With only one week remaining, we are heading into the final stretch of the 2011 General Assembly Session. Delegates and Senators are working overtime to ensure the final passage of their bills through both chambers. Sometimes it is as easy as simply accepting changes made by the other chamber, or it can be as hard as having a conference committee meet to work out a compromise version of the bill that suits both chambers.
As of this writing, nearly 400 Senate and House Bills have passed both chambers and have been sent to Governor McDonnell’s desk for his approval. Governor McDonnell has already approved two bills and has reportedly made amendments to several other bills.
Overdue help for people with disabilities
Late last week, the Department of Justice issued a report regarding Virginia’s services for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) and developmental disabilities (DD) who are in institutions or at imminent risk of institutionalization. The report essentially requires Virginia to develop a plan to move those who are in institutions to community-based care in order to comply with federal laws. The report also calls for Virginia to strengthen its commitment to eliminate the waiting lists for community-based services.
You might not be aware, but we have 3,123 people who are on the “urgent” waiting list for community-based care– this is unacceptable. For years, many have fought to increase the number of ID and DD waiver slots to help keep more people in our communities and out of institutions. In this year’s House budget, we have added 375 ID waivers and 270 DD waivers while the State Senate’s budget only added 175 ID waivers and 100 DD waivers. Even though we have made some progress, we still are a long way away from the goal of eliminating the waiting list.
At the request of Governor McDonnell, Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) introduced House Bill 2533, a bill that sets up a fund to begin the process of increasing the availability of community-based services for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. While the fund will require an initial investment of around $30 million, additional funds will come from the savings captured when we begin to phase out of the state’s training centers. I am proud to report that we have broad bipartisan support for this bill in the House with fifty-eight delegates, myself included, co-patroning this much-needed legislation.
I believe that this report will be the push Virginia needs to start the process of transitioning from institutional care to community-based care.
We had a few visitors this week that I would like to thank for stopping by. Members of James Madison University’s Student Government Association came down to lobby on some matters important to them. I also got the chance to talk to some members of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party. Dr. John Downey also stopped by with a few Blue Ridge Community College students.
We have one more week left so it’s not too late to visit. If you are in the Richmond area please feel free to stop by.
Last week I asked you to email or call your local Senator and urge passage of House Bill 1435, my bill requiring public schools, colleges, and universities to recognize American Sign Language as a foreign language. I’m pleased to report that this bill passed on the floor of the Senate with a vote of 34 – 6. It will now be passed onto the Governor for his approval.
I also had House Bill 1885 pass the Senate unanimously. This bill cleans up the code by deleting references to educational programs that have not been funded, or do not exist. Additionally it updates language in other sections of the bill to conform to current practice. This change will clarify the Code by eliminating and updating these obsolete sections to provide clarity to public school divisions. It will also now go to the Governor’s desk for a signature.
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 the final week of Session, I encourage you to visit me in Room 517.
Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.