Before I discuss this week in Richmond, I would like to give you one final reminder that I will be holding a Dutch Treat Town Hall Breakfast at 8:00 am tomorrow, Saturday, February 9 at Mrs. Rowe’s in Staunton (74 Rowe Road).
Due to space constraints, an RSVP is required. If you plan to attend and haven’t already let us know, please email Savanna at Savanna@BellforDelegate.comat your earliest convenience.
House Passes Fiscally Responsible, Structurally Sound Budget
On Thursday, the House of Delegates voted to pass the House budget with bi-partisan support. The House budget is a fiscally responsible, structurally balanced budget. It includes key investments in core government functions. This includes nearly $100 million into the Rainy Day Fund.
To help promote private sector job growth, the House has included funding to create a cyber accelerator in Northern Virginia, a first in the nation program to attract cyber security companies. We have also increased the cap on the angel investor tax credit to $500,000. Raising this cap will help startup companies attract new investors and the capital needed to help them grow and thrive.
For our K-12 public schools, we have provided funding for the state’s share of a 2% pay raise for teachers and support staff and for a grant program that will help localities improve school safety.
In the area of higher education, our budget includes the funding for additional slots at our universities and to increase Tuition Assistance Grants from $2,800 to $3,100 per student.
House Republicans are also committed to ensuring the health care safety net for our most vulnerable citizens. Our budget includes funding for an additional 200 Intellectual Disabilities and 50 Developmental Disabilities Medicaid waivers.
Now that each body has passed a budget, we will be able to move forward. A conference committee will work together to hammer out the differences in each budget. As the conference committee begins their work, House Republicans will remain committed to enacting a structurally balanced budget that includes targeted funding in the core areas of government.
Cracking Down on the Sale of Synthetic Drugs
One area that we’ve been working on over the past few years is cracking down on synthetic drugs such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts. This week House Bill 1941 was passed by the House. This bill criminalizes the sale of additional synthetic drugs, also known as “Spice”. Over the past few years, the House has passed several bills that criminalized the sale of these synthetic drugs; however, some have continued to try to find loopholes in the law.
A 2012 University of Michigan study found that Spice is one of the most popular illegal drugs among high school students. These are dangerous drugs that can cause hallucinations and even heart attacks. On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed a bill to further restrict the sale of Spice in Virginia. This legislation will likely pass the State Senate as well and be signed into law by Governor McDonnell.
Now that we are past crossover, I want to take just a few moments to update you on how my legislation has fared so far. I have had eight bills and one resolution pass in the House. Two of these bills have already passed in the Senate. The others are still working their way through the committee process.
House Bill 1335 would require localities to temporarily designate someone to fill the position of an appointed officer in the case of an absence or disability. Currently, such authority is optional. Also, in the case of an emergency, the Chief Judge of the Circuit, or his designee, may appoint a temporary member to the electoral board in the event of one member's temporary absence or disability.
This legislation comes from a situation we had in Augusta County, where an electoral board member was injured prior to Election Day. The electoral board was unsure of the procedure for temporarily filling that absence. This bill is designed to help the locality understand the proper procedure in this type of situation. House Bill 1335 passed out of the House of Delegates with a vote of 99-0, and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections.
House Bill 1344 permits 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 is designed to be sure that all students who are deaf and hard of hearing can get the best education possible in the least restrictive environment. House Bill 1344 passed out of the House of Delegates with a vote of 99-0. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Ed and Health, where it was reported out unanimously.
House Bill 1349 updates the definitions of "dental hygiene" and "dental hygienist". The bill also clarifies the licensure requirement for a dental hygienist of graduation from a dental hygiene program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation and offered by an accredited institution of higher education. This bill passed out of the House of Delegates with a vote of 99-0. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health.
House Bill 1406 requires each school board to annually provide parent educational information on eating disorders for public school students in grades five through 12. The bill also requires the Department of Education and the Department of Health to develop and implement policies for providing parent educational information on eating disorders. My hope is that this legislation will save lives by arming parents with the tools necessary to help identify eating disorders in their children. It passed in the House with a vote of 99-0. It was reported out of the Senate committee on Education and Health unanimously.
House Bill 1440 simply updates the town charter of Monterey, Virginia in Highland County. It passed in the House of Delegates unanimously, and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Local Government.
House Resolution 536 would establish Virginia’s Right to Work laws as part of the Virginia Constitution. In order for the constitution to be amended, this resolution will have to pass both bodies of the General Assembly twice, with an election year in between. It will then go before the voters of Virginia as a referendum. It passed in the House of Delegates with a vote of 69-30. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections.
House Bill 2151 I have mentioned a number of times in previous newsletters. This bill, named the “Educator Fairness Act” makes several changes to the processes by which teachers and certain administrators are evaluated. The bill requires teachers and some administrators to be evaluated every year, and for academic progress to be a significant component of the evaluation. The bill allows local school boards to increase from three years to five years the term of probationary service required before a teacher becomes eligible for a continuing contract.
The bill also changes the grievance procedure for teachers by giving local school boards the option to assign a grievance hearing to be heard by an impartial hearing officer designated by the local school board and by removing the option for a grievance to be heard in front of a fact-finding panel. It has passed in the House with a vote of 84-14. It has been sent to the Education and Health committee, where it has been reported out with a vote of 11-2.
House Bill 1646 provides that foster care services shall include independent living services provided to a former foster child who is over the age of 18 years but who has not yet reached the age of 21 years, and that a former foster child receiving such services shall be eligible for funding through the Comprehensive Services for At Risk Youth and Families program. House Bill 1683 adds community-based mental health services to the list of services for which expenditures must be reported by the Office of Comprehensive Services for At-Risk Youth and Families. These bills are meant to ensure that funds that are used as part of the Comprehensive Services acts are spent appropriately. Each of these bills have passed both bodies, and will now be sent to the Governor for a signature.
Once again we saw a number of folks from home this week. I was happy to see Augusta County Sheriff, Randy Fisher, and a number of deputies from the Sheriff’s department. We also were able to meet with a large group of realtors from the Augusta County Realtor’s Association, as well as a group of our local friends representing Virginia Regional Transit.
Blayne Weeks and John Lasher of Erie Insurance in Waynesboro came by to chat, as well as local nurse, Jenny Dixon. I was also able to see former Highland County Supervisor Robin Sullenberger and Dr. Nancy Armstrong from the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind. We were able to meet with Kathleen Heatwole and Mary Mannix, and several members of the Augusta Health Board of Directors.
Meg Shrader stopped by representing the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, and a number of local constituents came by for United Methodists Day at the Capitol. Mark Daugherty of the SVTPP visited, and we were also able to spend a bit of time with Staunton and Augusta County’s economic development representatives, Dennis Burnett and Amanda Glover, as well as Randy Smith and Connie Vaughan from McKee foods.
If you’re in Richmond over the next couple of weeks, we’d love for you to stop by. We are in Office 517 in the General Assembly Building. Though we do not require appointments, appointments are encouraged.
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 takes time to respond to everyone so we are often a few days behind. Thank you for your patience.
Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.