Session Update Week 6

We are now one week away from the scheduled end of our 45-day legislative session. This week was a productive week for the House of Delegates. We are finishing committee work, reviewing amendments from the Senate, and continuing to work on the budget.

We have also started the process of packing up our General Assembly Building (GAB) office in preparation for a move to the Pocahontas building later this year. The Pocahontas building is located on Bank Street in front of the Capitol. It will be the legislatures home for the next four years while a new building is being constructed on the current site. The current GAB has been in use for over four decades, and while it has served the legislature well, there are maintenance and safety issues that are becoming expensive and in some cases nearly impossible to mitigate.  Starting next session we will be located in the Pocahontas building while construction begins on the new General Assembly building. The Pocahontas building is located in front of the Capitol on Bank Street. As we wind down our General Assembly session, I want to update you on a few important areas of interest.

 

Veterans Initiatives Pass with Strong Bi-Partisan Support

In the House we have 21 veterans. The 21 members represent every branch of service – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Service periods date back to the Vietnam War years right up to today’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is at least one veteran on each of the 14 House Committees. Truly, our veterans represent a strong voice in support of Virginia’s veterans, the military, and their families.

With a significant veteran and military presence in the Commonwealth, Virginia’s longstanding goal is to be the most veteran and military friendly state in the nation. I continue to make it a priority to sponsor and support measures that help achieve that goal. The House is leading the effort to provide our veterans with the care they deserve, access to affordable education, and good job opportunities.

This year I was pleased to co-patron HB 2206. This legislation is the top priority of the Joint Leadership Council of Veteran Service Organizations. The bill redefines the goals of the Virginia Veteran and Family Support Program, formerly Wounded Warrior, to help veterans and their families navigate the complex web of healthcare and mental health services available to them. In addition, I supported a measure that permits community college to reduce tuition costs to active duty military members enrolled in training that leads to a Military Occupational Specialty. To learn more about other veteran and military initiatives, please visit lis.virginia.gov or contact my office and we would be glad to provide you a list of bills.

 

Update – My Legislation

The five pieces of legislation that passed out of the House of Delegate have all now passed in the State Senate. In fact, one has already been signed into law by the Governor, HB 2076. The other four that passed the Senate and will be heading to the Governor are HB 2075, HB 2077, HB 2078 and HB 2276.

In addition to legislation, I will be introducing several commending resolutions next week honoring noteworthy individuals on the occasion of their retirement.  These include Dr. Jerry Benson, the current JMU Provost and Senior Vice-President of Academic Affairs,  Marshall Price who recently retired as the principal at Massanutten Technical Center, as well as Dr. Carol Fenn, our Rockingham County Schools Superintendent. In addition, I will also submit memorial resolutions celebrating the life of Charlie Wampler Jr. and Abram Clymer.

Visitors

It certainly slowed down this week, but I still had several groups of constituents from home. A few ladies with Sentara RMH and the Resource Mothers and Healthy Families program came by to discuss the positive impact they are having in our community for new and expecting mothers. I spoke to a large group of Rockingham Federation FFA members and their advisors on Wednesday. A group of students from J. Frank Hillyard Middle School Student Council Association led by their advisor, Clay Gordon, also came for a visit to the Capitol. Finally, I had the opportunity to meet with officials from one of our local companies, Miller-Coors.

Session Update Week 5

This past week we reached the official half way point of session known as “crossover.” As of Wednesday, the House is only hearing bills from the Senate with the exception of the budget, which was taken up Thursday – more on that later.

The highlight of the week was undoubtedly a center aisle presentation in honor of the JMU football national championship. It was a privilege to be able to recognize the outstanding student-athletes, coaching staff, and the entire JMU Nation in this presentation! I have tremendous respect for the effort, skill and determination that went into making this championship a reality. I know the Harrisonburg community and entire Commonwealth is extremely proud of this team.

We were pleased to have Coach Houston, quarterback Bryan Schor, safety Raven Greene, President Alger, Senior Vice-President Charlie King and numerous other JMU alumni and supporters that made the trip to Richmond to join us for the presentation of the commending resolution, HJ 829.

There are typically only a handful of center aisle presentations each session, and it has to be something significant to the entire Commonwealth for the Speaker to grant permission. This win certainly met that criteria. The Speaker even joined in on the fun by wearing a JMU championship ball cap on the floor! 

If you would like to view the video footage of the presentation, please click here. You can also read the full commending resolution here.

House Budget

While the House considered a significant amount of legislation last week, none was more important than the budget. The budget bill is the Commonwealth’s entire spending plan. Beyond spending for stage agencies and services, it also accounts for a sizeable portion of spending for local services.

In December of last year, Governor McAuliffe announced his introduced budget. The driving force behind adjustments to the 2016-2018 biennial budget is the over $1 billion shortfall that was announced last fall. Since the Governor’s presentation, the House Appropriations Committee conducted 5 public hearings across the state to receive input from our citizens on the priorities they would like to see addressed.

On Thursday, the House voted on our version of the budget. Our budget reflects the difficult choices and priority setting necessary to present a balanced budget. We reviewed all discretionary spending and held fast to conservative budgeting while striving to invest in the core functions of government.

K-12 Education: Last year the House re-established the policy of sending back a portion of the Lottery proceeds to our school divisions on a per-pupil basis without requiring a local match. This year the House budget sends an additional $61.6 million in Lottery Profits directly back to our school divisions. The schools get much needed flexibility in allocating these dollars where they think it is best served, be it a pay raise for their teachers or funding their share of getting to 100% of the required VRS contribution rate.

Health and Human Resources: The House, working collaboratively with the Senate and the Governor, have made significant investments in the area of mental health. The House will provide a $28.5 million increase in mental health services, to include expanding the GAP program to cover individuals up to 100% of the federal poverty level. We will also provide funding for supportive housing and same day access. Our budget recommendations will add an additional 144 DD waiver slots to meet the needs of Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens.

Higher Education: Access and affordability in higher education has been a top priority. Earlier this session I highlighted several initiatives designed to improve affordability, including my own efforts related to student loan awareness. Last session we made a significant additional investment in higher education. However, because of the shortfall the Governor proposed $80 million in cuts. While cuts remain necessary, the House restored $21.0 million to Higher Education so that no school had a reduction greater than 1.4% of their budget.

State Employees and State Troopers: As I mentioned last week, our budget invests resources to provide a compensation boost for state employees and law enforcement. An additional $88.7 million was invested to make the 3% pay raise for state employees and 2% raise for state-supported local employees a reality. Funding is also included to provide targeted increases and compression adjustments to our Deputy Sheriffs and District Court staff. Finally, an additional $15 million is included to address the starting salaries and compression of our State Troopers and Capitol Police Officers.

While overall I am supportive of the House budget proposal and voted in favor of the measure, admittedly I’m disappointed that we could not find a way to reduce or eliminate the accelerated sales tax that the Governor reinstated on a larger portion of retailers. Moving forward, I will continue to support that effort and share my sentiment with my colleagues on Appropriations.

While no budget is perfect, the House recommendations adhere to our commitment to strategically focus our resources, by keeping our promises to our state employees, and to fund the core services of government. It is important to remember this is simply another step in the budget process, next budget conferees will begin to work out the differences between the House and Senate budget proposals.

Visitors

While I was on the floor until late Monday evening, Chad had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Virginia Manufacturer’s Association, including Broadway Mayor Tim Proctor. On Tuesday I had the pleasure of meeting a group of athletic trainers from JMU. These folks played a large part in keeping our national championship players healthy and injury free.

Later in the week I was joined by a group representing Rockingham County Schools, including Superintendent Dr. Carol Fenn.  Rockingham County was recognized as one of only five school districts in the Commonwealth to achieve the AP Honor Role. School divisions are recognized with this distinction if they have achieved significant improvement in Advanced Placement course offerings and scores. I also had a visit from a group of ladies with the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to discuss their policy priorities. Finally a large contingent of our local realtors stopped in this week, as well as EMU social work students.

While we are scheduled to adjourn in two weeks, there is still time to come visit. Please stop by my office in room 526 of the General Assembly Building if you will be in Richmond. I continue to welcome your calls and emails as well.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your representative in Richmond!

Session Update Week 4

We have now completed 24 of the 46 days of the 2017 session. On Sunday the committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals. Two important deadlines will happen next week. Tuesday is Crossover, the deadline with which each chamber must complete work on bills that originated in their chamber. Thursday the House will vote on their version of the budget.

While the full budget proposal for each respective house will be released on Sunday, last week budget leaders unveiled several compensation measures that both bodies intend to include.

The proposal includes a 3% pay raise for state employees. It also dramatically raises the starting salary of Virginia State Police. New officers, as they enter the academy, will see a dramatic salary increase of almost $6800. Additionally, a trooper’s annual salary one year after they graduate from the Police Academy will increase an additional $4,000. In December I took the opportunity to visit our division headquarters in Culpeper. I heard directly from many of our troopers and State Police leadership that morale is extremely low and as you may have seen in the news, we are losing troopers faster than we can replace them through the Academy. This is a necessary step to put our troopers on par with surrounding states and stop the hemorrhaging moving forward.

Finally, the proposal includes funds to address salary compression issues for sheriff’s deputies. The agreement includes a compression salary adjustment for employees in local sheriff’s offices and regional jails of an additional $80 per year of service for 3 or more years and $65 per year of service for other personnel.

Opioids Package Passes House
I expect you have heard about the heroin and opioid epidemic sweeping across Virginia. While some areas of the Commonwealth have been harder hit than others, no community has been untouched by it, including our own. While the Department of Health is still evaluating the numbers, Virginia is on track to meet the Health Department’s projections of over 1,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, the highest in the history of the Commonwealth.

There are several House bills that passed this week that endeavor to address various aspects of this epidemic. Among these measures is an initiative creating a workgroup to identify resources to help substance-exposed infants, a bill to develop core competencies and standards for our health professionals in training, and a bill directing the Board of Medicine and Dentistry to develop regulations on the prescribing of opioids related to dosage limits, treatment plans and Prescription Monitoring Program utilization.

Criminal Justice Reform
This week the House also passed a criminal justice reform initiative that takes a positive step in removing obstacles for offenders who are trying to get their lives back on track.

Currently, if an offender cannot pay their court fees they can have their driver’s license suspended. This can create an unfortunate cycle where if a fine is not paid, people cannot get to work to make money to pay off their court fines and get their licenses back.

I was pleased to co-patron legislation (HB 2386-Loupassi) that allows courts to establish a payment plan for offenders unable to pay court-ordered fines to avoid a driver’s licenses suspension. The legislation also allows offenders to earn credit for community service that can be applied to their costs. This bill passed the House unanimously yesterday.
The measure will help those offenders who are struggling to get back to work so they can provide for their families and assume their responsibilities as citizens.

My Legislation
This week I had three additional measures that passed the House of Delegates.

HB 2075 builds off legislation I carried last year that increase options and access to CDL skills testing by allowing community colleges to serve as a certified tester. HB 2075 authorizes community colleges that conduct their own training programs to satisfy several circumstances where it is currently required that a student go through a DMV “licensed” training program. The trucking industry is in desperate need of drivers, so I want to make sure the Commonwealth and DMV is doing all it can to eliminate unnecessary delay or barriers to getting competent drivers employed.

HB 2076 allows licensed soil scientists to complete stormwater management plans. Many larger new developments are required to have a plan in place that significantly reduces the amount of pollutants that flow off of the property. These plans are developed by competent licensed professionals, such as engineers, that know how to design and implement the most appropriate best management practices (BMP’s) for the property. For many of these plans and BMP’s, soil scientists are more than capable of completing the work, but they are currently excluded under the current regulations. Adding them to the approved list of professionals provides more options for developers and property owners to find someone to complete the work.

HB 2276 was brought to me by a constituent funeral director. It is designed to ease the current unnecessarily burdensome process to make changes to a death certificate. The legislation places more authority with our Clerks of Court to make these changes, rather than requiring a full hearing before a judge. Currently, making a necessary change can be a costly and long process, often delaying the ability of the family to begin settling the estate of a loved one.

Visitors
While we do our best to recognize all of our visitors from back home, unfortunately every once in a while we inadvertently leave someone out. The second week of session I had the pleasure of visiting with Jane Grant Burner and Sandra Price-Stroble representing the Harrisonburg Electoral Board. Also, a correction is in order, last week Harrisonburg Commissioner of the Revenue Karen Rose came by my office. I mistakenly listed her as the Treasurer, along with our Rockingham Treasurer Todd Garber.

This week I enjoyed meeting with Christine Stephan with the Harrisonburg Alliance for Inclusive Education, Heather Denman representing the Arc of Harrisonburg, Jill McGlaughlin advocating for dyslexia related legislation, a group of JMU Occupational Therapy Program students, JMU nursing students, several ladies with the United Methodist Church Conference, Misty Ward and Melaine Copeland on behalf of the Virginia Midwives Alliance, and Lori Kizner and Bob Reifsteck representing our local Boys and Girls Club. Finally, I had the pleasure to meet with Eastern Mennonite University’s new President, Dr. Susan Huxman. Dr. David Bushman, the President of Bridgewater College also joined her on behalf of the Council of Independent Colleges.

Gayl Brunk and a large group with Valley Associates for Independent Living met with Chad while I was in Committee. He also met with JMU students representing Virginia 21 and students with Professor and Former Delegate Pete Giesen’s State and Local Politics class. Later that I evening, I had the pleasure of joining the JMU group and JMU alumni at a dinner.

Please continue to stay in touch and come visit if you are in Richmond.