With Crossover only a few days away, the pace at the General Assembly has reached a sprint as we work to complete action on all House Bills. Crossover, which falls on Tuesday, February 8 this year, is the last day that the House of Delegates can act on a House Bill. On Wednesday, all bills that have passed the House will be sent to the Senate for their consideration, and we will begin to consider all Senate Bills that have passed the Senate. If a bill hasn't passed the House by Tuesday, then that particular bill will not pass the General Assembly this year.
In this week’s newsletter, I would like to highlight the Governor’s transportation plan, the “Top Jobs” higher education reform bill, and the status of some of my legislation.
Spotlight On: Transportation bill passes House
Arguably the biggest issue before the House this week was the Governor’s transportation plan. House Bill 2527, which contained major components of the Governor’s transportation plan, passed on a 65-33 vote on Friday.
The biggest components of the bill accelerate previously approved transportation bonds and deposit those funds into a transportation infrastructure bank. Let me be clear – this bill does not create new debt for the state. The debt that is being accelerated has already been incorporated into our budget. By accelerating the bonds, we will be able to take advantage of near record low interest rates and low construction costs. This acceleration will ultimately save the state in both construction and interest rate costs.
This means we'll be able to build projects in our area for much less and much faster than we otherwise would have. This plan has 131 projects totaling nearly $197 million dollars in the Staunton Planning District. These improvements would not be possible without the passage of this plan.
One very important part of this plan includes improvements to Exit 91 on I-64 in Fishersville. This will help reduce congestion and improve access to Augusta Health. I know many have been concerned about these improvements, and this plan could help make this a reality.
Some have said we're running up the credit card, but I don't think that's an accurate comparison. The acceleration is more akin to refinancing a home loan to improve the house. We've looked at the budget, we know we can afford it, and we'll be improving the quality of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The infrastructure bank and accelerated bonds will go a long way to make roads better in our area and throughout the Commonwealth.
“Top Jobs” higher education reform bill passes House unanimously
Another one of Governor McDonnell’s major reform initiatives was his higher education bill. The "Top Jobs of the 21st Century" higher education reform bill unanimously passed the House of Delegates on Wednesday. The twenty-six page bill puts the recommendations of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education, Reform, Innovation, and Investment into Virginia law. The Commission, which brought together stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, focused on advancing reforms that will increase access for Virginia students at our colleges and universities at an affordable price and ensure that our students are receiving a top-class education that prepares them for the jobs of the future.
We are now at the midpoint of Session, and I am pleased to inform you that I have a number of bills that have passed the House and will be passed over to the Senate following crossover next week.
HB 1408, a bill that establishes an In God We Trust License Plate in Virginia has been incorporated, along with several other license plate bills, into House Bill 1418. This bill passed the Transportation committee easily, and I’m confident that it will continue to gain support before the full House.
House Bill 1428 would require abortion clinics in Virginia to be licensed and regulated by the Board of Health. I believe this is a very important bill for the health and safety of women, and I am pleased to report that it passed in the House with a vote of 66-33.
House Bill 1435, as I discussed last week, is a bill that would require public school divisions that choose to offer American Sign Language to count this course as a foreign language credit. Additionally, it would require public colleges and universities to allow ASL to fulfill any foreign language admissions requirements they may have. I believe that this legislation will encourage students to take ASL, and open up numerous educational opportunities for both deaf and hearing students. This bill passed in the House 95-3.
House Bill 1473 is a bill that would create penalties for possession, sale, gift, distribution or possession with intent to sell, give or distribute synthetic marijuana. Several other bills of this nature were filed this year, and were all incorporated into House Bill 1434. This bill passed unanimously in committee and was engrossed by the House this week. I am confident it will pass early next week and will be sent over to the Senate.
House Bill 1679 just passed the House unanimously today. This bill would authorize the State Executive Council for Comprehensive Services for At-Risk Youth and Families to deny funding to a locality if services are not provided in compliance with applicable state or federal law. This is to prevent localities from misusing funds intended to assist at-risk children.
House Bill 1885 passed unanimously from the House earlier this Session. This bill simply removed programs from the code that have not been funded and updates other language to conform to current practice. It is my hope that this will help clarify sections of the code for local school devisions.
Finally, House Joint Resolution 608 advanced from the House and will commemorate Veterans Day, 2011 with a moment of silence at 11:00 am.
I’d like to thank those of you who have already taken my Legislative Survey. If you’ve not yet had a chance to take it, feel free to do so here. I’d like to share some of the results with you, and will continue to do so over the next couple of newsletters.
Perhaps one of the most interesting results was the answer to the question “Should existing state and local employees be required to pay a portion of their retirement costs?” There were 69.2 percent of you that answered yes.
Nearly 90 percent of you believe that abortion clinics operating in Virginia should be required to comply with the same health and safety standards as other health care facilities.
Finally, 87.2 percent of you support amending the Virginia Constitution to state that revenues designated for the Transportation Trust Fund can only be spent on transportation projects.
I will provide more results next week, and remember, if you haven’t already please take the survey!
We had several visitors that stopped by this week, and it was great to see all of the friendly faces from home. We started out the week seeing Gene and Linda Arey, co-pastors of the International Harvest Church in Waynesboro, and their family. Linda Arey had the opportunity to open the House of Delegates session with a prayer.
Thursday was VACO/VML Lobby Day, and I was happy to see the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, Staunton City Council, Rockingham County Board of Supervisors, and David Blanchard from the Highland County Board of Supervisors.
I also saw several constituents from Harrisonburg and Rockingham on United Methodist Lobby Day, and saw a few local insurance agents and financial planners on NAIFA day. I was also happy to see that Dean and Janet Welty stopped by my office.
I hope a few of you will make it to Richmond over the next few weeks.
As always, my staff and I are here in Richmond to serve you. We want to hear what you think about the legislation pending before the House, or if there's anything we can do to help you in dealing with a state government agency. My office can be reached at (804) 698-1020 or via the Internet at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov. If you are planning to visit Richmond during Session, I encourage you to visit me in Room 517.
Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate