Bell Sounds from the 20th - June 9, 2017

I hope you’re enjoying the beginning of the Summer! It’s a great time to be in the Valley and I’m looking forward to seeing many of you out and about at the various lawn parties, festivals, baseball games, and other activities that Summer in the Valley has to offer!

I’d love to take a few minutes to share with you a quick update of what’s been going on in the Valley and across the Commonwealth!

Primary Day

Next Tuesday, June 13, is Primary Day for both Republicans and Democrats in the Commonwealth.  Republicans and Democrats both have contested races for both Governor and Lt. Governor.  The polls will be open from 6:00 am – 7:00 pm and you will vote at your normal polling location. 

Please note that there is one precinct change in the City of Staunton that I would like to make you aware of.  If you live in Ward 1 of Staunton and formerly voted at Bessie Weller Elementary School, you will now vote at Third Presbyterian Church (1313 Barterbrook Road). This change was made effective in February of 2017 to help facilitate a smoother election process.

 If you have questions about where you vote or what’s on your ballot, please click here.

Don’t forget to bring your photo ID with you when you vote. Click here for information on acceptable forms of ID!

Class of 2017

Congratulations to all graduates of the Class of 2017 in the 20th District and across the Commonwealth! I was delighted to attend several local graduations this year, including Robert E. Lee High School and the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind and I plan to attend the Highland High School graduation tomorrow.  Additionally, I attended GRASP Scholarship Award Ceremonies at Riverheads High School and Wilson Memorial High School.  Yesterday I even had the opportunity to attend an 8th grade graduation for students at the Virginia Virtual Academy. 
 
I was also privileged to attend the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber’s Academic Achievers Reception.  This is always a wonderful event where the community comes together to celebrate some of our community’s highest academic achievers.  Anne and I were honored to present a scholarship to Tyrone Curtis Brotherton, a VSDB student who was honored at this reception. 

Congratulations again to all our local graduates! You did it! I wish you all the best, whether you’re headed off to two or four-year college, the military, or the workforce.    

Honors and Awards

Over the last few weeks I have been honored to receive recognition for my work during the 2017 Session. 

On Friday, April 20, I was named Community Support Member of the Year by the Central Valley Counselor’s Association. They based their selection on a broad array of legislation that directly impacts the work of counselors. Specifically, they highlighted work on legislation impacting foster care, as well as my 2017 school discipline reform legislation.   I appreciate the work that this association does for our community and I am humbled to receive this recognition.

In early May, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce presented me with the 2017 Excellence in Education and Workforce Development Award.  This award recognizes legislators who worked to give Virginians better opportunities to develop skills that align with the workforce needs of businesses. I was chosen because of my work on expanding virtual education in Virginia.  Additionally, I earned an A+ rating on their 2017 Legislative Scorecard, and I hold a lifetime rating of an “A”.

Virginia has traditionally been recognized as a great state for business, but our rankings have begun to slip over the last couple of years. I believe that to promote economic growth in Virginia we must think outside the box and continue to promote education reform, as well as tax and other regulatory reforms.  I will continue to pursue this throughout my time in the House.

Just this week, I was honored to receive the Award for Conservative Achievement from the American Conservative Union. The American Conservative Union ratings intend to reflect how each legislator views the role of government in an individual’s life.  In determining these ratings, they looked for legislators who could be counted on to protect the constitutional right to life, liberty, and property.  I am grateful for their recognition and will remain committed to the founding principles of this nation.

Contact Us 

I love hearing from constituents on the issues that matter the most to you.  If you have a state issue that you’re concerned about, or need help in dealing with a state agency, please do not hesitate to contact me.

You can contact us by phone at 540-448-3999, or by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

Please send campaign inquiries to Dickie@BellforDelegate.com.

If you would prefer to send us written correspondence, you can do so at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

Please also note that I am happy to speak at special events and meetings for clubs, civic organizations, church groups, etc. as scheduling allows. Please feel free to contact Savanna at savanna@bellfordelegate.com to schedule.

As always, I thank you for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.

 

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Join me May 26th at the Diamondbacks Game

Join me at the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks Season Opener!

It’s baseball season!

I will be hosting a promo night at the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks Season Opener on Friday, May 26.  I will be throwing the first pitch at 7:15 pm and there will be a free promotional item given to the first 100 attendees!

Join Anne and I as we cheer on the Diamondbacks against the Elkton Blue Sox in this rematch of last year’s championship series!

I hope to see you there!

Print this email and bring it with you to the game for free admission!

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2017 Reconvened Session

The Virginia General Assembly met Wednesday for the “reconvened” or “veto” session to consider Governor McAuliffe’s amendments and vetoes.

Governor McAuliffe signed over 700 bills this year, but he vetoed 39 bills and amended 67 more. He also made 27 amendments to the budget passed by the General Assembly.

Many of us were disappointed by the nature of the Governor’s vetoes.  The vetoes were very partisan and highlighted division and opposition.  Many of the bills he vetoed were commonsense bills, including bills that allowed parents to make their own educational decisions for their families, protected small businesses from national union bosses, and helped ensure the integrity of our voter registration system.

Among the Governor’s vetoes was my House Bill 1400, which established the Virginia Virtual School.  Unfortunately, we were unable to get the two-thirds margin necessary to override the veto in the House. Virginia is a leader in so many areas, but we continue to fall further behind with regard to virtual learning. While I am disappointed in this setback, I look forward to continuing the discussions about virtual learning in the interim and, if I am re-elected, in the 2018 Session.

Also included in the Governor’s vetoes were eight bills that originally passed the House with veto-proof majorities thanks to the support of Democrats. Yesterday, however, many Democrats put partisan politics above public policy and voted to sustain the Governor’s vetoes, even on bills that they supported in the regular session.

Governor McAuliffe also made several major amendments to the General Assembly’s two-year budget.  Included in these amendments was language to allow the Governor to expand Medicaid. The House once again rejected this effort. Despite the recent failed action of the U.S. House of Representatives to replace the ACA, nothing has changed with regard to Medicaid expansion.  Efforts to repeal and replace the ACA have stalled, but they have not ended.  This creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty around healthcare policy. It would be irresponsible for Virginia to expand a government run program on a promise from Washington that may or may not be there in the future.

With the reconvened session complete, the General Assembly has completed its work for 2017. We will return to Richmond in January 2018 to begin another legislative session.  

Despite the Governor’s vetoes, I am proud of what the House was able to accomplish on behalf of Virginians this year. We closed a billion dollar budget deficit with a conservative and responsibly balanced state budget. We also passed legislation to strengthen Virginia’s still lagging economy, improve our public education system, help make college more affordable for Virginia families, and improve healthcare.

We will be operating out of the 20th District for the remainder of 2017.  You can reach us by phone at 540-448-3999. You can also continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

Campaign inquiries should be sent to Dickie@BellforDelegate.com.

If you prefer to send written correspondence it can be sent to Post Office Box 239, Staunton, VA 24402.

It is a privilege to represent you in the Virginia House of Delegates.  I hope you will stay connected with me over the coming months.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of assistance to you in any way.

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Help me kick off my 2017 Campaign!

It's official!  On March 14 at noon I became the official Republican nominee for the 20th House District.  It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of the 20th District over the last seven years.  We have accomplished a lot in this time, but there is still more work to be done.

Our Commonwealth has its share of challenges right now. Our once consistent rating as a top state for business has begun to slip and our economy still lags behind the national recovery. In order to stimulate our economy we need to eliminate over burdensome regulations on small businesses, reduce the tax burden on our families, and adopt education policy that ensures every child has the opportunity to succeed and meet the current needs of the 21st Century workforce.

As you may have heard, I have two candidates who have announced their intention to challenge me in November.  A three-way campaign will undoubtedly be expensive.  We have an important campaign finance deadline coming up on Friday, March 31, and I need your help to make a strong showing. As you know, I was prohibited from receiving campaign funds during the legislative session by state law.  I wholeheartedly support this law, but it can give our opponents an advantage when it comes to campaign fundraising.  I need your help to catch up.

A campaign donation in any amount would be appreciated! You can donate securely online at www.bellfordelegate.com/donate. You can also mail a contribution to Post Office Box 239, Staunton, VA 24402.  Please make checks payable to Bell for Delegate.

Thank you in advance for your continued support!

If you are unable to contribute financially at this time, there are still other ways that you can help me jumpstart my campaign.  Please click here to “like” my page on Facebook. If you’ve already done so, please encourage your friends to do the same. You can also follow me on twitter by clicking here. Social media is one of the easiest ways to spread our message!

The majority of you that are reading this likely already receive my emails.  However, if you’re reading this on social media, our webpage, or received it from a friend, please sign up for our email list at bellfordelegate.com or email Savanna at savanna@bellfordelegate.com.

Thank you again for your continued support! I look forward to seeing you out on the campaign trail!

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - March 3, 2017

While the 2017 Session is now behind us, we still have a busy year ahead of us. As you may already be aware, 2017 is an election year. Virginia will elect a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. All 100 members of the House of Delegates are also up for election.

I announced in December that I am seeking re-election to the House of Delegates. We have accomplished a lot over the last 7 years, but we have more work to do!

I have been honored and humbled by your support over the last 7 years, and I look forward to your continued support in the coming year.

During the General Assembly Session we are prevented by state law from raising campaign funds. I support this law, as I believe it keeps us focused on the people’s business while we are in Richmond. 

Now that the General Assembly has adjourned sine die, we are once again allowed to raise funds needed for the upcoming election.  I would appreciate your help getting a jump-start on my 2017 campaign! A donation in any amount would be most appreciated. You can donate securely online at www.bellfordelegate.com/donate or mail a contribution to P.O. Box 239, Staunton, VA 24402.

Legislative Survey

Thank you to all of you who took the time to complete my 2017 Legislative Survey. The results of these surveys are always helpful to me and allow me to better represent you in Richmond! If you’re interested, you can see the 2017 survey results here.

Contact Us

Now that Session is over, we are once again operating out of the 20th District. You can reach us by phone at 540-448-3999. You can also continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.

Campaign inquiries should be sent to Dickie@BellforDelegate.com.

If you prefer to send written correspondence it can be sent to Post Office Box 239, Staunton, VA 24402.

It is a privilege to represent you in the Virginia House of Delegates.  I hope you will stay connected with me over the coming months.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of assistance to you in any way.

 





Delegate Richard Bell
http://www.bellfordelegate.com/

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2017 Session - Week 6

It is hard to believe that next week is our last week of the 2017 legislative session!

Next week will also be the last week that members and staff work from what is the current General Assembly Building. The GAB has been used by the General Assembly for over forty years, but that time is coming to an end. Shortly after the reconvened session in April we will be re-located to the Pocahontas Building, which will serve as our temporary home for four legislative sessions. The Pocahontas Building is located right down the hill from the Capitol on Bank Street.

Things are starting to wind down. Committees are busy finishing up their work, we are reviewing Senate amendments to House Bills and putting legislation into conference to help hammer out differences between House and Senate amendments.

House and Senate Budget conferees are also hard at work. They have not reached an agreement yet, but are working hard to insure that we will be able to adjourn as scheduled on February 25.  Per House of Delegates rules, we are required to have 48 hours to review the final budget before we take a final vote.

I’d like to give you a brief update on some of the happenings in Richmond this week.

Veterans Issues

In the House of Delegates we have 21 veterans including myself.  These members represent every branch of service - Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard, and service periods date from the Vietnam War to today's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is at least one veteran on each of the 14 House Committees.

Virginia is home to approximately 800,000 veterans and 150,000 active-duty military members and their families.  Because of our large military presence, our goal is to be the most veteran and military friendly state in the nation.  In order to meet this goal, it is important that we continue the effort to provide our veterans with the care they deserve, access to affordable education, and good job opportunities.

To help meet the needs of Virginia’s Veterans, the Military and Veterans caucus, led by Delegate Rich Anderson (USA Col., retired), has pushed for several bi-partisan bills that are successfully progressing through the legislative process.

These include:

●     HB 2206, carried by Delegate Kirk Cox, is the number 1 priority of the Joint Leadership Council. The bill redefines the goals of the Virginia Veteran and Family Support Program, formerly Wounded Warrior, to help veterans and their families navigate the complex web of healthcare services available to them.

●     HB 1721, carried by Del. Rich Anderson, permits Community Colleges to charge reduce tuition to activity duty members enrolled in training that leads to a Military Occupational Specialty.

●     HJ 562, carried by Del. Jason Miyares, is a constitutional amendment that would provide a property tax exemption for the principal residence of the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran.

●     HB 1582, carried by Del. Jeff Campbell, allows a person between 18 and 21 years of age to apply for a concealed handgun permit if he is on activity military duty. 

My Legislation

My legislation is still working its way through the Senate.

I’ve had 6 bills advance through the Senate that have passed and been sent to the Governor. They are: HB 1440, HB 1483, HB 1484, HB 1512, HB 1604, and HB 1795. 

I have two more (HB 1534 and HB 1536) that are headed for conference, one (HB 1485) that has passed in the Senate and is coming back to the House with Senate amendments, and two (HB 1400 and HB 2394) still working their way through the Senate.

Visitors

As things begin to wind down, we are seeing fewer visitors from home. This week we were visited by: FFA Students from Nelson and Augusta Counties, Logan Adams, a local VMI student, and representatives from MillerCoors in Rockingham County.

We love seeing friendly faces from home during Session. If you haven’t yet made it here, you still have one more week! Appointments are not required, but they are encouraged.

Contact Information

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.

You can also stay updated by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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!

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2017 Session - Week 5

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.

The Budget

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.  

House of Delegates Successes

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.

My Legislation

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.

Visitors

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.

Contact Information

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.

You can also stay updated by following us onFacebook andTwitter.

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!

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2017 Session - Week 4

It’s hard to believe, but we have reached the halfway point of the 2017 Session. A couple of important days are coming up this week that I would like to highlight.  

On Sunday, February 5th, the committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals.  Additionally, Tuesday is Crossover, the deadline with which each chamber must complete work on bills that originated in their chamber and Thursday each House will vote on their version of the budget.

Opioids Package Passes House

Anyone who has watched the news over the last 6 months is undoubtedly aware of the heroin and opioid epidemic sweeping across Virginia. No city or county has been untouched. The Virginia Department of Health is still evaluating the numbers, but Virginia is on track to meet the Health Department’s projections of over 1,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, a record high in Virginia.

This week Delegate Todd Pillion (R-Washington) spoke on the house floor about the gravity of the situation and outlined the many House bills that have been put forward to address the epidemic. These include: creating a workgroup to identify resources to help substance-exposed infants, developing core competencies and standards for our health professionals in training, and directing the Board of Medicine and Dentistry to develop regulations on the prescribing of opioids including dosage limits, treatment plans and Prescription Monitoring Program utilization.

We have a long way to go, but I am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction when it comes to the opioid epidemic.

Criminal Justice Reform

Another issue we hear from constituents on fairly regularly is criminal justice reform. This year, the House of Delegates is taking positive steps toward reform of the criminal justice system by removing obstacles for offenders who are currently trying to get their lives back on track.

Under current law, if an offender cannot pay their court fees they can have their driver’s license suspended.  This punishment can unfortunately create a vicious cycle.  Without their licenses, people cannot get to work to make the money necessary to pay off their court fees, and therefore cannot get their license back.

HB 2386, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-Chesterfield), allows courts to establish a payment plan for offenders unable to pay court-ordered fines to avoid a driver’s licenses suspension. The legislation also allows offenders to earn credit for community service that can be applied to their costs. The legislation passed the House unanimously on February 2nd.

This legislation will help those offenders who are struggling to get back to work so they can provide for their families and assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society. 

My Legislation

Most of my legislation has worked its way through the committee process, though I still have several bills waiting to be heard and voted on by the full House of Delegates.

This week I would like to highlight one bill that is particularly important to me that passed in the House of Delegates this week.

House Bill 1512 provides that each public institution of higher education is required to count credit for successful completion of American Sign Language courses at institutions of higher education toward satisfaction of foreign language entrance, placement, and course credit requirements.

In 2011, I sponsored legislation that required institutions of higher education to accept American Sign Language as a foreign language for their entrance requirements.  House Bill 1512 expands this to allow it to fulfill the foreign language course credit requirements at their public college or university.

I’m pleased to announce that this legislation passed out of the House of Delegates on a vote of 98-0 and I look forward to continued discussions in the Senate.  I believe that passage of this legislation will encourage more students to take an interest in American Sign Language and will open up a host of educational opportunities for both hearing and deaf students.

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!

Visitors

This week we were visited by: a group of home school students from Staunton and Augusta, Occupational Therapy Students from Mary Baldwin University and James Madison University, representatives from the Boys and Girls Club of Waynesboro, Virginia Tech Students, local school counselors, Becca from the Community Health Worker’s Association, a group of nurses from the University of Virginia, Gayl Brunk and representatives from the Valley Association for Independent Living, Joyce Dull representing AFL-CIO, Christy Miller and Jonas Borntrager representing NAIFA, and General Terry Djuric and a group of VWIL Cadets.

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.

Contact Information

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.

You can also stay updated by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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!

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2017 Session - Week 3

We have just completed the third full week of the 2017 General Assembly Session.  Committee meetings and floor sessions are getting longer as the House works to complete its work by Crossover, which is February 7.

As legislation works its way through the process, nearly all bills undergo changes.  Unfortunately, the General Assembly website doesn’t always show the changes promptly, meaning what you see online may not always be the most current version of the bill.  Please keep this in mind as you evaluate legislation.

There are lots of things going on in Richmond now, so let me give you a quick update on some of this week’s highlights.

Budget Update

On Tuesday, Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones and Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairmen Tommy Norment and Emmett Hanger held a joint press conference to highlight their joint priorities regarding a compensation package for state employees.  The proposal includes a 3% pay raise for state employees, funds to raise the starting salary of Virginia State Police, and funds to address salary compression issues for sheriff’s deputies.

Unfortunately last year state employees lost their scheduled pay raise due to the failure to meet estimated revenue projections.  I’m pleased to see that leadership on the budget committees of both the House and Senate have made the pay raise a priority this year. 

While they have seemingly reached an agreement on state employee compensation, there is still a lot of work to be done on the budget. The House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees will unveil their respective proposals on February 5, 2017.

 K-12 Education

As a retired teacher, one of my top priorities throughout my time in the General Assembly has been education reform.  House Republicans understand that education is the key to a strong workforce and this year we have several education initiatives that address all levels of learning in Virginia.

In 2016 the House budget sent 31% of lottery funds, which totaled approximately $272 million, back to local school divisions.  This mechanism gives local schools more flexibility by not requiring matching funds or mandating how the funds must be spent. This year we look to build on this investment that gives local school leaders the flexibility to meet their own unique public education needs.

The House is committed to maintaining and improving Virginia’s already strong K-12 system.  We will work to give all children the opportunities in education they deserve by enacting reforms in public education, promoting choice and flexibility, and encouraging early childhood education.

One key piece of the House Republican education agenda is my HB 1400, which would create the Virginia Virtual School. This bill is identical to my HB 8 from 2016.  As you may remember, HB 8 was passed by both Houses but then vetoed by Governor McAuliffe.  HB 1400 establishes a full-time virtual program as another option for parents in Virginia who find that their children to not excel in the traditional brick and mortar school.  Virginia is a leader in so many areas, and I believe virtual education should be one of them.  HB 1400 is still working its way through the committee process, but I hope to be able to share a more detailed update on this bill very soon!   

Delegate Dave LaRock is carrying HB 1605 that creates Education Savings Accounts. ESAs will empower parents to choose what is right for their child’s education by allowing families with special needs students to receive direct access to the state funding for that student. That funding is deposited into an Education Savings Account, where it can be used for private school tuition, homeschool, online classes, course materials, or other educational purposes.

The House is also exploring better ways to encourage early childhood education. Our focus is on improving access to private providers. Jimmie Massie is helping on this front with HB 1963 that makes families with at-risk 4 year old’s unserved by Head Start eligible for tax credits to enroll in a pre-k program.

Higher Education

Another problem Virginia families face is affordability of higher education. While we continue to encourage our state schools to cap their tuition, we are also looking at other ways to reduce the debt load of Virginia’s students.

Dual enrollment credits provide a wonderful opportunity for students to begin working on their degree credits while still in high school. Delegate Tag Greason is carrying HB 1662 to establish a uniform policy for granting undergraduate course credit to entering freshman students.  This will allow students to adequately prepare their course schedules and maximize the benefits of any and all dual enrollment courses they take in high school.

We also need to take steps to modernize our 40 year old financial aid model. Majority Leader Kirk Cox is carrying HB 2427, which will do just that.  This legislation will motivate and reward students who successfully finish their degree on time by increasing aid money as they progress through their academic career. Delegate Cox is also carrying HB 2311, which creates the Online Virginia Network.  This is aimed at providing a new pathway for students to complete a college degree by establishing an online consortium of classes from various state universities. It is a one-stop shop for scheduling, registering, and taking online classes. Higher education institutions in Virginia have focused primarily on enhancing enrollment, retention, and graduation rates in pursuit of preparing a highly skilled workforce for the Virginia economy. The same emphasis needs to be directed toward identifying those individuals with some college credit, but who have not attained a degree.

Legislative Survey

This is your last chance to take my 2017 Legislative Survey! Each year I conduct a legislative survey featuring a few important public policy issues that may be considered by the General Assembly.  Your opinion is very important to me, so please take a few moments to let me know where you stand on the issues. 

You can take the survey online here.

Feel free to share this survey with your friends and family who live in the 20th District!

While we make every attempt to include as many topics as possible on the survey, we simply can’t cover everything.  If you have an opinion on an issue not covered by the survey, please let us hear from you.

Visitors

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: Ed and Georgia Long, Students from Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School, representatives from Shenandoah Valley Electric Co-op, Peter Agelasto, Dr. Halvor G. Aasllestad, Reese Bull, Eric Curran, Marcia Elliot, Commissioners of the Revenue Jean Shrewsbury and Maggie Ragon, Chandler Gillespie and Ken Landford representing Drive Smart, Greg Holsinger from the Augusta County Farm Bureau, Scott Heinz and Toby Morris from VA Eagle, Bo Wilson and Bruce Thomas from Dr. Pepper of Staunton, George Mason Student Keelin Wolfe, Dan Moxley and his family, John Downey and a group of students from Blue Ridge Community College, Certified Nurse Midwife Alexann Westlake, Representatives from the Wayne Theatre and American Shakespeare Center, Representatives from the Shelter for Help and Emergency and New Direction, Representatives from the Office on Youth of the Central Shenandoah Valley, local representatives of Convention of States, and Erin Collins and a group of Mary Baldwin University Political Science students.  

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.

 Contact Information

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.

You can also stay updated by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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!

 

 

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2017 Session - Week 2

Today, our nation pauses to witness one of the fundamental hallmarks of our Republic, the peaceful transfer of power.  Today is a day for us to reflect on our past and look forward to our future. Despite differences that we may have with the outgoing or incoming President, I thank President Obama for his service and I pray for wisdom for President Trump as we start this new chapter. It is uniquely American that the transfer of power in the world’s greatest and most powerful country continues to take place peacefully and without bloodshed. We are America!

As the eyes of the nation are on Washington D.C. today, we are hard at work in Richmond.  We are wrapping up the first full week of the 2017 Session.  It is a short 45 day session with over 1700 bills and things are off to a quick start!

Jobs Agenda

Unfortunately, Virginia’s economy is still lagging.  Since 2015, we have lost more than 4,000 jobs, weekly wages are down, and part-time employees are up by more than 20,000.

The Virginia House Republicans are putting forward an aggressive agenda that will help get our economy moving. Our jobs agenda has one main goal: make it easier for people to work.

The current regulatory system is broken. Onerous permitting requirements have made it extremely difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to do business.  While we certainly don’t think that all regulations should be abolished, they should be transparent, fair, easy to understand and impose minimal financial burdens on businesses and families.

Several members have submitted bills to strengthen public input requirements on newly proposed regulations, create accountability for those agencies that think they should be exempt from public input, and in general scale back the tremendous amount of regulatory burden working professionals currently experience.

We will also have comprehensive legislation to reform the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), the state agency tasked with marketing Virginia to potential new businesses.

Last December, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission published a disappointing report on this agency. In their briefing, they highlighted that VEDP has operated without using basic practices necessary for effective management and marketing. Further, VEDP’s unstructured and inconsistent approach to administering state incentive grant programs left the state vulnerable to fraud and poor use of limited resources.

I look forward to the ongoing discussion of this jobs agenda and hope that with this effort we will get Virginia's economy moving in the right direction.

My Legislation

Most of my legislation is still working its way through the committee process. I will keep you updated as bills advance.  In the meantime, if you want to take a look, you can do so online here

Legislative Survey

Each year I conduct a legislative survey featuring a few important public policy issues that may be considered by the General Assembly.  Your opinion is very important to me, so please take a few moments to let me know where you stand on the issues. 

You can take the survey online here.

Feel free to share this survey with your friends and family who live in the 20th District!

While we make every attempt to include as many topics as possible on the survey, we simply can’t cover everything.  If you have an opinion on an issue not covered by the survey, please let us hear from you.

Contact Information

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.

Any political or campaign inquiries should still be sent to Dickie@BellforDelegate.com.  

I look forward to hearing from you on the issues that matter most to you.

Visitors

We had a number of visitors from the 20th District in Richmond this week. We saw a group of school nutritionists from the Valley.  We were also visited by a group representing the Virginia Young Democrats, as well as a large group representing Americans for Prosperity.  We saw representatives from the Valley Children’s Advocacy Center as well as local economic development leaders including Carrie Chenery and Greg Hitchens.  We were visited by a group of professional firefighters from Staunton, as well as Peggy Whitehead and a group of professionals representing Blue Ridge Medical Center. Tom Sheets visited, as well as a group representing the board at Augusta Health. Amanda Campbell came to advocate for physical education in Virginia, and Pat Jarrett dropped by representing the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.  

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 we make every attempt to see all of our constituents, please understand that our committee schedules can be very hectic and our schedule can change very quickly.  We appreciate your patience and understanding.

Weekly Updates

As in previous Sessions, I will provide weekly updates throughout our time in Richmond. If you know someone who would like to receive these updates, they can sign up online at bellfordelegate.com or email Savanna at Savanna@BellforDelegate.com.

You can also stay updated by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

I look forward to seeing you in Richmond!

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

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