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.
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.
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!