First, I have been so extremely busy presenting bills, budget amendments, attending committee meetings, and voting on various bills in the House, it has been hard to find time to put this message together.
Three weeks into Session, the Capital has seen record numbers of visitors. Daily attendance by the public has consistently been over 4,500 people a day. I’m enjoying meeting with so many who are being active in the political process, as various organizations hold their “day on the hill” events.
Even if you can't make it down to Richmond, please take my Constituent Survey here to inform me of your opinion on many of the issues we are facing.
The 100-member House has introduced over 1,000 bills, and the 40- member Senate has introduced over 700 bills. In the next few days, the 14 House committees will finish the heavy lifting to hear the bills before the Feb. 7th deadline for final action to be taken on the House floor. After that, we will then focus on the Budget for two days, then review Senate Bills.
Below is an overview of priorities, and then some day-by-day of what I’m keeping busy on.
Economy and Jobs:
The House Republican Caucus takes governing seriously. Therefore, we have been working since we adjourned in 2016 to develop our priorities for the 2017 Session. Our policies aim to create a culture of opportunity where people can empower themselves to flourish in society. This is accomplished through private job creation and entrepreneurship, healthcare reform, and modernizing education options.
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 broke. Onerous permitting requirements have made it extremely difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to do business.
Now, not all regulations are bad or should be done away with. That said, regulations should be transparent, fair, and impose minimal financial burdens on businesses and families.
Several members have submitted bills 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.
We are refiling several commonsense jobs bills that Governor McAuliffe groundlessly vetoed in 2016. In fact, we’ve already passed legislation to strengthen franchisee business owner’s ability to effectively run their own business.
Caucus members are carrying legislation that supports coal workers, prevents the Governor from unilaterally submitting a State Implementation Plan as part of the Clean Power Plan, and ensures that government contractors are not forced to pay artificially high wages or benefits.
State Budget and Budget Amendments:
Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, on behalf of the House, held a press conference with Senate budget leaders to highlight their joint priorities in regards to a compensation package. The proposal includes a 3% pay raise for state employees, funds to raise the starting salary of Virginia State Police, and funds to address salary compression issues for sheriff’s deputies. The committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals on February 5th, 2017.
All member budget requests have been submitted and made public on the state budget website. The House and Senate will deliberate on their respective requests and come up with their own version of the budget before conferring to pass a joint budget in late February.
As previously noted, in August of last year Governor McAuliffe announced over a $1 billion shortfall. He chose to make up some of that shortfall with fee increases. Our Republican pledge is to pass a structurally balanced budget without fee or tax increases.
I have introduced several budget amendments, all of which can be viewed by clicking on my name here. I will highlight a couple:
315 #5h Funding for a mental health and substance abuse treatment center in the Winchester area C-48.10 #3h Purchase land and existing facilities to open the new State Park in Loudoun County 4-5.03 #3h Using leverage of the Metrorail Safety Compact to force critical reforms to WMATA and protect Loudoun County from Metro-related tax hikes.
Education is the foundation to a strong workforce capable of tackling 21st Century issues. Our caucus has several education initiatives that address all levels of learning in Virginia.
In 2016, the House budget sent 31% of lottery funds, or $272 million, back to local school divisions. This mechanism gives local schools more flexibility by not requiring matching funds or mandating how the funds must be spent. This year we look to build on this investment that gives local school leaders the flexibility to meet their own unique public education needs.
The House is committed to maintaining Virginia’s strong K-12 system and working to give all children the opportunities in education they deserve by enacting reforms in public education, promoting choice and flexibility, and encouraging early childhood education.
Students in the Commonwealth deserve a quality education, regardless of their circumstances or neighborhood. That’s why Dickie Bell is carrying HB1400 that establishes Virginia virtual schools so students aren’t bound to brick and mortar buildings for their education. They can take classes offered all over Virginia.
My HB1605 that creates Education Savings Accounts is moving through the Committee process. ESAs will empower parents to choose what is best for their child’s education by removing their child from a public school they have attended for a minimum of one year, to receive direct access to the state funding for that student. That funding is deposited into an Education Savings Account where it can be used for private school tuition, homeschool, online classes, course materials, or other educational purposes.
Every day we hear from the Commonwealth’s citizens that higher education access and affordability is a real problem. The House will continue to encourage all state universities cap tuition increases.
Our caucus has several other ideas that ease the stress of the many other costs associated with post-secondary schools.
Dual enrollment credits provide a great opportunity for students to begin working on their degree credits while still in high school. Del. 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, which 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 HB2262 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.
Higher education institutions in Virginia have focused primarily on enhancing enrollment, retention, and graduation rates in pursuit of preparing a highly skilled workforce for the Virginia economy. The same emphasis needs to be directed toward identifying those individuals with some college credit, but who have not attained a degree.
My "Transportation Lockbox" constitutional amendment to protect our transportation money from being diverted to other purposes moved forward out of committee to the House floor this morning.
We also had a breakthrough on WMATA, when the Transportation Committee added language to must-pass legislation that will facilitate serious reform of the WMATA labor and other issues. My staff and I have been doing research and working on this effort with other legislators for many months.
Last but not least, we're beginning to see results from the new approach Virginia is taking to ensure transportation dollars go where they are needed. Several projects of importance to the 33rd District were awarded new funding, including the Rt. 7/Rt. 690 interchange and improvements to the Rt. 7/Rt. 287 interchange in Loudoun County, and also I-81 Exit 315 Northbound Deceleration Lane Extension, and Sulphur Springs Road Intersection Improvements in Frederick County.
I'm sure the next 3+ weeks will be extremely busy, and I look forward to accomplishing great things here in Richmond this session!
You can look at all my bills here.
WHAT I DO DOWN IN RICHMOND
Our days in Richmond are very long- meetings often begin at 7am or earlier and we're usually working late into the evening. This is a rough overview of some highlights of the last couple of weeks:
Monday, January 23rd
Committee meetings, constituent meetings and House session, Dave and Daniel had dinner with the Loudoun County School Board
Tuesday, January 24th
Full committee meeting for HB1453 Naloxone; dispensing for use in opioid overdose reversal, etc.
Budget hearing for item 139 #8h Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts
Wednesday , January 25th
Presented at a hearing for HB2092, dealing with application for public assistance; eligibility, review of records
Loudoun State Park Budget Amendment in Appropriations subcommittee
Presented HB2048 nonpayment, suspension of driver's license. This bill proposes striking from Virginia law the section which instructs DMV to revoke. There are now over 950,000 revoked licenses, which make it almost impossible for those whose license has been revoked to keep a job and pay off fees, much less provide for their families.
Thursday, January 26th
I had the privilege of introducing Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) members on the House floor.
Friday, January 27th
I presented Patrick Henry College with a resolution congratulating the Moot Court team for winning the international championship.
Over the weekend, we made minor changes to the Pain-Capable bill and sent emails those who are working to prevent the bill moving forward this year, trying to get it on the docket for a hearing before the end of the week.
Monday, January 30th
My Transportation Lockbox Constitutional Amendment was 1 of 3 (out of 24 introduced) which made it out of a House subcommittee.
We worked tirelessly on a bill to prevent anti-Semitic activity on college campuses. 1000’s of calls against this effort from organized phone banks outside the district, perhaps even outside the Commonwealth, only proves how urgently this is needed.
I met with Chairman Randall, and Loudoun Supervisors and staff
Two bills: 1. Out-of-State license and 2. Mandatory incident reporting in schools, kept me in Courts of Justice until around 8:30 p.m.
Tuesday, January 31st
America Pray Now at 7:30 a.m.
Conservative Caucus at 7:45
Spoke with Scott Woodruff from HSLDA about concerns he and HEAV have about a driver’s training bill.
Transportation Committee had a very heated debate over conditioning a Metrorail Safety Compact with provisions to force critical WMATA reforms including labor, financial planning, dedicated funding, and pension reform
Presented Northwest Community Service Board budget amendment in Appropriations
Naloxone bill passed the House on a unanimous vote. My floor speech is online here.
Catoctin Creek Distillery owner Scott Harris stopped by.
Wednesday, February 1st
Education Committee meetings all morning, then Republican Caucus and Session. I met with two of judge candidates, and presented my bill on reporting fiscal impacts of refugee resettlement.
Thursday, February 2nd
In our Transportation Committee in the morning, we approved the Metrorail Safety Compact with some good WMATA Reform enactment clauses. After caucus and session, I worked on some research before heading to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission meeting.
Friday, February 3rd
I presented my refugee reporting bill at 8am, the Transportation Lockbox Constitutional Amendment at 9am, and then had caucus at 9:30, session at 10am, and presented my welfare reform bill this afternoon before heading back home for the weekend.
Today was "Wear Red" day for Heart Disease and Stroke awareness.
I'm pictured with Robin Gahan of the American Heart Association.
Del. Minchew and me with 33rd District House Page Lauren Keys
I hope that gives you a glimpse of what keep us so busy down here. I appreciate those of you who have contacted us or visited us the last few weeks; please know that I do receive and listen to your input, even if you haven't received a response back from me yet.
P.S. I will be providing you with these Session Updates throughout the 2017 General Assembly Session. 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. If I can be of assistance in any way, please do not hesitate to email me at DelDLaRock@house.virginia.gov or call me at 540-751-8364. You can also follow me via social media on Facebook and Twitter.