Bell Sounds from the 20th : Virginia General Assembly Passes a Budget

This Wednesday, the General Assembly finally passed a two-year budget, which includes Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.  In doing so, we completely abandoned a long tradition of fiscal responsibility in governance and conservative principles in budgeting.

I stood with the vast majority of Republican legislators and voted against this budget every step of the way.  The Democratic Party is claiming this as a victory, but let me be clear; they could not have done this without the support of the four Republican Senators and nineteen Republican House members who joined them in support of expansion. 

To say that this process has been frustrating for those of us who have stood  against expansion would be an understatement.  That frustration does not even compare to the frustration that we will undoubtedly see in Virginians over the coming months and years as their premiums and healthcare costs continue to rise.

Proponents of this healthcare plan, especially those Republicans who supported expansion, have continually touted this as a conservative approach to expansion, complete with a work requirement.  Please understand, however, that there is no light version of expansion. We either accept the federal funds or we do not. The work requirement is more like a work suggestion, and these conservative reforms hinge on waivers from the federal government. 

Republican Senators attempted to offer an amendment yesterday that would ensure these modest reforms were approved before expansion, but those amendments were rejected. Self-proclaimed conservatives have touted these reforms as a way to promote accountability and self-sufficiency, but the reality is we are likely to end up with Medicaid expansion with no accountability.

The consequences of this short-sighted action extend well beyond healthcare.  The spending in this budget is unsustainable.  It contains $600 million in new taxes in the form of a “bed tax” on hospitals.  This tax will be passed on directly to Virginians in the form of hospital bills and increased insurance premiums. The revenue from this tax will not, however, sustain the spending levels that we passed on Wednesday. 

If enrollment exceeds our predictions as it has in many other states or if the federal government is unable to fulfill its promise on the federal money, the General Assembly will have to face some incredibly tough decisions to fill the holes this would leave in the budget.   This would likely mean a decision to either raise taxes or face dramatic cuts to core government services like education, public safety, and transportation.

I am not deaf to the healthcare needs of our community and our commonwealth. I simply do not believe that this is the correct approach.  Medicaid expansion does nothing to address the underlying healthcare problem: the cost.  It will not reduce insurance premiums, it will not lower the cost of medical treatment, and it will not reduce out of pocket expenses.  Instead it expands to able-bodied adults an already out of control government program that was originally intended as a safety net for the truly needy.

We need to bring down health care costs, increase competition between health insurers and providers, and reduce insurance premiums and deductibles so that more Virginians can afford health insurance. This year, we advanced several legislative initiatives that attempted to address healthcare costs. This included: measures to permit the offering of lower cost catastrophic care coverage, a bill to allow organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to offer group plans, and an initiative to incentivize consumers to seek out lower cost care and increase transparency from providers. Several of these bi-partisan bills made it to the Governor’s desk, but all met their fate with a partisan veto.

If there is a silver lining in this week’s action it is that we have passed a budget before the July 1 deadline. This will give our school divisions, localities, and state agencies the much-needed certainty they need to create their own budgets and will ensure that we avoid a government shut down in July.

This week’s actions are a good reminder to us all that elections have consequences. While I am disappointed in the actions of the House and Senate, I’m proud of the clear majority of both the House and Senate Republican caucuses that stood firm against this expansion of government.  I hope that we will be strengthened by this setback and be ready to resume the fight for fiscal responsibility and responsible government when we return to Richmond in January.

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Join Delegate Bell at the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks Game on May 26

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 Saturday, May 26.  The game starts at 7:30 pm.  I will be throwing the first pitch and we will be doing a drawing for a free concession item during each inning.

Join Anne and I as we cheer on the Diamondbacks against the Elkton Blue Sox. 

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 - 2018 Reconvened Session

It’s been just over six weeks since the General Assembly adjourned the 2018 Session Sine Die without passing a biennial budget.  As you may recall, the Senate and House disagreed on the issue of Medicaid Expansion and were unable to work out the differences prior to the scheduled adjournment of the regular session.   We returned to Richmond on April 11 to organize with the Senate to start the special session and continue our work on a new two-year state budget.  We met again on April 17 for the Special Session and on April 18 the General Assembly held its Reconvened Session to address Governor Ralph Northam's vetoes and recommendations. I’d like to provide you with an update on both the Reconvened Session and the Special Session. 

Reconvened Session

This year, Governor Northam vetoed 10 bills and recommended amendments to 60 bills passed by the 2018 Session of the General Assembly. This included 8 vetoes and 32 amendments for House bills. Last week we met to address those vetoes and recommendations. Most of the Governor’s amendments were largely technical in nature and as such the House accepted most of them, with the notable exceptions being amendments to redistricting legislation, the coal tax credit, and Metro tax increases. 

The Governor’s vetoes were also all sustained and the House failed to override his veto of Delegate Ben Cline's sanctuary cities bill.  This veto is especially disappointing to many of us considering Governor Northam’s promises during the campaign last fall that he would sign legislation prohibiting sanctuary cities in Virginia.

For a complete list of the Governor’s vetoes and amendments along with bill summaries, visit http://dls.virginia.gov/pubs/vetoes/Vetoes2018.pdf.

Special Session

On March 13th, Governor Northam called for a Special Session. The House convened to officially gavel in the Special Session on April 11th.  On April 13th, the House Appropriations Committee met and recommended amendments to House Bills 5001 and 5002 and on April 17th the House convened, adopted budget bills, and adjourned to the call of the Speaker.

The House Bills adopted last week are very similar to the budget bills passed by the House during the regular session.  The House budget does still contain Medicaid expansion, and as such, I continue to oppose this budget.  The budget will now head to the Senate, where they will likely make changes and send the bills to conference to hammer out the differences.

The Senate is set to reconvene on May 14 to refer the budgets to the Finance committee and hopefully we will be able to get the bills into conference soon after. The time frame is still up in the air, but the House of Delegates stands ready to reconvene as soon as it is possible to get the bills in conference so that the conferees can get to work negotiating the differences.

I hope that we can act quickly so that we can bring much needed certainty to state agencies, local governments, and school divisions who depend on the state budget to set their own budgets. I will certainly keep you updated as things continue to progress.

2018 General Assembly Session Update on My Legislation

I’m pleased that Governor Northam signed each of my bills that passed in the General Assembly Session this year.  They are: HB 2, HB 26, HB 84, HB 206, HB 1366, HB 1506, and HB 1534.  I’m thankful to the constituents who reached out to me with some of this legislation.  

Speaker Appointments and Reappointments

Last week Speaker Kirk Cox announced that he has appointed me to serve on the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules.

The Joint Commission on Administrative Rules (JCAR) is to review existing agency rules or regulations and agency rules or regulations during the final adoption process.  They advise the Governor and the General Assembly to suspend, modify, repeal, or adopt rules or regulations.  They also assess the impact of rules and regulation on the economy, environment, government operations, and members of the public. 

In addition to this new appointment, I was also reappointed to several boards and commissions. These include: the Autism Advisory Council, State Executive Council for Children’s Services Act, Advisory Council on PANS and PANDAS, Center for Rural Virginia Board of Trustees, and the Commission on Youth.

I am grateful to Speaker Cox for his confidence in my ability to serve on this diverse group of boards and commissions. I look forward to serving on the Joint Commission of Administrative Rules, and to continuing to serve on the additional boards and commissions to which I have been reappointed.  It is an honor to serve in these bodies and to represent my constituents in this way.

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.  

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

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

 

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2018 Session - Final Week

Tomorrow is the scheduled adjournment of the 2018 General Assembly Session. This Session has been very different in many ways, and has not come without its share of challenges, some of which have not yet been worked out.

The House and Senate are expected to adjourn sine die as scheduled tomorrow, but will unfortunately do so without an agreement on the two-year state budget. Unfortunately, the House and Senate budget bills were too far apart this year to reach an agreement in the short time frame allowed by the regular session.

The House passed a resolution today calling for a special session of the General Assembly. When we return in the special session we will start a fresh discussion on the budget. We will convene at the call of the Speaker and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules.

There is currently not a time frame on when we might be called back to Richmond, though we hope it will only be a few weeks. While we technically have until the end of June to adopt a budget, the longer we wait the more difficult it will be for local school boards, local governments, and state agencies to plan for their own budgets for this fiscal year. I’m disappointed that no agreement has been reached, and that our lack of action on the budget will cause this unnecessary uncertainty.

I hope that our budget conferees will act quickly to reach an agreement that will benefit all Virginians. As I have discussed in previous updates, the biggest difference is that the House version of the budget contains provisions to expand Medicaid in Virginia and the Senate version does not.

I, along with the majority of my Republican colleagues, remain adamantly opposed to the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia and I continue to encourage my House colleagues to reconsider putting expansion in our budget. Medicaid expansion has led to significant deficits in other states, and with all the uncertainty in Washington I believe we simply cannot trust the federal government to maintain their promise of “free” money. Virginia can barely afford our current Medicaid program at its current growth rate, and I do not believe we will be able to sustain the costs if we expand the program.

I remain hopeful that our final budget bill will make key investments in core functions of government and provide for those who need it the most without further expanding this broken program.

Contact Information

Thank you to all of you who reached out or visited our office during the Session.

Next week we will once again begin operating out of the district. To reach us there you can call 540-448-3999 and you can continue to email us at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.

If you prefer to send us written correspondence, you can send mail to Post Office Box 239, Staunton, VA 24402.

You can also stay updated by following me on 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 - 2018 Session - Week 8

The 2018 General Assembly session is entering its final week! The last week of the session will be a busy one.  There are still many bills that have not been acted on by both bodies and the House and Senate conferees are still working to reach an agreement on the budget bill.   

Budget Update

This week the House and Senate both announced members who will serve as “budget conferees.”  There are 6 conferees from the House of Delegates and 7 from the Senate. These individuals have the difficult task of hammering out the significant differences between the two budgets.  

This is a more daunting task than normal, as the budgets are over $600 million apart.  The largest and most obvious difference between the two proposals is that the House version of the budget includes Medicaid expansion and the Senate version does not.

Last week I shared with you my objections with the House version of the budget, and I stand behind those concerns.  I have had concerns about Medicaid expansion for many years because I simply cannot trust the Federal Government when it promises “free” money.  These concerns seemed to be validated just yesterday when Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget released a statement on Virginia’s expansion stating that the Trump administration is committed to addressing the out of control costs of expansion and that the President’s budget repeals expansion in favor of programs that allow increased state flexibility in meeting the healthcare needs of low income individuals.

I remain hopeful that our conferees will reach an agreement that invests in the core functions of government without expanding this federal government program.  

The final budget must be available 48 hours prior to debate and the final vote. This would mean we would need to see the budget on Thursday at the latest for the General Assembly to adjourn on time.

Some of your medical prescriptions may now cost less!

Earlier this year the House passed HB 1171, a bill that will end the practice of Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) requiring pharmacists to charge higher copays than the cash price of the prescription drug. It has now passed in the Senate and is headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

If you aren’t familiar with this issue, a recent news investigation exposed customers being forced to pay copays that exceeded the cash price of the drug. The investigation found PBM’s are requiring pharmacists to sign “gag clauses,” which prevent the pharmacists from informing customers that the cash price for the drug may be cheaper than the insurance copay. The investigation found one instance where a customer was charged $50 for their copay when the cash price of the drug was just over $11. For more information on the full investigation, click here.

It’s not surprising that the practice of overcharging patients is disproportionately affecting our senior citizens. I am proud to support this piece of legislation, which I hope will save Virginians money on medical prescriptions that are vital to their health.  

My Legislation

All of my legislation has now worked its way through the General Assembly.  The two pieces that I am most proud of are House Bills 2 and 84, which I told you about earlier this Session.

House Bill 2 allows the spouse of any member of the armed forces who has a valid out-of-state teaching license to enjoy licensure reciprocity in Virginia. This means that an individual who is currently a licensed teacher in another state and married to a member of the military could seamlessly transition into a Virginia classroom if their family is transferred to Virginia.  This legislation reaffirms our commitment to our armed forces and veterans while also addressing the teacher shortage in Virginia.  

House Bill 84 requires any school division that does not offer any elective courses in American Sign Language to allow students to take ASL courses through a community college or online provider and count successful completion toward the fulfillment of their foreign language requirements for graduation.  This builds upon previous legislation I’ve carried to require colleges to accept ASL as a foreign language for entrance requirements and course credit requirements.  I believe that increased access to ASL courses will open a host of opportunities for both hearing and deaf students.  

Visitors

This week we were visited by George McNair and students from Grace Christian School in Staunton Virginia.  We also were able to see members of the Valley Cigar Club who came to Richmond for the day.  Also in Richmond for the Virginia Horse Council’s Youth Recognition Day were Juliana and Kendall Benner.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t connect with Juliana and Kendall due to their busy schedule for the day, but the Horse Council Youth were recognized in the House gallery.

We have just one week left! If you’re going to be in Richmond next week, it’s not too late 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 2018 Session. To reach us by phone call 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 me on 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 - 2018 Session - Week 7

It’s hard to believe but there are only two weeks left before the scheduled adjournment of the 2018 Session, known as “Sine Die”. Our last day is March 10th and there is still a lot of work to be done. This week we debated and voted on the House version of the budget.  A budget bill has passed in both chambers and will now be headed to conference where they will work to hammer out the significant differences in the two budgets.

The House Budget passed yesterday with a final vote of 68-32.  This budget bill includes a proposal to expand Medicaid in the Commonwealth.  While the proposal is represented as a healthcare reform compromise between the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and the Democratic Governor, make no mistake; this is still Medicaid expansion.

The costs of Virginia’s current Medicaid program are already out of control.  In the current biennium alone Virginia’s Medicaid costs grew by nearly $600 million and spending has grown by 7225% over the last 30 years.  This rate of growth is unsustainable.

The numbers for states that have already expanded are troubling. In expansion states, costs were on average 60% higher per-capita than projected. In Kentucky alone enrollment was more than double budgeted expectations and in Oregon the Democrat controlled legislature considered backing out of expansion to balance a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.

The federal government is $20 trillion in debt and that number is growing. I have serious concerns that they will not be able to maintain their 90% commitment. Despite claims to the contrary by supporters of this plan, the future of the program or the federal funding commitment is by no means a guarantee.  In fact, the future of the ACA could not be more uncertain.  Though they have been so far unable to repeal the ACA, the Trump Administration and Congress are actively discussing roll backs to Medicaid Expansion.  This in turn would mean that states that have already expanded would need to adjust their budgets to cover expansion.  This would be to the detriment of education, public safety, and other core functions of government.

I still believe that the expansion of Medicaid will not address the access issues for low-income Virginians, nor will it address the rising premiums for middle class families or the skyrocketing costs that businesses are facing to sponsor employee plans. The General Assembly has put forth several proposals that seek to address these underlying issues by filing legislation that allows insurance policies that match benefits with individual consumer needs, and that increases competition and transparency in the healthcare marketplace.

Voting against the House Budget was not a decision that I made lightly. There are many items in the budget that I would be glad to support.  I cannot in good conscience, however, support a budget that I believe will ultimately put funding for all our other core services at risk for years to come. I remain hopeful that the final version of the budget that comes out of the conference committee will be a proposal that responsibly invests in our core functions of government with targeted support for individuals most in need, without the fiscally irresponsible expansion of Medicaid.

Visitors

As Session begins to wind down we are seeing fewer visitors drop by. We were happy to see a group of dieticians and nutritionists from the district in the Capitol earlier this week.  I was also able to once again visit with David Blanchard and his daughter Mary Winters, as well as a group from Americare Plus.

It’s not too late to visit but we have just two weeks left! 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 2018 Session. To reach us by phone call 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 me on 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 - 2018 Session - Week 6

We are officially in the second half of the 2018 General Assembly session! Each house has now completed work on all legislation introduced in its own house and is now working on legislation introduced in the opposite house.  The only exception to this is the budget bill.  The House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees will report out their respective budgets on Sunday afternoon and floor debate will take place on the budget bills next Thursday.

The House has had a successful and productive first half of the Session, and I’d like to share with you some of our accomplishments.

House Bill 1558

Before I touch on our accomplishments of this Session, I want to address a piece of legislation that many of you are interested in. Over the last few weeks hundreds of you have contacted me about your opposition to House Bill 1558, known by many of you as simply “The Dominion Bill.”

Proponents of this bill claim that it would unwind the rate freeze passed in 2015 ahead of schedule and that customers would see monthly savings on their electricity bill.  The reality is, Virginians have been overcharged on their electric bills since 2015 and will continue to be overcharged if this legislation passes and is signed by Governor Northam.  

The 2015 “rate freeze” legislation was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor McAuliffe in large part because of fears of the potential negative impacts on constituents’ electric rates because of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.  I opposed the 2015 “rate freeze” legislation at the time because I felt we were freezing rates at an artificially high level.  This turned out to be accurate.  

This year, electric companies are willing to end the freeze without having to refund all the money that Virginians were overcharged. House Bill 1558 is backed by the utilities and will return only a small portion of the over earnings and makes it highly unlikely that the SCC will be able to return the excess earnings either.  Instead, it allows utilities to use over-charges to fund infrastructure improvements. It also eliminates the SCC’s authority to evaluate more affordable options for consumers.  The SCC themselves have indicated that this legislation could potentially result in billions of dollars of additional costs borne by customers.

For this reason, I voted NO on House Bill 1558, just as I did the 2015 legislation.  While I do believe we should end the rate freeze, I would like for us to do this with legislation that ends the rate freeze, refunds Virginians that were overcharged, and restores the constitutional authority of the SCC.  

Combating the Opioid Crisis

In recent years the opioid crisis has been a top priority of House and Senate members on both sides of the aisle.  This crisis is taking hold of our communities and nearly everyone is touched by this epidemic in some way.

We lose an average of over three Virginians a day from this devastating crisis and no one is immune from this addiction. This year the House took a proactive approach to helping curb this deadly disease by passing seven pieces of legislation to help end the crisis.

These bills include legislation to help with caring for substance exposed infants, legislation to create teams to review overdose deaths to help develop enhanced prevention, intervention and treatment strategies, and legislation to increase penalties for those who give someone a harmful drug that leads to their death.

For more information on the House’s efforts to combat this crisis, visit https://virginiahouse.gop/combating-the-opioid-crisis/.

Addressing the Teacher Shortage

Virginia is privileged to have a top-notch education system, in large part due to our excellent teachers. Unfortunately, however, we are seeing more and more of our teachers leaving the classroom for administrative positions.  This, combined with the retirement of teachers from the baby-boomer generation, has led to a significant teacher shortage as fewer young people pursue the career. Thus current teacher supply does not meet the demand.

One of the reasons many students or otherwise capable professionals don’t bother to pursue the career at all is because of our significant barriers and obstacles to licensure.. This year, the House passed several initiatives aimed at addressing these barriers. Three different bills specifically address streamlining the teacher licensure process. The bills will allow great teachers to enter a classroom sooner and will help keep these teachers in the classroom.  

My House Bill 2 not only works to solve the teacher shortage but also supports our military members by removing burdens that spouses of military members were facing when they move to Virginia and want to continue teaching. HB 1125 provides broader reciprocity for licensed teachers that come to Virginia from another state and do not have any deficiencies on their record. Last but not least, HB 215 will allow an individual that has teaching experience in higher education to become licensed for one year to teach at the high school level, provided they meet certain other requirements. 

The House is committed to providing individuals an easier path to achieve their career goals, and these bills are just a few steps in that direction.

Additional Accomplishments

The topics I have already mentioned are just a few of the many accomplishments we have made in the House over the last few weeks.  To read about the many things we’ve worked on this year, click here.

Visitors

This was a busy week so we saw fewer visitors this week. We were happy to see representatives from Blue Ridge Medical Center in Nelson County, as well as Augusta County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald and Supervisor Gerald Garber.  I was also glad to see Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith and Lt. Gary Taylor.

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 2018 Session. To reach us by phone call 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 me on 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 - 2018 Session - Week 5

Next Tuesday marks the official half way mark of the 2018 Session.  After Tuesday the House will only be able to consider Senate Bills, and the Senate will only consider House Bills, except for the biennial budget. Most committees have completed their dockets and some are working to finish them up today.   After Crossover we will begin work on the legislation passed by the Senate.

 Bipartisan Compromise Reached on Grand Larceny Threshold and Legislation to Protect Crime Victims

One topic many of you have reached out to me about this year is raising the larceny threshold.  Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam and Speaker Kirk Cox announced a bipartisan compromise to raise the felony larceny threshold to $500 and adopt into law legislation to ensure that crime victims are paid the restitution duly owed to them.

The General Assembly will pass and the Governor will support and sign a package of legislation introduced by Delegate Les Adams and Senator David Suetterlein that will raise the felony larceny threshold to $500, as well as legislation introduced by Delegate Rob Bell and Senator Mark Obenshain to ensure that restitution ordered by the courts is collected from defendants, and legislation to ensure that restitution collected will be delivered to the victims.

The restitution legislation may seem like a no brainer, but it is significant. A Crime Commission study recently found that there was over $230 million in unpaid and overdue restitution owed to victims across the Commonwealth. This comprises all money defendants owe to victims for things like medical expenses. Even more recently WRIC8 reporter Kerri O’Brien found that there is approximately $8 million in restitution that was collected from defendants but never delivered to the crime victims.

The House has previously been reluctant to pass an increase in the grand larceny threshold, but the commitment to reforming the process by which victims receive restitution provided members with the confidence needed to increase the threshold, which at $200 currently is the lowest in the nation.

This compromise package incorporates two critical policy goals and is a huge step forward in commonsense criminal justice reform. We are maintaining our tough position on criminal theft, while modernizing the law to fit current times.

Last year, the House and Senate passed a bill introduced by Delegate Rob Bell to address the unpaid restitution but Governor McAuliffe vetoed it. The commitment from Governor Northam to sign this piece of legislation is a significant step for crime victims. I’m grateful that Governor Northam and Speaker Cox could work together to find common ground and produce a commonsense and bipartisan solution to a real problem.

Regulatory Reform Legislation

One of my biggest priorities has always been ensuring there is less government intrusion on the everyday life of Virginia citizens. On Monday, Governor Northam and Speaker Cox announced a bipartisan agreement to establish a regulatory reform pilot program with a goal to reduce or streamline regulatory requirements by 25% over the next three years.

This bipartisan legislation will help unleash Virginia’s economy by removing bureaucratic red tape that hinders the creation of good paying jobs.

We’ve seen positive effects of regulatory reform on our national economy during the last year, and Virginia has the potential to reap the same positive benefits through this pilot program. Not only will this program remove burdensome regulations, but it will help grow our economy and increase government efficiency. 

I am very excited about this program and I look forward to it removing many of the barriers that holds back development and job creation.

Practical Solutions to Everyday Issues

 The House of Delegates has now passed the three major pieces of the “Practical Solutions to Everyday Issues” agenda. House Bills 1, 2, and 3 were top priorities of the House and the passage of these bills strengthens our commitment to advancing practical solutions to everyday issues.

Last week I shared with you that my House Bill 2, which will allow a spouse of any member of the armed forces who has a valid out-of-state teaching license to enjoy licensure reciprocity in Virginia, passed in the House of Delegates.  This legislation was a top priority of the House of Delegates and will show our commitment to not only fixing the teacher shortage but also to remaining one of the most military friendly states in the United States.

House Bill 1 will protect sensitive data, such as the email address and telephone number, of students enrolled in Virginia public colleges and universities from being released to the public without their consent.  This solves a problem that was brought to light last fall when media outlets across the Commonwealth reported that some political campaigns were targeting students by accessing their personal information without their knowledge.  With the passage of HB 1, students must provide consent before their personal information can be shared with any outside individual or organization.

House Bill 3 ensures that students who attempt to cut down on the cost of college by completing dual enrollment courses in High School will receive the credit they are due. This legislation directs the State Council of Higher Education to establish quality standards for dual enrollment courses, including standards for instructors, materials, and content. Courses that meet or exceed these standards will be certified as “Universal Transfer Courses” and satisfy course credit at any public institution of higher education.   This will save students time and money by ensuring that dual enrollment programs work as intended and allow students to earn credits while in high school.

All three of these bills have passed in the House and are now headed to the Senate for final consideration.

My Legislation

This week the House unanimously passed my House Bill 84, which requires any school division that does not offer any elective courses in American Sign Language to allow students to take ASL courses through a community college or online provider and count successful completion toward the fulfillment of their foreign language requirements for graduation.

This expands upon previous legislation that I have sponsored regarding American Sign Language. In 2011, I sponsored legislation that required institutions of higher education to accept American Sign Language as a foreign language for their entrance requirements. In 2017, House Bill 1512 expanded this to allow ASL to fulfill the foreign language course credit requirements at their public college or university.

I am thrilled that House Bill 84 has passed out of the House unanimously. I have spent much of my time in the House of Delegates working to expand access to American Sign Language classes for high school and college students. I believe that expanded access to ASL classes will encourage more students to take an interest in American Sign Language and will open a host of educational opportunities for both hearing and deaf students. I look forward to continuing the discussion on this legislation when it crosses over to the Senate.

Visitors

This week we had several visitors drop by from home. Dr. Frank Friedman was here with a group of students from Piedmont Valley Community College. Highland County Supervisor David Blanchard visited with his daughter Mary Winters, who served as a House Page last year.  We were visited by representatives from Virginia 2021, who came to Richmond to advocate for redistricting reform. We met with Tom Woodworth from Parker Bows in Staunton. Last but not least, the Augusta County Board of Supervisors visited with County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald. 

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 2018 Session. To reach us by phone call 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 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 - 2018 Session - Week 4

It’s hard to believe, but we are already into February! Crossover is just a little bit over a week away. As a reminder, crossover is the deadline for all bills to be considered in their House of origin. After crossover the House will only consider bills passed by the Senate and the Senate will only consider bills passed by the House. This means our floor sessions are getting longer as legislation is still working its way through the process.

Reforming State Board of Elections

On Thursday, we passed legislation reforming the State Board of Elections to guarantee the nonpartisan administration of elections in the Commonwealth.

The State Board of Elections currently is made up of three members; two from the party of the Governor and one from the party who has the next highest number of votes. This means currently the board is 2 Democrats and 1 Republican.

The bill increases from three to six the number of members on the Board, requiring three to be from the party that won the most recent gubernatorial election and three from the party receiving the next highest number of votes. This essentially means the Board would most likely always be made up of 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats.

Why is this important? During this last election cycle the State Board of Elections delayed Delegate Bob Thomas’s election certification on a party line vote. It took a federal judge intervening to force the board to declare Thomas the rightful winner. If the board was evenly split those decisions would not be partisan.

All voters should be confident in the electoral process and be able to trust elections are conducted in the most fair and transparent way possible.  This is one more step in improving that process.

 Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

Given recent news reports across the country regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, this year the Speaker of the House and House Republicans have made sexual harassment prevention a top priority.  Delegate Roxann Robinson introduced legislation that will require all General Assembly members, their legislative staff, and other legislative employees to take sexual harassment prevention training every two years.  The extensive course will be administered by the Clerk of the House and the Clerk of the Senate.  

Delegate Robinson’s bill ensures that the General Assembly takes proactive steps to educate General Assembly members and staff on appropriate standards of conduct and reporting procedures to ensure the safety of everyone while on Capitol Square.

My Legislation

This week the House unanimously passed my House Bill 2. This bill will allow a spouse of any member of the armed forces who has a valid out-of-state teaching license to enjoy licensure reciprocity in Virginia. This means that an individual who is currently a licensed teacher in another state and married to a member of the military could seamlessly transition into a Virginia classroom if their family is transferred to Virginia.

Addressing the significant teacher shortage in Virginia is a top priority of the Virginia House of Delegates this year. We have one of the largest military populations in the country and this legislation will remove obstacles for licensed and qualified teachers to get a job in Virginia as soon as possible.  This not only helps strengthens our commitment to our active duty military and veteran populations, but also will make it easier for our local school divisions to find and hire qualified teachers for our public schools.

House Bill 2 was referred to the House Committee on Education, where it reported out unanimously on January 24.  It passed in the full House with a vote of 99-0.  It will now be sent to the Senate for further consideration.

In addition to House Bill 2, I had two other bills pass in the House this week that related to pawnbrokers.  They were HB 206 and HB 26.

Visitors

This week we had many visitors drop by to visit.  Julia Billingsley stopped in for “Hokie Day” at the Capitol, and we were also visited by a group from the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative.  Jill McLaughlin visited representing “Decoding Dyslexia” and Dr. Bob Gunther visited the Capitol along with many other pediatricians from across the Commonwealth.  We were visited by Gayl Brunk and a group representing the Valley Association of Independent Living and General Teresa Djuric and cadets from the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin University.  Janice Kitts visited with the Virginia Nurses Association Lobby Day, and we were visited by Marilyn Blagg from Highland County.  Last but not least we were visited by Joyce Dull, as well as a group from Nelson County representing SEIU.

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 2018 Session. To reach us by phone call 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 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 - 2018 Session - Week 3

We’ve just concluded the third week of the 2018 General Assembly Session.  We’re in full swing and legislation is working its way through the process.  Several important bills have already passed in the House, including legislation focusing on several key issues we are working hard to address such as adoption reform.

Adoption Reform

The House of Delegates this week passed three important adoption bills that are aimed at helping more children find loving adoptive parents. House Bills 241, 227, and 291 all passed through the House with bipartisan support.

One of these bills, HB 241, shortens from three to two years the period that a child must live with a close family member before adoption proceedings can begin.  Another bill, House Bill 291, simplifies access to adoption files regarding court orders for adoptees and/or adopters so they can more easily obtain personal vital record.

The third bill, House bill 227, requires courts to consider the results of a national criminal history background check conducted on the prospective adoptive parent. The was proposed in response to a case in Virginia Beach where a young female died as the result of an overdose. The investigation revealed that her adoptive parent had a long felony criminal history.

Our hope is that this adoption reform legislation will help streamline the adoption process and make it easier to navigate for families in Virginia.  This in turn will allow children to be placed in safe and loving homes as quickly as possible.

House and Senate Leaders Announce Formation of Joint Subcommittee to Review Problems from 2017 Elections

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment announced the formation of a Joint Subcommittee on Election Review.

This subcommittee was formed to consider issues related to the conduct of elections that were brought to light following the November 2017 elections.  They will review issues and procedures with absentee ballots, voter assignment, split-precincts, proper procedures for recounts and the protocol for elections that end in a tie.  This subcommittee will broadly review these questions and determine what steps, if any, we should take.

One of the most sacred rights offered to the people of Virginia is the right to vote in a fair and free election.  It is important that the public is confident in our electoral system.  I thank Speaker Cox and Senate Majority Leader Norment for their leadership on this issue, and I will keep you updated with the findings of the joint subcommittee.

Proposed Tax Increases

Some of our colleagues across the aisle have unfortunately introduced three bills this year that would constitute major tax increases.  House Bill 1051 would implement a tax on video streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu.  House Bill 310 would reinstate the estate tax, perhaps more commonly known as the “death tax”.  Finally, House Bill 1356 would expand the 2% regional transient occupancy tax (hotel tax) in Northern Virginia statewide and use a portion of the money to fund the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and other transportation projects.

Over the past 15 years the House Republicans have defeated more than $30 million in new taxes and our commitment to do so continues.  I know that the residents of the 20th District do not need higher taxes on hotels, Netflix, and the assets of their family members.  What they need is more of their own hard-earned money in their own pockets.  I am committed to standing strong against these and other tax increases and I know that my Republican colleagues are as well.  

Visitors

This week we had many visitors drop in for a visit. Liesel Crosier stopped by with Mary Baldwin students Dianna Tran, Jay Cropper, and Jade Harris and Bridgewater College student Luke Morgan stopped by to thank the Virginia General Assembly for their support of tuition assistance grants for private college students in Virginia.  We were visited by Lori Epik representing the Virginia Governmental Employees Association, and Rachel Smucker representing Secure Futures in Staunton.  We saw Nikki Narduzzi, as well as Louise Whipple, Shelby Owen, and Donna Goble.  We were also visited by Eric Bond and John Ocheltree of Augusta County Public Schools and Jeff Cassell from Waynesboro City Public Schools.  Bruce Thompson from Dr. Pepper of Staunton dropped by, as well as Jay McIntire of the Shenandoah Valley Funeral Directors Association and Chrissy Johnston from Vector Industries.  We also visited with Sheri Laubach, Ginger Staron, Page Hearn, Annie Jacobs, and Gina Carroll who came to the General Assembly for Humane Society Lobby Day.  We also met with Craig and Jean Shrewsbury, Scott Crumpler, and Edward Page. Last but not least we were visited by Blue Ridge Community College President, Dr. John Downey and a group of 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 Me

We are operating out of our Richmond Office for the duration of the 2018 Session.  To reach us by phone, please call the Richmond office directly at 804-698-1020.  We will not be monitoring our District Office phone line.   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 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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