Though in many ways it seems like we just began, we have just passed the midpoint of the 2015 Session. This week was the final week before Crossover and was packed with longer floor sessions and committee meetings. Crossover, which falls on February 11 this year, is the date that the House of Delegates must finish voting on all House Bills that were filed this year. Beginning Wednesday, February 12 the House will only consider Senate Bills that passed out of the Senate.
On Sunday afternoon, the House Appropriations committee will unveil their finalized budget proposal. House leaders announced this week that this proposal will include additional funding for mental health care coverage and targeted safety net services for needy families. This will provide targeted treatment services to the seriously mentally ill, nearly double funding for Virginia’s free clinics, and build on past investments in community health services.
Last year the House of Delegates overwhelmingly rejected Medicaid Expansion. This budget proposal will not include the expansion of Medicaid and will not fund Governor McAuliffe’s “Healthy Virginia” entitlement program. It will, however, strengthen the safety net for those Virginians who need it the most by increasing access to healthcare without creating a new government program.
I will include more information on the House budget proposal next week.
My own bills are still working their way through the process, and I’m glad to be able to share a few successes that I have had this week. Three bills advanced from the Education Committee and went on to pass on the floor of the House.
House Bill 1443 requires the Board of Education to adopt regulations on the use of seclusion and restraint in public elementary and secondary schools. I patroned this bill at the request of the Commission on Youth. There is currently no statute or regulation specifically governing the use of seclusion and restraint in public schools. This means that Virginia is one of only 10 states that relies solely on voluntary guidelines in public schools. We know from the testimony of dozens of parents at Commission on Youth hearings and House and Senate committee hearings that these voluntary guidelines are simply not working. Therefore we need this legislation to ensure that seclusion and restraint are used as a last resort and to ensure that parents are notified when their child is restrained. I’m pleased to report that HB 1443 passed out of the House unanimously.
House Bill 1679 requires that each local school board annually post on to their school division’s website information describing the services available to students who are identified as hearing impaired or visually impaired through the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired. Currently the Department of Education is required to distribute packets of information to local school boards. By amending this code section we are ensuring that this information is more readily available and easily accessible to everyone who has access to the internet. They also must ensure that packets of such information are available in an accessible format for review by parents who do not have Internet access. This bill passed in the House on a unanimous vote.
House Bill 2114 provides schools in the Commonwealth with exemptions from federal regulations that effectively prohibit students from holding fundraisers that sell snacks and food not compliant with the federal school lunch program. The federal “Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act,” legislation championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, gives states limited flexibility to allow fundraisers that sell foods not offered as part of a school breakfast or lunch program, but the Virginia Department of Education has not yet adopted regulations that allow it. This law will require the Board of Education to issue regulations that allow schools to hold 12 of these fundraisers each year. This will allow students to sell candy, cookies, and other foods that will help them raise money for sports teams, clubs, and other school sponsored activities. I’m pleased to report that this bill passed out of the House on a vote of 94-3.
Many of you have contacted me this year in support of House Bill 1306. This is legislation that I have patroned that directs the Board of Education to require each eleventh grade student to achieve a passing score on the civics portion of the U.S. Naturalization Test. This bill passed out of the Elementary and Secondary Education subcommittee, but unfortunately did not have enough support to advance out of the Full Education committee.
While we were not successful this year, my commitment to improve civics education in Virginia will not waver. In the interim I intend to continue this discussion with the Virginia Commission on Civics Education, members of the SOL Reform Commission, and the Board of Education. I hope that we can all work together to ensure that we are educating our students on the importance of citizen involvement and allowing them to develop a better understanding of how our government works.
I still have a few bills working their way through the committee process. I will be sure to provide an update on those bills next week.
We were once again glad to see so many friendly faces from home this week. We were able to meet with Melissa Rhoden and her daughter Lucy, as well as Earl and Violet Cash. We were visited by Derek Almarode and several deputies from the Augusta County Sheriff’s Department, as well as Frank Pyanoe. Dr. Friedman, president of Piedmont Virginia Community College visited with several students from PVCC. We were also joined by Augusta County Administrator Pat Coffield and Supervisors David Karaffa, Carolyn Bragg, Larry Wills, and Michael Shull.
If you plan to be in Richmond over the next few weeks, we would love for you to drop by.
Even with the tight committee schedule, we do our best to see as many constituents in as possible. Though appointments are not required, they are strongly encouraged.
To make an appointment, call Savanna at 804-698-1020.
Session Contact Information
While we are in Session our contact information will be a little different than it is while we are in the District.
Although we will still monitor voicemail on the phone in our district office, the quickest way to reach us by phone is 804-698-1020.
You can continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.
If you would prefer to send us written correspondence, you can do so at Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.
While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.
As always, I thank you for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.