Bell Sounds from the 20th - Final Week

We have reached the end of the 2015 General Assembly session.  We are scheduled to adjourn Sine Die tomorrow, February 28, and we expect to do so on time if not sooner.

Yesterday, both the House and Senate passed the budget conference report.  Completing the work on the budget ahead of schedule is almost unheard of, and is a stark contrast to the way things are done in Washington.  This conference report will amend the 2014-1016 biennial budget, and passed both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support.

I’ve already shared many of the highlights of the House budget proposal, many of which were included in the conference report.  While I realize some of this may be repetitive, I wanted to give you an update on the final budget.  

Like the House proposal, the budget bill we passed yesterday is conservative, responsible, and most importantly balanced and structurally sound.  It does not raise taxes on Virginia families, and actually spends $1 billion less from the general fund than last year’s originally-adopted budget.

The budget eliminates nearly $33 million in debt and $11.7 million in fees that were originally proposed by the Governor.  It also provides $43 million to shore up the Virginia Retirement System ahead of schedule and allows the Commonwealth to pay in cash for all college capital projects rather than borrowing outside of our means.

We also set aside $129.5 million for a rainy day fund deposit, and provided $27 million to the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund.  This is money that the Governor is able to use to help incentivize new businesses or business expansions to come to Virginia.  We have seen the results of this throughout our area, and I’m glad that this money will still be available to bring more jobs to Virginia. 

Virginia has over 100,000 state employees who work each day to serve our Commonwealth. We have provided a 2% across the board raise for all state employees in an effort to recognize their good work.  We also have provided a 2% pay raise to the brave men and women that make up Virginia’s state police force and rolled back tough cuts to state police overtime. Each and every day they work to keep us safe and could not be more deserving of this raise. 

In an effort to ensure that our teachers and students are able to continue to succeed in the classroom, we have made targeted investments in K-12 education.  This includes funding the state portion of a 1.5% teacher pay raise and increased funding for professional development.  It also deposits $193 million into the teacher retirement fund.

This deposit into the teacher retirement fund not only helps ensure the solvency of the retirement system but also saves our local governments over $30 million in required teacher retirement costs.  We also restored nearly $30 million in funding cuts to our localities and provided the state portion of a 2% pay raise for state-supported local employees.

In demonstrating our commitment to higher education, the General Assembly restored 94% of cuts to higher education that were adopted by the supplemental budget to address the shortfall.  We already know that we have some of the best colleges and universities in the country here in Virginia, and we are committed to ensuring that they are affordable and accessible to Virginia students.  We specifically targeted an additional $42 million in funding for higher education.  This includes $19.8 million to incentivize enrollment for in-state students, $10.1 for financial aid, and $5 million for faculty research.  We provided funding for a 2% faculty pay raise, and included a $1,000 per student incentive to encourage colleges and universities with low graduation rates to accept transfer students.  We hope that these investments will help our colleges and universities provide the best and most affordable education possible.

Once again, the budget passed does not include Medicaid expansion. It does, however, build on our work to strengthen the healthcare safety net for those who are most in need.  We invested $132.9 million for the healthcare safety net.  We specifically provided funding for targeted services, including a prescription drug benefit, to nearly 22,000 seriously mentally ill patients and increased funding for children’s psychiatry and crisis services.  We nearly doubled operational funding for free clinics, and funded behavioral health community services including three new PACT teams and six new drop-off centers.  We also provided a total of $9 million for housing and homelessness, with a portion of this specifically targeted for rapid rehousing of our homeless veterans.

I was pleased to be able to support this budget, and I commend our conferees for working in a bipartisan fashion to get this job done.

Legislative Survey Results

Thank you to everyone who took my 2015 Legislative Survey! The results of these surveys are very helpful to me in determing how to best represent my constituents during my time in Richmond.  For those of you who may be interested, I have published the results on our website. You can see the results here.

 Visitors

Despite more winter weather last weekend and throughout this week, we still had a few last visitors come by for a visit.  Courtland Robinson visited on behalf of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership and the Staunton Economic Development Department. Additionally we were visited by a number of 4-H students from Augusta County.

Thank you so much to each and every one of you who dropped by during the 2015 Session. We are always glad to see friendly faces from home. Though the committee schedule does not always allow me to meet in person with all of you, I am grateful that you took time out of your schedules to stop by and talk to me or my staff about the issues that matter most to you.

Contact Us

Next week we will be transitioning back to our District office.

In the district, you can contact us by phone at 540-448-3999, or you can continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

If you would prefer to send us written correspondence, you can do so at Post Office Box 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 - 2015 Session - Week 6

It’s week six of the General Assembly’s seven week legislative session, and I’m pleased to report that I’ve had 4 bills and 1 resolution pass in both Houses.  I still have 1 bill working its way through the committee process in the Senate.  

The House and Senate conference committees are now working to resolve the differences in their respective budgets. This year, Speaker Howell incorporated a rules change requiring the budget conference report to be posted for the public and the press to view at least 48 hours before the final vote.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch praised this new policy, saying that “the move will increase public access.” I agree that this will add more transparency to the process. It will also ensure that we as legislators have plenty of time to review the budget prior to casting our vote on it. 

Once the budget conferees finish their work, you will be able to find their budget online here.

Constitutional Amendments

This week, both Houses of the General Assembly passed two resolutions for constitutional amendments that I would like to share with you.

As I mentioned last week, I put forth House Joint Resolution 490. This resolution is the first resolution to make our Right to Work laws part of Virginia’s Constitution. Current law provides that a citizen cannot be denied employment for failing to join a union or other labor organization.  The Right to Work law is vital to the success of Virginia’s workforce, and is an important factor in Virginia’s continued high rankings as one of the best states for business. By adding this to the Virginia constitution, we can ensure that the Right to Work law is more permanent, and not subject to the whims of the legislature. 

This resolution passed in the House last week, and passed in the Senate today on a vote of 21-17. 

The House and Senate have also passed identical resolutions to make it easier to establish charter schools in Virginia.  The resolutions would amend the constitution to grant the Board of Education authority, subject to criteria and conditions prescribed by the General Assembly, to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth. 

Throughout my time in the house I have been a strong advocate for increasing educational opportunities and choices for our parents and students. Charter schools provide yet another option that they can pursue in order to find the best fit for their educational needs. I’m glad to see that both houses of the General Assembly have embraced this resolution. 

In order to be added to the constitution, each of these amendments will have to pass in the General Assembly again next year.  They will then go before the voters in the form of a referendum on the ballot for final approval.

 Virtual Education

Several times this Session I have mentioned my virtual education legislation in my weekly updates.  This week, this legislation reached another milestone. House Bill 324 was reported out of the Senate Finance committee with amendments, and passed in the full Senate on a vote of 22-16. 

If you recall, House Bill 324 was carried over from the 2014 Session and in December was referred from the Senate Education and Health committee to the Senate Finance Committee.

The Senate Finance committee met earlier this week, where they made a few substantive changes to the bill.  Together, we added clarifying language ensuring that the School is only for full-time virtual schooling, established an enrollment deadline and a local enrollment cap, developed a model to pay for the administration of the program by charging providers a proportionate administration fee, created a funding model based on the average the state spends on a per pupil basis, and removed any costs to localities.  The Senate additionally added a reenactment clause that requires us to pass this legislation again next year before it can go into effect.

While we would have preferred to pass the legislation without the reenactment, I still believe this is a huge win for virtual education.  I hope that over the interim we can get all of the stakeholders to the table and work to bring the best possible bill forward in the 2016 Session. 

As a result of the passage of House Bill 324, House Bill 1361, a nearly identical bill that passed in the House last week, will be laid on the table.  It is simply unnecessary at this time to move forward with these nearly identical bills.

 “Tebow Bill”

During my tenure in the House of Delegates, hundreds of you have written and called me in support of legislation that would allow homeschooled students to participate in high school sports in the Commonwealth.  

My understanding is, the first legislation to allow this was introduced twenty years ago, and Delegate Rob Bell, a Republican from Albemarle County, has brought forward this legislation for each of the last six years.  The bill passed in the House of Delegates in both the 2013 and 2014 General Assembly Sessions but was killed in the Senate Committee on Education and Health.   

For the first time this year, it not only passed out of the Senate Committee but actually passed in the Senate on a vote of 22-13.  At the request of the patron, the House has accepted the Senate amendments and it is now headed to the Governor’s desk.

Virginia is home to more than 32,000 home schooled students and with the passage of the “Tebow Bill,” local school boards will have the option of allowing their participation in school sports, clubs and group activities.

If you support the Tebow Bill, I would encourage you to reach out to Governor McAuliffe and let him know.  You can reach his office by phone at 804-786-2211.  You can also email him here.  

 Visitors

Due to the winter weather unfortunately many of our scheduled appointments for this week were canceled.  Despite the weather, we did have a couple of groups that braved the cold to meet with us in Richmond.

On Thursday I was able to meet with a small group of Eastern Mennonite University Social Work students. This included one of my former basketball players, Morgan Lotts.  Today, Crista Cabe and several ladies from the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) also joined us in Richmond.

We have just one week left, but that is still plenty of time for a visit! If you plan to be in Richmond this week, we would love for you to drop by.

To make an appointment, call Savanna at 804-698-1020.

Session Contact Information

While we are in Session our contact information will be a little different than it is while we are in the District.

Although we will still monitor voicemail on the phone in our district office, the quickest way to reach us by phone is 804-698-1020.

You can continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

If you would prefer to send us written correspondence, you can do so at Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.

While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.

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

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2015 Session - Week 5

We have made it through Crossover in the 2015 General Assembly Session.  

This week each House also had to advance their respective budget proposals.

The hardworking families of Virginia have to balance their budgets each year, set priorities, and make tough decisions.  They have the right to expect the same of their state government, and I believe the House budget proposal does just that.

The budget we passed on Thursday is conservative, responsible, and, as constitutionally required, balanced. General fund spending is down $1.1 billion from just last year.  We set aside $99.5 million for the rainy day fund, eliminated $42.5 million in debt and $10.2 million in fees proposed by the Governor.

At the same time, we are using the resources from a modest increase in revenue to make targeted investments in K-12, provide our state employees and state police pay raises, and strengthen our safety net.

Crossover Priorities

 Classroom Success K-12 Education Agenda

The House budget funds the state portion of a 1.5 percent teacher pay raise, as well as additional funding to support teacher, principal and school board members’ professional development.  It deposits an additional $40 million over the Governor’s proposal into the teacher retirement fund.  

Funding is only one part of K-12 education.  The House has also passed several bills that are intended to increase accountability and encourage innovation.  We passed several school choice initiatives, including measures that would create an education savings account for special needs students and establish a full time virtual school in Virginia.  We also passed a constitutional amendment that would grant the Board of Education the authority to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth.

I have heard from many of you over the last several months regarding the potential implementation of Common Core educational standards in Virginia.  You will be glad to know that we passed legislation to prevent any gubernatorial administration from bypassing the General Assembly to adopt Common Core.  We also passed several measures to reform the Standards of Learning Assessment so that they will better measure student learning and give every student the opportunity to succeed.  

Higher Ed

Virginia is home to some of the top colleges and universities in the nation.  Unfortunately, the cost of higher education has continued to rise.  As the college application process has become more competitive, Virginia students have also found themselves on waiting lists and have been unable to attend our best schools. We have worked to address both of those issues in the budget by targeting funds to open up new enrollment slots and providing additional funding to make it more affordable to transfer from Community College to our four year institutions.

We advanced several important measures designed to make college more affordable for our students. The House passed legislation that caps student athletic fees, that allows colleges to offer lower-cost “flat-fee degrees” for in-demand fields, and that offer significantly more affordable online bachelor’s degrees. I supported these bills to give Virginia students more affordable pathways to the opportunities that a good education provides.

Virtual Education

Earlier this session I told you about a bill that I patroned this year regarding Virtual Education in Virginia. House Bill 1361 establishes a new Virtual Virginia School and creates a Board of the Virginia Virtual School as a policy agency under the Secretary of Education (SOE). The School will offer both online classes and virtual school programs to children in Virginia.

I am pleased to report that this bill has passed the House of Delegates for the second year in a row.  It has now been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health. House Bill 324, a nearly identical bill that passed in the House last year, is also still alive in the Senate. It was carried over last year and is waiting to be heard in Senate Finance.

If passed, these bills would make full time virtual education available to students across the Commonwealth. Unfortunately not every student is able to thrive in the traditional classroom.  This would allow another option for those students to grow and learn in an environment that best meets their needs. Virginia is a leader in so many areas, and virtual education needs to be one of them.

If you agree with me, I encourage you to reach out to your State Senator and ask him to vote for House Bill 324 and House Bill 1361.

My Legislation

In addition to House Bill 1361, I had two other important measures pass in the House of Delegates this week.  

House Bill 1437 provides that a public body may, by ordinance, resolution, or policy statement, adopt a policy to permit public prayer prior to the meeting of the body.  The prayer can be delivered by a chaplain elected by the public officials of the body or by an invocation speaker selected on an objective and rotating basis from a wide pool of the religious leaders serving the local community.

The Court has consistently upheld the right of public bodies to begin their meetings with prayer, yet many localities still have concerns over the manner in which they are able to do this.  This bill will provide clarity and reassurance to those public bodies throughout the Commonwealth who choose to adopt a policy for public prayer.

Additionally, the House passed House Joint Resolution 490. This resolution is the first resolution to make our Right to Work laws part of Virginia’s Constitution. Current law provides that a citizen cannot be denied the employment or continuation of employment for failing to join a union or other labor organization.  This amendment would make Virginia’s Right to Work law more permanent by adding it to the constitution.

The Right to Work law is vital to the success of Virginia’s workforce, and is an important factor in Virginia’s continued high rankings as one of the best states for business.  By adding the existing Right to Work law to the Constitution of Virginia, we are ensuring that it will stay part of Virginia law for many years to come.

Visitors

This week we were visited by students from the Blue Ridge Virtual Governor’s School.  We were also visited by the Board of Directors of Augusta Health, and a number of representatives from the Greater Augusta Regional Association of Realtors.

We also saw Dr. John Downey and Kelly Jones from Blue Ridge Community College.  Dave Mason was here along with a group from Americans for Prosperity.  We also briefly saw Janita McNemar of the Staunton/Augusta Adult Learning Center. Greg Hitchen, Economic Development Director from Waynesboro, was also here with the board of the Virginia Museum of Natural History.  

If you plan to be in Richmond over the next two weeks, we would love for you to drop by.
Even with the tight committee schedule, we do our best to see as many constituents in as possible. Though appointments are not required, they are strongly encouraged.

To make an appointment, call Savanna at 804-698-1020.

Session Contact Information

While we are in Session our contact information will be a little different than it is while we are in the District.

Although we will still monitor voicemail on the phone in our district office, the quickest way to reach us by phone is 804-698-1020.

You can continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

If you would prefer to send us written correspondence, you can do so at Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.

While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.

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

 

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Week 3

As we wind down the third week of session, there is a piece of good news that I would like to highlight.  As a result of our conservative budgeting and Virginia’s improving economy, we just received news from our Appropriation Committee that Virginia’s revenue has increased beyond our initial expectations.

The House Budget proposal has not yet been finalized but my hope is that the additional revenue headed into FY2016 will allow us some flexibility to put forth the best budget possible.  I am confident that we will use this modest increase in revenue to eliminate fees, protect our AAA credit rating, protect tax incentives that work for families and businesses, and provide pay raises for our state employees, state police, and teachers.  Additionally, I am confident that we will be able to spare K-12 and higher education from painful cuts.    

Convention of the States

This week, the House Rules Committee passed two resolutions calling for an Article V convention of the states. These resolutions represent Virginia’s formal application to Congress for a convention of the states to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

HJ 497 would call a convention of the states to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress. HJ 499 would call a convention of the states to consider a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Like many Virginians, I believe that our nation is headed in the wrong direction and that we desperately need to change course.  Undoubtedly spending is out of control and the federal government has gone unchecked for too long. A constitutional convention, however, could be very dangerous and could cause many more problems than it solves.

We have received numerous emails and phone calls both in favor of and opposed to the Article V convention. I have met with many on both sides, and I have ultimately decided that I will oppose these resolutions.

The possibility of a runaway convention deeply concerns me.  While Delegates Lingamfelter and LeMunyon put protections into their legislation that would hopefully help prevent this, we cannot control what protections other states have.  I am not convinced that a convention could limit the topics considered and I fear that that we could end up with a much different-looking Constitution than the one we have today.  One can only imagine what would happen if New York or California hijacked these conventions.

I expect that the final vote on these measures will be early next week.

My Legislation

Most of my legislation is still working its way through the committee process. I had several education pieces reported out of subcommittee this week that will be heard in full committee next Monday.  I will report on those in the next edition of Bell Sounds.

House Bill 1696 would make public service corporations subject to the public records provision of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act with respect to any project or activity for which it may exercise the power of eminent domain and has already filed or pre-filed for a certificate or other permitting documents.  Unfortunately, the House Commerce and Labor Committee chose to table the bill and kill it.  Delegate Ben Cline was one of only two votes in favor of this measure.

I am disappointed that the Commerce and Labor committee did not see fit to advance this legislation. This was a common sense measure that would have increased the transparency of the eminent domain process. Our citizens have the right to know what is being done on or with their property. It seems only fair and right that when the authority of the government is given to a private entity that they be subject to the same oversight and accountability.

For a more detailed explanation of this bill check out my op-ed in the News Virginian.

For more information on my other 2015 Legislation please click here.

  

Take My 2015 Legislative Survey!

In order to best represent you in Richmond, I need to hear from you. If you’ve not already taken my 2015 Legislative Survey please do so by the end of next week. Your opinion is very important to me, so please take a few moments to let me know where you stand on these issues.

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

You can take the survey online here.

Visitors

This week despite winter weather in the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond we still had a number of visitors drop by from home.  On Monday we saw Crista Cabe and several students from Mary Baldwin who visited the General Assembly to thank them for their Tuition Assistance Grants.  General Djuric and several VWIL cadets joined them later to testify for a budget amendment to maintain funding for VWIL.  Glen Slack and several reps from the Arc of Augusta visited as well.

Peter Agelasto met with Savanna this week, as did Laura Kleiner, member of the Staunton City School Board.  Charlie Obaugh also met with Savanna, as did representatives from CATS.  William Weeks and Jon Hanna visited for Property and Causality Insurance Lobby Day as well.  We were visited by Marcia Elliot on three different days this week.   

We were visited by several representatives from the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, as well as members of the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce.

For Virginia Municipal League Day we were visited by Staunton City Manager Steve Owen and assistant City Manager Steve Rosenberg, as well as Mayor Carolyn Dull and council members Jim Harrington, Erik Curren, Terry Holmes, Walter Obenschain, and Andrea Oakes.  We missed them but I understand that Waynesboro City Manager Michael Hamp and representatives from the Waynesboro City Council were also in town for VML Day.

If you plan to be in Richmond over the next few weeks, we would love for you to drop by.

Even with the tight committee schedule, we do our best to see as many constituents in as possible. Though appointments are not required, they are strongly encouraged.

To make an appointment, call Savanna at 804-698-1020.

 

Session Contact Information

 

While we are in Session our contact information is a little different than it is while we are in the District.

 

Although we will still monitor voicemail on the phone in our district office, the quickest way to reach us by phone is 804-698-1020.

 

You can continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

If you would prefer to send us written correspondence, you can do so at Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.

 

While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.

 

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

 

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - 2015 Session - Week 2

This is our first full week and the 2015 General Assembly Session is in full swing.  Legislation is working its way through the committee process and we’re starting to see more legislation on the floor. As bills continue to progress our floor sessions and committee meetings will undoubtedly go longer as we work to get all legislation through the house before crossover.  

Though most bills are still working their way through the committee process, some key pieces of legislation have already made it to the floor for a final vote.

 

College Affordability

 

This year one of the top priorities of many in the House is to focus our efforts on making College more affordable.  It’s becoming more and more difficult to save enough to pay for college and Virginia students now borrow more than $1 billion every year to pay for school.

 

House Bills 1895 and 1896, patroned by House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, are two bills aimed at reducing the cost of higher education for our students.  

 

House Bill 1895 would grant several of Virginia’s smaller and mid-sized public colleges and universities additional administrative authority regarding information technology, procurement, and capital projects.  This would give these schools more administrative flexibility and hopefully help reduce costs.   

 

House Bill 1896 would limit the amount of athletic revenue that colleges and universities collect from mandatory student fees. The caps would apply differently to Virginia’s Division I, Division II and Division III schools. Institutions would have five years to incrementally reduce mandatory student fees as a percentage of overall athletic revenue.

 

I was pleased to support and co-patron each of these bills, both of which passed unanimously in the House of Delegates this afternoon.

 

We are always looking at unique and creative ways to make college more affordable for Virginians.  While this legislation doesn’t solve all problems I definitely believe it is a huge step in the right direction. I know that there are other bills out there that also look to address the rising costs of college, and I look forward to continuing these discussions.

 

My Legislation

 

Although we are still very early in the session I have already had the opportunity to present a couple of my own bills in committee.

 

On Wednesday I presented House Bill 1438 to a Counties, Cities, and Towns subcommittee.  House Bill 1438 would give our localities alternatives to local newspapers for publication of legal ads and other public notices and would provide a lot of flexibility to the locality on how they publicize these notices.

 

Each year our localities spend tens of thousands of dollars in advertising costs to publish these notices in local newspapers as required by state law.  

 

As more and more Virginians gain access to internet and as fewer Virginians receive a daily newspaper, I believe that we could save our local governments and their taxpayers thousands of dollars per year by allowing them some flexibility in how they publish these notices.

 

My legislation would require the locality to publicize the notice using any two of the following mediums, and the legislation requires that they choose the manner that is gauged to ensure the maximum number of residents are likely to be informed.

 

Their options are:

(i) in a newspaper of general circulation in the locality, including such newspaper's online publication, if any; (ii) on the locality's website; (iii) on any public access channel operated by the locality, to be aired during prime-time programming and at least two other times during the day; (iv) using any automated voice or text alert systems used by the locality; or (v) posting at the local public library established pursuant to § 42.1-33, if any.

 

In addition, the bill includes a provision that requires that any resident of the locality annually filing a written request for notification with the locality be provided notice by the locality in a manner mutually agreed upon by the locality and that resident.  This should ensure that those residents who are particularly interested in these notices can guarantee that they will always have convenient access to this information.

 

Although it got a great hearing, this bill was unfortunately defeated in subcommittee on a vote of 4-7. I was particularly disappointed that this bill did not advance because it would be so beneficial to our local governments.

 

I believe that by allowing the locality this flexibility they can provide these notices to the public in a way that best meets the needs of their citizens. 

 

In some localities, including some areas that I represent, widespread access to the internet is still limited.  In those areas, a newspaper may be the best option for publicizing these notices. 

Those localities still have the option of utilizing newspapers for those advertisements.  In localities where most do have internet access, however, it may make more sense for the locality to post it to their website, or to the website of a local newspaper.

 

Every locality has a unique constituency, and by requiring that these advertisements be publicized in the newspaper we are applying a one size fits all policy.  I believe by allowing the locality the discretion to choose from these options how best to advertise, we are enabling them to more effectively reach their varying constituencies in the most economically efficient way possible.  

 

I’m disappointed that the members of the subcommittee did not trust their localities to know how to best meet the needs of their citizens with respect to these notices.

 

To follow more of my legislation for the 2015 Session click here.

 

Take My 2015 Legislative Survey!

I need to hear from you, so that I know how I can best represent you in Richmond.  Each year I conduct a legislative survey featuring a few important public policy issues which 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 these issues.

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

You can take the survey online here.

Visitors

We were fortunate to see many friendly faces from our area in Richmond this week! Laura Logie, Kaylene Seigle, and Joshua Huffman stopped by on Monday.  We also got to spend some time with Dan and Hannah Moxley.  While I was in committee, my aide Savanna was able to meet with local representatives from the Virginia Young Democrats.  

 

On Wednesday I met with Bruce Thompson and Bo Wilson from Dr. Pepper of Staunton.  Savanna was able to meet with Gayl Brunk and representatives from the Valley Associates for Independent Living, as well as Debbie Perdue of the Highland Medical Center and Peggy Whitehead, Deborah Williams, and Okey Norcutt of the Blue Ridge Medical Center. She was also visited by Justin Beard and several members of the Staunton Professional Fire Department.

Lisa Wooten, our Waynesboro Voter Registrar stopped by, as well as local representatives from the school nutritionists association.

 

On Thursday we were visited by Blue Ridge Community College President John Downey and a group of BRCC students.  We were also visited by Virginia Association of Junior Volunteer Rescue Squads President Victoria Gaudin, a Waynesboro resident, and Vice President of the Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads, Kim Craig.     

 

If you plan to be in Richmond over the next few weeks, we would love for you to drop by.

Even with the tight committee schedule, we do our best to see as many constituents in as possible. Though appointments are not required, they are strongly encouraged.

 

To make an appointment, call Savanna at 804-698-1020.

 

Session Contact Information

 

While we are in Session our contact information will be a little different than it is while we are in the District.

 

Although we will still monitor voicemail on the phone in our district office, the quickest way to reach us by phone is 804-698-1020.

 

You can continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

 

If you would prefer to send us written correspondence, you can do so at Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.

 

While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.

 

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

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Week 1

On Wednesday, we officially kicked off the 2015 session of the General Assembly.

 This year is a shorter, 45-day legislative session.  Despite the shorter session, my House colleagues and I have put forth an ambitious agenda that will help the Commonwealth continue to grow and prosper.

Some of our top priorities for this year include:

  •  Legislation requiring General Assembly approval on new regulations and rules that have an adverse impact on economic growth, private sector job creation or employment,
  • Making college more affordable by capping student athletic fees, giving smaller and mid-sized colleges and universities additional flexibility to improve operating efficiencies, and incentivizing colleges to create affordable “flat-fee degree” programs,
  • Building two new needed veteran’s care centers, and,
  • Making additional reforms to Virginia’s ethics, transparency and disclosure laws.

Education

 House Republicans have put forth a strong K-12 “Classroom Success” Education agenda to help ensure that every Virginian has access to a quality education. We hope that by advancing this agenda we will allow teachers to spend more time on classroom instruction and less time on mandatory reporting.  Additionally we will provide teachers with additional support, and continue to reform student assessments. 

I am pleased to have two of my own bills as part of the House Education agenda.  House Bills 324 and 1361 would establish a statewide public virtual school that will give parents the option of enrolling their children in full time virtual classes.  There are many students in Virginia who thrive in the traditional classroom, but unfortunately there are some who do not.  This bill gives parents an additional option to ensure that their child gets the best public education possible.

 As some of you may remember, I patroned House Bill 324 in the 2014 General Assembly Session.  It was carried over to the 2015 Session by the Senate Committee on Education and Health.  They met in December and referred the bill to Finance.  I hope that each of these bills will continue to gain support in the upcoming session, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue. 

If you are interested in looking at the other bills I have put in for this session, you can see them all online here.

 Take My 2015 Legislative Survey!

I need to hear from you, so that I know how I can best represent you in Richmond.  Each year I conduct a legislative survey featuring a few important public policy issues which 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 these issues.

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

You can take the survey online here.

Committee Assignments

I am pleased to report that Speaker Bill Howell has appointed me to the Committee on General Laws.  This is a new committee for me, and I am looking forward to serving in this new capacity in the House.  I also look forward to the new challenges that come with it.  I would like to thank Speaker Howell for allowing me this new opportunity to represent the citizens of the 20th House District. 

I will now be serving on the Committee on General Laws, the Committee on Education, and the Committee on Health, Welfare, and Institutions.

Visitors

Even though this is a short week, we still had a few visitors stop by.  Greg Godsey of Union First Market Bank and a group from First Bank dropped by for Virginia Banker’s Day here at the Capitol. We also had visits from physical therapists Lisa Shoaf and Jessica Dobbs who came by with students from Lynchburg College and the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences, and Andrew Wiley and his wife who were here representing the Virginia Independent Auto Dealers Association. 

Visit Us in Richmond

While we are operating out of Richmond, we are always delighted to see friendly faces from home.  If you plan to be in Richmond over the next few weeks, we would love for you to drop by.

 Even with the tight committee schedule, we do our best to see as many constituents in as possible. Though appointments are not required, they are strongly encouraged.

To make an appointment, call Savanna at 804-698-1020.

 Session Contact Information

While we are in Session our contact information will be a little different than it is while we are in the District.

 Although we will still monitor voicemail on the phone in our district office, the quickest way to reach us by phone is 804-698-1020.

 You can continue to reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov

If you would prefer to send us written correspondence, you can do so at Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.

While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.

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

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

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Thank You Veterans!

Today Americans celebrate Veterans Day. It is important that we set aside this day each year to honor the sacrifices of all of our veterans and their families.

On Saturday morning I had the opportunity to attend the Staunton Veterans Day parade, followed by lunch at the local VFW.  This is always a terrific event, and allows our community to come together to honor our local heroes. I was so glad to see many of you out there on Saturday, and I would like to thank each and every one of you that were in attendance.

One of my friends and colleagues in the House of Delegates, Majority Leader Kirk Cox, said it best, “A veteran - whether active duty, retired, National Guard or Reserve - is someone who, at one point in his or her life, signed a blank check payable to ‘The People of the United States of America’ for any amount ‘up to and including my life.’”

Truer words have never been spoken.  Every member of the United States Armed Forces knows that in signing up to defend our country they may be called to make the ultimate sacrifice.  Freedom is not free.  It is only through the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform that we enjoy the many freedoms we hold dear. 

As we remember our veterans today, it is important that we also remember the sacrifices of their families.  It is fitting that on Veterans Day I can inform you that the Constitutional Amendment that will grant a real estate tax exemption on the primary residence of spouses of military personnel killed in action was approved by 87% of the voters in Virginia.  This is just one indication of the respect and gratitude that citizens of the Commonwealth have for veterans and their families.

As you go about your day today, please take time to say thank you to our service members and reflect on the sacrifices that they have made for our safety and freedom.

For those service members who might be reading this, I hope that you will take time today to remember the sacrifices of your fellow comrades.  Thank you for your service.   

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Don't Forget to Vote Tomorrow!

Election Day is upon us!  Ed Gillespie is still gaining on Mark Warner, and at least two recent polls show that this race is solidly in the single digits.  This election could get very close, so it is imperative that you show up at the polls tomorrow!

Polling places open at 6:00 am tomorrow (November 4), and will be open until 7:00 pm.  If you’re unsure of where you vote, you can check online at  https://www.vote.virginia.gov/search. You can also contact your local registrar’s office and they will be happy to assist you.

I hope you will join me in supporting Ed Gillespie for United States Senate and Congressman Bob Goodlatte and Congressman Robert Hurt, who are both running for re-election to the United States House of Representatives. 

For those of you who live in the South River Magisterial District of Augusta County, don’t forget that you will be voting not only for your Congressman and Senator, but you will also be voting for your Board of Supervisor member.  I would encourage you to support our Republican candidate, Carolyn Bragg.

Finally, don’t forget that you will also have the opportunity to vote on an important amendment to the Virginia Constitution.  I have included a detailed explanation of the amendment below.  When I vote on November 4, I will be voting “yes” on this proposed amendment.  I hope that you will review the information below and give the proposed amendment your full consideration. 

Please take a few minutes today to reach out to your friends, family members, and neighbors to ensure that they also intend to vote.

The Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro Republican Committees will be hosting a joint Victory Party tomorrow night at Rack ‘Em Smack ‘Em in Verona beginning at 7:00 pm.  Come out and watch the results come in while enjoying food and fellowship with likeminded friends.  There is a $5.00 charge to help cover the cost of the food.

In case you missed the most recent edition of Bell Sounds, I have included below detailed information about the new photo identification requirements as well as the proposed constitutional amendment.  I have also included the contact information for the local registrars in the 20th House District.   

New Voter ID Requirements

It is important to note that effective July 1, 2014, a photo ID is now required for voting in Virginia.  Voters must present one of the following acceptable forms of identification:

*Valid Virginia Driver’s License                      

*Other government-issued photo identification card

*DMV-issued photo identification card            

*Valid United States Passport                       

*Valid college or university student photo ID (issuer must be an institution of higher education located in Virginia)

*Valid Employee photo identification card       

If you do not have an acceptable form of identification please contact your local registration office.  

For more information on the new photo ID requirement in Virginia, please click here.

Constitutional Amendment on the Ballot 

As many of you may already be aware in addition to voting for our Senator and Congressman, Virginians will also have the opportunity to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment. 

The question on the ballot will be:

Shall Section 6-A of Article X (Taxation and Finance) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to allow the General Assembly to exempt from taxation the real property of the surviving spouse of any member of the armed forces of the United States who was killed in action, where the surviving spouse occupies the real property as his or her principal place of residence and has not remarried? 

The proposed amendment would authorize the General Assembly to exempt from taxation the real property of any surviving spouse of a member of the armed forces of the United States who was killed in action, as determined by the U.S. Department of Defense. The exemption from taxation would cease if the surviving spouse remarries. The exemption would apply regardless of whether the spouse was killed in action prior to the effective date of this amendment but would apply only to those real property taxes to be paid on or after the effective date of legislation passed by the General Assembly. The exemption from taxation would apply to the surviving spouse’s principal place of residence, even if he or she moves to a new principal place of residence. The exemption would not require the surviving spouse to have been residing in the Commonwealth at the time his or her spouse was killed in action.

Legislation exercising the authority granted to the General Assembly in the proposed amendment was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor McAuliffe on April 7, 2014, but will become effective only upon approval by the voters of the proposed amendment.

As you may remember, in 2010 Virginians voted to amend the constitution to allow a property tax exemption to any veteran who has been determined by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to have a one hundred percent service-connected permanent and total disability.  The amendment we will vote on this year would allow the General Assembly to extend that same property tax exemption to the surviving spouses of a veteran that was killed in action.    

For more information on the amendment, including the complete language of the amendment, click here

 Contact Your Local Registrar 

Augusta County     (540)245-5656

Highland County   (540)468-2013

Nelson County       (434)263-4068

Staunton City         (540)332-3840

Waynesboro City   (540)942-6620

 Contact

I always enjoy hearing from many of you regarding the issues that matter most to you. You can reach us by email at deldbell@house.virginia.gov, or by phone at 540-448-3999.
 
You can also reach us by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.
 
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate
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Bell Sounds from the 20th - October 23, 2014

We are less than 2 weeks away from the General Election.  While still a tough fight, Ed Gillespie is making headway and gaining in the polls just in time for Election Day.

President Obama came out just this week and said that although he may not be campaigning with Senate candidates, you can be sure that all of the Democrats in the Senate fully support his agenda.  They say that past performance is the best predictor of future results. Given that Mark Warner has voted with the President 97% of the time, we can be certain the President’s statement applies to Senator Warner.  

While Ed Gillespie is running on a strong positive message of support for policies that will create economic growth, he will need our help to get him across the finish long. It’s not too late to get involved with the campaign by going door to door, volunteering at our local headquarters or giving your time on Election Day.  

Additionally, I would like to provide you with some information that you may find useful as you prepare to head to the polls on November 4.

Absentee Voting

If you are going to be away on Election Day, it is not too late to vote absentee. You can vote in person absentee at your local registrar's office during normal business hours.  In addition, for the convenience of voters the registrar’s office will be open on Saturday, October 25 and Saturday, November 1 from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm for in person absentee voting.    

You can also still vote absentee by mail, though you must act quickly.  Tuesday, October 28, 2014 is the last day in which an absentee ballot can be mailed.  If you have specific questions on voting absentee, either by mail or in person, I would encourage you to contact your local registrar’s office.   I have put the contact information for the registrars in the five localities in the 20th House District at the bottom of this email.

For more information on absentee voting, please click here     

New Voter ID Requirements

It is important to note that effective July 1, 2014, a photo ID is now required for voting in Virginia.  Voters must present one of the following acceptable forms of identification:

*Valid Virginia Driver’s License                   

*Other government-issued photo identification card

*DMV-issued photo identification card                  

*Valid United States Passport                     

*Valid college or university student photo identification card (issuer must be an institution of higher education located in Virginia

*Valid employee photo identification card

If you do not have an acceptable form of identification please contact your local voter registration office for a free ID.

For more information on the new photo ID requirement in Virginia, please click here.

Constitutional Amendment on the Ballot

As many of you may already be aware in addition to voting for our Senator and Congressman, Virginians will also have the opportunity to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment. 

The question on the ballot will be:  

Shall Section 6-A of Article X (Taxation and Finance) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to allow the General Assembly to exempt from taxation the real property of the surviving spouse of any member of the armed forces of the United States who was killed in action, where the surviving spouse occupies the real property as his or her principal place of residence and has not remarried? 

The proposed amendment would authorize the General assembly to exempt from taxation the real property of any surviving spouse of a member of the armed forces of the United States who was killed in action, as determined by the U.S. Department of Defense.  The exemption from taxation would cease if the surviving spouse remarries.  The exemption would apply regardless of whether the spouse was killed in action prior to the effective date of this amendment but would apply only to those real property taxes to be paid on or after the effective date of legislation passed by the General Assembly.  The exemption from taxation would apply to the surviving spouse's principal place of residence, even if he or she moves to a new principal place of residence.  The exemption would not require the surviving spouse to have been residing in the Commonwealth at the time his or her spouse was killed in action.

Legislation exercising the authority granted to the General Assembly in the proposed amendment was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor McAuliffe on April 7, 2014, but will become effective only upon approval by the voters of the proposed amendment.

As you may remember, in 2010 Virginians voted to amend the constitution to allow a property tax exemption to any veteran who has been determined by the United States Department of Affairs to have one hundred percent service-connected permanent and total disability.  The amendment we will vote on this year would allow the General Assembly to extend that same property tax exemption to the surviving spouses of a veteran that was killed in action. 
 

When I vote on November 4, I will be voting “yes” on this proposed amendment.  I hope that you will review the information above and give the proposed amendment your full consideration.  For more information on the amendment, including the complete language of the amendment, click here. 

Contact Your Local Registrar

Augusta County     (540)245-5656

Highland County    (540)468-2013

Nelson County       (434)263-4068

Staunton City        (540)332-3840

Waynesboro City   (540)942-6620

Contact

I always enjoy hearing from many of you regarding the issues that matter most to you. You can reach us by email at deldbell@house.virginia.gov, or by phone at 540-448-3999.

You can also reach us by mail at Post Office Box 239, Staunton, Virginia 24402.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your delegate

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Bell Sounds from the 20th - Voter Registration Deadline is Quickly Approaching!

Believe it or not, the November election is just over one month away.  This is a crucial election, as many believe that the majority in the United States Senate is in play.  It is imperative that you get out on November 4th and let your voice be heard.  In order to do that, however, you must make sure that your voter registration is current. If you have never registered, or if you have moved since the last election, you will need to register by Tuesday, October 14 in order to vote in November.

You can register to vote at your local registrar’s office or online at the Virginia Department of Elections website at www.elections.virginia.gov.  You can also go there to verify your current registration status.

To complete the application process online, eligible citizens must provide their Virginia DMV customer identifier number, displayed on DMV issued identification cards or driver’s licenses.  Citizens who do not have a Virginia DMV customer identifier may still fill out the registration application online, but will be required to print and return the completed application to the appropriate local voter registration office. 

DMV customers may apply to register to vote at any of the 75 Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) customer service centers, five mobile offices, or 55 DMV Select locations throughout the state. For information on DMV locations, hours and schedules, visit www.dmvNOW.com.

I would encourage you to check your registration status before the October 14 deadline.  If you would like to check your registration status or find out where you vote, you can do so online at www.elections.virginia.gov, call 1-800-552-9745, or contact your local voter registrar.

Citizens are not registered to vote until a paper or online voter registration application is completed, signed, and approved by your local registrar. Once an application is approved, a voter registration card will be mailed to you from your local registrar's office.

To be eligible to register to vote in Virginia, you must:

  • be a resident of Virginia

  • be a U.S. citizen

  • be 18 years old (Any person who is 17 years old and will be 18 years old by November 4 may register)

  • not be registered and/or plan to vote in any other state

  • not currently be declared mentally incompetent by a court of law

  • have had your right to vote restored, if convicted of a felony

Virginia law now requires all voters to provide an acceptable form of photo identification when voting in person at their polling place. For a list of acceptable forms of photo identification, visit www.elections.virginia.gov 

If you are going to be away on Election Day and would like to vote absentee, please go to http://www.vagopabsentee.com/.  Citizens who qualify to vote absentee are also able to vote in person at their local registrar’s office. The last day to vote in person absentee is November 1.  The last day that an absentee ballot can be mailed to you is October 28.  If you have questions about the absentee ballot process, your eligibility to vote absentee, or hours for in person absentee voting, I encourage you to contact your local registrar. 

If you have any other questions about the voter registration process, or other general questions about the upcoming election, please do not hesitate to contact us.  If we can’t answer your question we are happy to help direct you to someone who can.  You can reach me by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov, or by phone at 540-448-3999.

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