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

 

Session Update Week 1

The 2017 General Assembly session officially got under way at noon on Wednesday, January 11. Even though this year is a short session, we will still be making adjustments to our biennial budget and working to enact policy that strengthens Virginia’s economy, improves our schools, and provides healthcare services to the most in need, without expanding costly entitlement programs.

On the first day of session, the Speaker announced a new transparency measure that builds on initiatives that were implemented last year. Now the public will be able to view the video archive of the daily floor sessions on demand from the General Assembly website. You will also have the ability to search the footage by bill or member. Up until this year, you could only watch the floor sessions live. To access the video, please visit the General Assembly website.

Later Wednesday evening, Governor McAuliffe delivered the annual State of the Commonwealth Address.  As this is McAuliffe’s final year in office, much of his speech was a review of his time as Governor.

Republican Delegate Ron Villanueva (Virginia Beach) and Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (Henrico) delivered the Republican perspective on the State of the Commonwealth. They reminded us that with last November’s elections, there are big changes coming to our nation’s Capital. Some of these changes, like rebuilding our national defense and curbing job-killing government regulation, will greatly benefit Virginia. But it is here in our state Capitol where work is going to be done that directly benefits the day to day lives of Virginians. If you are like me, you are in no mood for partisan games like we often see coming out of Washington.  My colleagues and I are committed to advancing commonsense priorities in Richmond that can garner widespread support.

I encourage you to keep in touch with me and my office over the coming months.  I value the feedback you provide on a continual basis as it helps me do a better job of representing you.  You can email me at DelTWilt@house.virginia.gov or call my office during session at (804) 698-1026.

I look forward to keeping you regularly updated as we get underway. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your representative in Richmond.