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.

Session Update Week 3

Moving into the 3rd week of session, the Capitol has seen record numbers of visitors. Daily attendance by the public has consistently been over 4,500 people a day. I’ve enjoyed meeting with so many different groups and individuals that are engaged in the political process. The local folks that stopped by my office this week are mentioned below.

                                                                                                                                                      

Spotlight on Higher Education

I regularly hear from citizens that higher education access and affordability is a real problem. The House will continue to encourage all state universities to hold the line on tuition increases.

There are several proposals this session designed to ease the stress of the many costs associated with postsecondary schools.

Dual enrollment credits provide a great opportunity for students to begin working on their degree credits while still in high school. Tag Greason is carrying HB1662 to establish a uniform policy for granting undergraduate course credit to entering freshman students so students can properly prepare their course schedules to maximize their benefits.

Virginia has a 40-year-old financial aid model. It is time to modernize that model by incentivizing students to complete their degrees on time ensuring they take out less loans. Kirk Cox is carrying HB2427 that will motivate and reward students to successfully finish their degree on time by increasing aid money as they progress through their academic career. He is also carrying HB2311 that creates the Online Virginia Network aimed at providing a new pathway for students to complete a college degree by establishing an online consortium of classes from various state universities. It is a one-stop shop for scheduling, registering, and taking online classes.

While preventing further increases in higher education cost is important, I believe it is also important that students are educated and aware of their long term responsibilities when they take out loans, so they do not borrow more than they need for school. Starting this fall I began working with SCHEV and financial aid officials at our public institutions on developing ways to bring more awareness to students about their loans and ways to minimize borrowing. Studies have shown that an alarming percentage of college students don’t know their loan balance, and in many cases they are not even aware they have to pay back student loans. This is unacceptable. Following session, I intend to continue working on this issue to improve financial literacy for college students.

My Legislation

At this point, all of the legislation I introduced has at least been taken up in committee. I had two measures that passed the House already and several more that will hopefully pass next week. The two bills that passed are HB 2077 and HB 2078.

HB 2077 is a pro-Second Amendment measure that removes language in code granting blanket authority for the Governor or other government officials to disarm individuals staying in an emergency shelter. While the bill does not supersede other law with regard to restricting firearms in buildings such as schools, it would no longer allow a declared disaster to be used as an excuse to disarm citizens in locations where firearms would normally be permitted. A disaster is not the time to suspend Second Amendment rights when law abiding citizens may be most vulnerable to becoming a victim of violent crime.

HB 2078 allows for a mixed beverage performing arts venue license for certain facilities in the City of Harrisonburg. Current ABC license criteria are rather narrowly drawn in an effort to put parameters and limitations on the availability of alcohol. Unfortunately, this does often create scenarios where a legitimate business wishing to legally serve mixed beverages cannot do so under the current license structure. This is the case for a potential performing arts venue that is being considered for development in Harrisonburg’s downtown arts and cultural district. My legislation creates a new license for such a facility. Assuming the development of this project moves forward, it will be a great benefit for tourism and existing downtown businesses. Having the ability to lawfully serve mixed beverages will add economic viability to the project.

In addition to these measures, HB 2075, HB 2076 and HB 2276 will be up for a vote in the full House next week. I will highlight these bills in the next few weeks.

Visitors

As I indicated, this was the busiest week yet for visitors! Early in the week I met with Larry Howdyshell and other representatives with the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Baker Garber representing the Harrisonburg Free Clinic, and Chad had a conversation with Bea Morris representing the Virginia Retired Teachers Association.

We had several local elected officials stop in to share their positions on issues that are important to their area of service. I appreciate their sacrifice to not only represent their constituents in their normal duties back home, but especially their willingness to travel to Richmond to advocate for policies they believe will benefit our community. On Monday I met with Rockingham Treasurer Todd Garber and Harrisonburg Treasurer Karen Rose. On Tuesday I had the opportunity to meet with Renee Reed and Charlette McQuilkin representing the Rockingham School Board. Dr. Kizner, Deb Fitzgerald and Kaylene Seigle made the trip on behalf of Harrisonburg schools.

A contingent of 4-H’ers led by our local extension agent, Dara Booher, stopped by my office Wednesday for 4-H Day at the Capitol. Also on Wednesday local farmers Glenn and Sheri Rodes, as well as JMU professor Dr. Michael Renfroe were in Richmond to offer an update to the Ag Committee about the industrial hemp research study in Virginia. I had the pleasure of introducing them for the committee. Dennis Lynch with the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival came by Thursday.

Chad had the pleasure of meeting with a group of ladies representing the Virginia Dental Hygienists Association, as well as a group with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

I look forward to the opportunity to meet with many of you in the weeks ahead.

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

Session Update Week 2

Today was a historic day for our nation, yet amazingly it was also the norm. For the 25th time in American history, power transferred from one political party to another, yet it was done peacefully and cooperatively. While it is the standard in our nation, we cannot take it for granted or dismiss the significance. For many nations, power only changes hands through bloodshed and strife, where citizens often live under tyranny and oppression.

I wish President Trump, Vice President Pence and their new administration well as they embark on their journey to offer and implement policy that improves the lives of all Americans.

While it is an exciting time in Washington, here in Richmond my colleagues and I also intend to advance state policy proposals this session that seek to improve the lives of Virginians and strengthen our economy. With the first full week of session behind us, the 14 House committees are now doing much of the heavy lifting hearing the over 1,000 House bills that have been introduced. Besides some resolutions, nearly all bills must first be heard by a subcommittee and full committee before they can advance to the floor.

A sizeable portion of the legislation introduced by my Republican colleagues and myself is designed to eliminate red tape, ease burdensome regulation and ultimately create an atmosphere to improve our economy and create jobs.

Our jobs agenda has one main goal: make it easier for people to work. We have several caucus members who are carrying regulatory reform legislation. The current regulatory system is onerous. While not all regulations are bad or should be done away with, regulations should be transparent, fair, and impose minimal financial burdens on businesses and families.

There is legislation this session to strengthen public input requirements on newly proposed regulations, create accountability for those agencies that think they should be exempt from public input, and in general scale back the tremendous amount of regulatory burden working professionals currently experience.

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

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

Essentially, the Commonwealth’s marketing agency was operating without a marketing plan.

The systematic deficiencies at this agency must be addressed. It is time to restore accountability and General Assembly oversight. Until reforms have been made, their state funding will be withheld.

We are also refiling several commonsense jobs bills that Governor McAuliffe vetoed in 2016. In fact, we’ve already passed one bill to strengthen franchisee business owner’s ability to effectively run their own business. HB 1394 (Del Head, R-Roanoke) prevents franchise employees from being considered as an employer of the franchisor for the purposes of determining union membership.

I also have several bills this year that were brought to me by constituents that aim to ease unnecessary restrictions and red tape on various industries or professions. I will discuss these measures in more detail in the coming weeks, but to view the current list of legislation I have introduced, please click here.

While I’m hopeful we can pass into law policies that make life easier on middle class families, as I often tell folks, sometimes it is equally important what does not advance. As usual, there are an alarming number of bills that would add costs and burdensome restrictions on small businesses and employers. I assure you that I do not intend to support these measure and will work to make sure they are defeated.

Harrisonburg/Rockingham Chamber Leadership Program

Visitors

Since the start of session I have had the opportunity to visit with a good many individuals and groups from home. Last week, a contingent of local bankers stopped in to share their agenda for the session. I also met with a group of JMU students here for Higher Education Advocacy Day, as well as Suzanne Obenshain and Joan Hughes representing the Virginia Federation of Republican Women.

Given that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a state holiday, it always brings a number of groups and advocates to the Capitol. I visited with Virginia Citizens Defense League constituents advocating for pro Second Amendment policies, as well as individuals with Americans for Prosperity, a group of ladies with the School Nutrition Association, Isabella Broaddus with the local American Cancer Society, and Clyde Hoy Jr. advocating for mental health initiatives.

This week I also met with local economic development representatives, individuals with Moms Demand Action, and local auto dealers. Yesterday, I had the privilige of speaking with a group of professionals with the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program.

My committee responsibilities kept me away from the office for a significant portion of the week, so Chad (my legislative aide) had the pleasure of speaking with JMU and Bridgewater College students with the Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. He also spoke with Colleen Whiteford and several of her colleagues who came to Richmond to advocate for favorable policy for physical therapists. Finally, he spoke to Sherri Chapman about the importance of career and technical education.

School Nutrition Association

I enjoy the opportunity to meet with constituents during session and throughout the year. I often find the most valuable dialogue occurs in meeting with constituents face to face. Please let us know if you will be in Richmond during the next month. My staff would be glad to schedule an appointment.

P.O. Box 1425 · Harrisonburg · Virginia · 22803 | Phone: 540-208-0735