legislation establishes the Virginia Virtual School, which will offer both online classes and virtual school programs to all public, private, and homeschooled children in Virginia. This legislation is identical to my House Bill 8, which passed both Houses last year and was then vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. I am a firm believer that all children deserve the opportunity to succeed, no matter their zip code or income and these additional options give parents the option to find the best fit for their child.
I’m pleased that 11 bills and 2 resolutions that I brought forward this year passed in the House of Delegates.
As a former school teacher and Chairman of the Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, education is one of my top priorities. This year, I filed two bills to reform school discipline by reducing long-term suspensions. House Bill 1534 redefines “long-term suspension” of students by narrowing the time frame to 11-90 days (current code is 11-364 days). Additionally, it provides that if the suspension stretches into a new grading period, the student may ask for a review of their case to present new information for possible readmission to the start of that next grading period. House Bill 1536 limits prevents suspension of Pre-K – 3rd graders for more than 5 days. House Bill 1534 passed the House on a vote of 51-46 and House Bill 1536 passed on a vote of 47-45. They have crossed over and are working their way through the Senate.
Virginia public schools issued over 126,000 out of school suspensions to approximately 70,000 students in 2014-15 alone, including approximately 16,000 in Pre-K – 3rd grade. We find that students who are excluded from school are more likely to experience academic problems, mental health issues, substance abuse, and eventual justice system involvement which is likely to be more costly to the government in the long term. Additionally, when these students are removed from school the change in daily structure from school to home can make things much worse. There is simply no evidence that suggests that suspensions or expulsions deter misconduct or improve school safety, especially in younger grades. I hope that by passing this legislation we will look at alternative ways to improve student behavior and performance while keeping them in school.
Another priority of mine is the safety of our children. For that reason, I patroned House Bill 1485. This bill amends the current code relating to offenders who have been convicted of crimes that prohibit them from being within a certain proximity to children. Under current code, qualifying offenders are prevented from loitering or residing within 100 feet of any premises defined as a school, child day program, playground, athletic field or facility, or gymnasium. They are also prevented from working or engaging in any volunteer activity on the property of a school or daycare center. This legislation would expand the list of qualifying offenses to include any offense under the law of any other jurisdiction that is similar to such qualifying offense.
This would require that someone who committed one of these crimes outside of Virginia be subject to the same restrictions as those who committed the crimes in Virginia. This legislation passed in the House on a vote of 95-1.
You can see my all of my legislation online here.
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: Physician Assistant students from Lynchburg College, Matt Wertman, DaSheia Vance from Care Advantage, Roger and Pam Boles from Home Instead, the Linkous-Bosserman Model General Assembly, Bruce Phipps from Goodwill of the Valley, the Greater Augusta Association of Realtors, Jesse Reist from Secure Futures, Social Work students from VCU and JMU, and representatives from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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 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!