Legislative Update: Crossover Week
There are only two weeks left in session, but I am still hard at work in Richmond fighting for our values. This past week, I worked to defeat a bill that would have given the state authority to establish charter schools while leaving local school districts with the responsibility of funding these schools. Evidence shows that students in charter schools do not perform any better academically than the same cohort in public schools. Yet there continues to be pressure to undermine public schools and relax accountability measures for charter schools. The charter school bill passed on a 21-19 vote.
The Democratic Senators worked to stop a number of voter suppression bills, but they passed with the support of the Republican majority. A particularly disturbing bill passed that gives a state sanction to individuals who do not want to perform marriage ceremonies for LGBTQ couples. This protection already exists. The patrons of the bill would like to use the levers of the state in a divisive and hateful way. Unfortunately, the Governor will have this and other offensive bills like anti-immigrant measures to veto.
Here is a more detailed update from this past week.
I will continue to fight for more education dollars for our schools. The Senate budget provides school districts with the State share of a 2% increase for teachers’ salaries. If districts gave teachers an increase last year, the school system can use the money for other expenses. The House takes a slightly different approach, but I expect the final version of the budget will make some dollars available for a teacher pay increase. Virginia teachers currently rank 35th in national rankings on pay and earn approximately $7,000 less, on average, than teachers making a salary equal to the national average. We must do better. Unfortunately, the acceleration of the VRS payment schedule was not reversed so that remains an unplanned expense for our school systems.
The Senate budget increases funding to higher education, reduces the ID/DD waiting list, slightly, and makes some inroads breaking the cycle of poverty. Three of my anti-poverty and workforce training measures are included in the budget. Because of the uncertainty in Washington, the Senate set aside $40 million in a reserve account.
Crossover was this week and 15 of my bills made it to the House in some form. You can find a full list here. Additionally, six of my bills have already been voted out of House Committees and are on their way to the House floor. These bills include:
Children's Safety: A proposal to require the investigation of alleged child abuse or neglect on children age 2 or younger. This early intervention could help reduce the number of infant fatalities in the Commonwealth. Last year children under two accounted for nearly half of all child fatalities.
Workforce Development: I am particularly proud of my bill to grant scholarships to foster kids taking trade or certificate programs through the Community College System. This effort will help us reach our goal of 100,000 additional degrees or certificates by 2020.
Community-Based Programs: A bill to create better reporting on incidents of serious injury from licensed community-based programs serving those with ID or DD. Since there are a number of individuals who are now being served in community group homes who were formerly served at the Northern Virginia Training Center, it is important that we monitor the quality of their care.
Sexual Assault: I worked with the Attorney General’s office on a bill to require that sexual assault survivors be informed if physical evidence submitted prior to July 2015 contains DNA evidence. My bill flew out of the Senate and I expect it will pass the House. Attorney General, Mark Herring noted that: “We are turning a page in how we are responding to sexual violence in Virginia, away from an older culture of violence or reluctance to bring some of these cases and instead to a broader understanding that survivors deserve compassion and respect and a response that is equal to the seriousness of these crimes.”
Aging Issues: Two of my bills help the Commonwealth deal with our fast growing aging population. One requires the Council on Aging to educate consumers on malnutrition and provide strategies for defeating this issue. Today, 13.9% of Virginia seniors are food insecure, a number that we have to work to reduce. The other proposal starts the conversation on the need to better train health professionals on providing geriatric care.
Housekeeping bills: VDOT gains authority to use a negotiated process among more traditional cost-based only approaches for determining the best deal in leasing air rights. Another bill grants Local Governments more authority to negotiate leave benefit packages with constitutional officers.
Commission on Youth
On Tuesday, I was happy to receive the 2017 Virginia Athletic Trainers Association Presidential Service Award on behalf of the Virginia Commission on Youth. The Commission was given the award for its work to strengthen concussion guidelines issued by the Department of Education. Requiring the Department to update its guidelines and expand them to include all students, instead of just student athletes was a good thing. As the Chair of the Commission, I was proud that the Commission received this.
Once again, I voted against language in the budget to require the General Assembly to approve expansion. There is a slim possibility that Medicaid expansion or similar such changes to the Medicaid program may be part of the Federal Affordable Care Act reforms. However, the tide seems to be moving towards a block grant for Medicaid type services. On a related matter, there seems to be a movement to limit the authority of the Governor’s office. It is very unwise to blur the lines of the executive and legislative branches of government.
Once again, I appreciate all of the calls and emails regarding legislation. Please know that your voices are being heard. I will continue to work for my constituents in the 31st District and Virginians throughout the Commonwealth.