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.
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.
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.