Although in many ways it feels like Session just began, we are actually near the halfway point. This week was the final week before Crossover and, as always, it was a frenzy of committee activity and long floor sessions.
Before I discuss this week’s happenings in Richmond, I would like to remind you that I will be holding a Dutch Treat Town Hall Breakfast at 8:00 am on Saturday, February 9 at Mrs. Rowe’s in Staunton (74 Rowe Road).
I mentioned it last week; however, we have received very few RSVPs. We want to be able to ensure that there is enough interest for the event.
Therefore, if you plan to attend, please RSVP to Savanna at Savanna@BellforDelegate.com by Wednesday, February 6.
We must have an RSVP so that we can provide a final count to the restaurant.
Additional K-12 Reform Bills Pass the House of Delegates
Once again this week the House of Delegates passed several more crucial pieces of Governor McDonnell’s “All Students” K-12 Education Agenda.
The bills passed this week reward teachers, lift several mandates on our local school divisions, and promote early reading and math initiatives.
Some of the K-12 education reform bills that passed this week include:
- House Bill 2066 will remove certain Standards of Quality staffing requirements to give local school leaders more flexibility over staffing in schools and classrooms.
- House Bill 2068 will expand the early intervention reading and mathematics program to help students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.
- House Bill 2083 will establish a fund for localities to establish a strategic compensation grant and reward their hardworking teachers. The locality will set the requirements on the teacher bonus. The Governor has committed $15 million to the fund that would give additional $5,000 bonus to as many as 3,000 teachers.
- House Bill 2098 will make it easier for school boards to receive waivers from state regulations.
House Republicans remain committed to enacting these and other important reforms to ensure that every child in the Commonwealth has the opportunity to receive a top notch education.
Today we passed a number of pieces of legislation that deal with Tort Reform in Virginia. The package of legislation is the result of a major compromise between businesses and the medical and legal communities, and makes a number of changes to key areas of Virginia’s tort laws. Our hope is that this legislation will help protect the dignity of the tort system while reducing costly lawsuits, streamlining the litigation process, and reducing legal costs for many of Virginia’s businesses.
Legal costs are significant to businesses, and often are a major obstacle to job creation and economic growth. Our hope is that today’s actions by the House are a major step forward in decreasing the overall cost of doing business in Virginia.
The final package includes six bills:
- House Bill 1618 was carried by Delegate Todd Gilbert and will reduce “forum shopping,” which is the practice of picking a Court system most favorable to one party.
- House Bill 1708, carried by Delegate Greg Habeeb, will allow the limited use of depositions for summary judgment motions. The hope is that this legislation will provide businesses and business owners with a mechanism to dispose of frivolous lawsuits early on in the litigation process.
- House Bill 1709, also carried by Delegate Habeeb, clarifies that costs associated with cases nonsuited during the trial are to be borne by the plaintiff. It also streamlines the process for recovering these costs.
- House Bill 2004, carried by Delegate Ben Cline, codifies the current state of Viginia’s trespass liability case law. It will protect businesses and individuals from lawsuits based on an injury that occurs while an individual is illegally trespassing.
- House Bill 1477, carried by Delegate Dave Albo, clarifies Virginia’s deadman’s statute allowing for a business record to corroborate the testimony of an interested party.
- House Bill 1545, carried by Delegate Sal Iaquinto, allows a Court to review expert witness certification in medical malpractice cases for good cause shown.
This week, the House Finance Committee reported out the Governor’s Transportation Package with a bipartisan vote of 14-8.
The Virginia’s Road to the Future transportation plan, House Bill 2313, is estimated to provide over $3.1 billion in additional funding over the next 5 years. The key components of the legislation are: 1) repealing Virginia’s 17.5 cents per gallon motor fuels tax on gas, while leaving the diesel tax unchanged; 2) replacing the gas tax with a 0.8% increase in the sales and use tax; 3)increasing motor vehicle registration by $15; 4)imposing a $100 alternative fuel registration fee on electric and hybrid-electric vehicles; and 5)dedicating a portion of existing but currently uncollected sales tax revenues to transportation, public education, and Virginia’s localities.
While this legislation is in no way perfect, right now it is our only vehicle for transportation reform. When businesses are passing Virginia by as a place to do business as a result of our transportation infrastructure, we can no longer afford to kick the can down the road for a future administration to deal with. The time to act on transportation is now.
This legislation is a still a work in progress, and will likely continue to change and evolve as it moves through the process. A number of changes have already been made, including:
- Clarifying that the $100 alternative fuel vehicle applies only to those vehicles that are not subject to federal gas per gallon equivalent taxes
- Enabling drivers of diesel fueled passenger vehicles to claim a refund for diesel taxes paid, similar to the refund for non-road uses of diesel fuel
- Contingent on the passage of the transportation plan, placing a stay on tolling on Interstate 95 south of Fredericksburg until a determination can be made whether toll revenues are still necessary.
Though there are several components of this legislation that I am still concerned about, I still believe it is important that we work across the aisle to solve our transportation challenges.
While I generally am opposed to tax increases, l believe that swapping the gas tax for a slight sales tax increase actually favors rural Virginia. Additionally, I feel that if we fail to find a solution under this administration, it is increasingly possible that our next Governor and General Assembly will attempt to change the current funding formula, and that would be disastrous for us in rural Virginia.
Again, I welcome your feedback on Transportation and encourage you to contact us with questions, concerns, and ideas.
Following crossover next week I will share with you a full list of my own legislation that has passed in the House of Delegates this Session. With just a few days to go before crossover, I’m pleased to have 9 pieces of my legislation passed out of the House. This legislation will now be sent to the Senate for consideration.
This week I was pleased to see the Right to Work Amendment pass in the House of Delegates with a vote of 69 – 30. The Right to Work law is vital to the success of Virginia’s workforce, and is an important factor in Virginia’s continued high rankings as one of the best states for business. By adding the existing Right to Work law to the Constitution of Virginia, we are ensuring that it will stay part of Virginia law for many years to come. You can see my testimony to the amendment online here.
Additionally this week, I had two pieces pass in the House relating to education.
House Bill 1406 is a bill that I put forth relating to students with Eating Disorders. Unfortunately, eating disorders are a silent killer among young people. Many parents do not know what to look for, and therefore their children go undiagnosed and untreated. This legislation, which has undergone a series of amendments, encourages local schools to provide educational information (most likely through their website) to parents of students grades 5 – 12 regarding the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders. Our hope is that this information will arm parents with the information and tools necessary to help detect eating disorders in their children. This early detection and early intervention could lead to saved lives. House Bill 1406 passed out of the House of Delegates yesterday with a vote of 99-0.
House Bill 1344, the Deaf Child’s Bill, requires local school divisions to ensure that Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams consider the specific communication needs of children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and address those needs as appropriate in the child's IEP. This legislation was brought to me by a group of constituents, and will help ensure that Virginia students who are deaf or hard of hearing receive the best education possible. It advanced out of the House of Delegates with a vote of 99-0.
Once again this week we were very happy to see a number of friendly faces from home. Nelson County constituents Eleanor Amidon and Jane Taylor stopped by, as well as Peter Agelasto and his wife Betsy, to lobby on a number of environmental issues including Uranium Mining.
Visitors from Staunton included my good friend Rev. Steve Paulus. I also spent a few moments with Justin Reiter of the Heifetz Institute, and John Avoli of the Frontier Culture Museum. We were also able to spend a good deal of time with Augusta County Administrator Pat Coffield and several members of the Augusta Board of Supervisors.
Mike Aulger and a number of local folks from Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative visited with us on Monday. We also had the opportunity to see folks from the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity who came to Richmond for AFP Lobby Day.
My staff was able to meet with members of the Augusta Education Association, and saw Marcia Elliot and Bea Morris who also stopped by to lobby on issues related to education in Virginia. Staff was also able to meet with a number of local members of the Virginia Young Democrats. Dean Welty of the Valley Family Forum also dropped by for a visit.
Additionally, we had students and staff from several of Virginia’s colleges and universities this week. We saw students from Radford University, James Madison University, Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Tech, and Danville Community College.
If you find yourself in Richmond over the next few weeks we would love to see you. Please call ahead for an appointment, or feel free to drop by room 517 in the General Assembly Building.
My staff and I are here in Richmond to serve you. We would love to hear from you regarding legislation before the House, or if there's anything we can do to help you in dealing with a state government agency.
While we are in Richmond, we can be reached by phone at (804) 698-1020 or by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.
Please note that while we appreciate your feedback, while we are in Session we often receive hundreds of emails a day. We work hard to provide a response to all inquiries, but it sometimes takes awhile to respond to you. Thank you for your patience.
Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.