Before launching into a general session overview, I'll mention that today I filed the Campus Free Speech Resolution.
Following similar efforts around the Country, this targets the taxpayer-funded universities in Virginia, who instead of being champions of free speech are creating "safe spaces" and idea-free zones staffed by thought police, where disagreement is prohibited on campuses. While safe spaces have become the stuff of Saturday Night Live skits, the truth is this kind of challenge to campus free speech is now widespread. Surveys show that student support for restrictive speech codes and campus bans on controversial speakers is at historic heights.
The Campus Free Speech Resolution will give advice to public institutions of higher education to protect free speech and communicates the urgent need for the governing board of each public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth to develop and adopt a policy on free speech that contains certain specifications relating to the institution's function and role with regard to public policy controversies. Next year, we'll bring policy proposals.
More on that next week....
We are now one week away from the scheduled end of our 45-day legislative session. This week was a productive week for the House of Delegates. We are finishing committee work on Senate bills, reviewing Senate amendments to House bills, and continuing to work on the budget. As we wind down our General Assembly session, I want to update you on a few important areas of interest.
The House has adopted a conservative and balanced state budget. Our recommendations adhere to our commitment to spend your taxpayer dollars on strategic and targeted investments that fund the core functions of state government. We also took several steps to advance Virginia on a fiscally responsible course to include the elimination of several fees and reduction in borrowing.
Governor McAuliffe included several fee increases in his budget to generate more revenue. The House eliminated a proposed increase in restaurant inspection fees that would have imposed $3.2 million in fees on restaurants, which would have been passed on to consumers. We also eliminated a proposed increase in the shellfish facility inspection fee, and a proposed new fee for behavioral health adult service providers. I voted against several other bills which proposed new fees or taxes.
The House reduces the amount of proposed debt by almost $70 million and we continue to cut underperforming or erroneous government programs. This year we cut four programs in higher education for a savings of $2.1 million.
Veterans Initiatives Pass with Bi-Partisan Support
In the House we have 21 members who are veterans. 19 of those veterans are members of the House Republican Caucus. The 19 members represent every branch of service - Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Service periods date back to the Vietnam War years, right up to today's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is at least one House Republican veteran on each of the 14 House Committees. Truly, our House Republican veterans represent a strong voice in support of Virginia's veterans, the military, and their families.
The Commonwealth is home to approximately 800,000 veterans and 150,000 active-duty military members and their families. Republicans in the House of Delegates are leading the effort to provide our veterans with the care they deserve, access to affordable education, and good job opportunities.
The Military and Veterans' caucus, led by Delegate Rich Anderson (USA Col., retired), has several bi-partisan bills that are successfully progressing through the legislation process.
HB 2206, carried by Del Cox, is the number one priority of the Joint Leadership Council. The bill redefines the goals of the Virginia Veteran and Family Support Program, formerly Wounded Warrior, to help veterans and their families navigate the complex web of healthcare services available to them.
HJ 562, carried by Del. Jason Miyares, is a constitutional amendment that would provide a property tax exemption for the principal residence of the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran.
UPDATES ON MY LEGISLATION
The Parental Choice Education Savings Account legislation I’m carrying passed two Senate committees this week and will be voted on by the full Senate next week. Here's an overview of how ESAs work, and what they could accomplish:
- Parents of eligible public school student (enrolled in public school for a minimum of one full school year) commit to providing an education that complies with state law.
- Parents and local school division set up a Parental Choice Education Savings Account (PCESA)
- Spending is restricted to approved educational expenditures; no other money goes into this account.
- Parents must submit expenditure receipts quarterly to the school division, prior to receiving funds for the next quarter.
- Account expenditures will be subject to audit, and improper use of funds will be subject to fines, penalties, and / or prosecution.
PCESA Funding Source:
- 90% of the eligible per student state SOQ funding allocated for that child into an education savings account.
- The remaining 10% of the state funding is applied toward administrative expenses.
- 100% of the eligible per student state SOQ funding allocated for that child into an education savings account for students (a) with an IEP (b) suspended or expelled, (c) who failed any Standards of Learning assessment during its last administration, or (d) families below 300% of Federal poverty level.
- Local funding dollars will be retained by the local school district for every child using a PCESA. This will mean more dollars per student for public schools without raising taxes. A program very similar to this in Arizona saved the state $12 million a year when it reached participation of 5000 students.
My Constitutional Amendment to protect transportation funding was set for a vote in the full Senate today, but the vote was delayed until Monday. This legislation, if approved by the General Assembly and voters, would institute a “lockbox” on transportation funds, prohibiting the General Assembly and future Administrations from “raiding” regional and statewide transportation funds to pay for other initiatives. An Emergency exception would allow the General Assembly to override and borrow from transportation funding with a two-thirds plus one vote of both the House and Senate. Senators Obenshain and Black have carried this initiative before and laid the groundwork for what hopefully will be a successful run at it this session and in 2018.
Here are reasons why it will help our Commonwealth:
Restricts use of dedicated transportation funds
- Virginia legislature has directed that these funds are for transportation purposes.
- Transportation is foundational to all other areas: commerce, education, public safety, etc. all depend on good roads and transit
- People benefit every day as they travel on safe, well-maintained roads.
- Businesses thrive when transportation is functioning well.
- Passing this amendment will send a strong message to the people and businesses we serve, saying that we are serious about getting our economy going and keeping it going.
- Passing HJ 693 help will attract more bidders to transportation projects and save precious taxpayer dollars as bidders will be confident that projects they bid will be funded.
- Over the years, transportation funding has been used to fill budget gaps
- 1991, Gov. Doug Wilder shifted $200 million from the transportation trust fund to balance the budget
- 2002, outgoing Gov. Jim Gilmore proposed using $317 million in transportation trust fund revenue
- 2003, Gov. Mark Warner actually took that $317 million and also diverted another $143 million in general funds dedicated to specific transportation projects in the Virginia Transportation Act of 2000
- 2007, Gov. Kaine diverted $180 million from highway construction projects, replaced with more state debt
While the condition of roads & bridges is improving, we are still far behind on maintenance. Passing this will help turn this around.
- 5% of VDOT-maintained bridges (over 1000 bridges) are currently classified as deficient
- 40% of secondary road pavement is rated as deficient
- Previous raids on funding adversely affected the development of new transportation infrastructure
- Since 1990, Virginia has twice raided the Transportation Trust Fund to pay for other General Fund initiatives. Despite being repaid, this diversion caused the Commonwealth to fall behind in funding its transportation needs.
Keep Moving in the Right Direction
- Citizens are seeing real progress in fixing local transportation needs- they expect that to continue
- The recent SmartScale application process brought over $9 billion in requests, but only $1 billion of funding was available
- This is particularly important for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, regions that face an ongoing transportation crisis and have additional, dedicated taxes which residents were promised would go to transportation.
- HB 2 / SmartScale (2014 session) ensures that these funds are being used wisely on projects that bring best “bang for the buck”
Supporting Organizations (growing daily)
- AAA Mid-Atlantic
- Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance
- Northern Virginia Transportation Coalition
- Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce
- Hampton Roads Chamber
- Roanoke Regional Chamber
- Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce
- Mount Vernon Lee Chamber of Commerce
- Prince William Chamber of Commerce
Visits from constituents have slowed down somewhat, but we did still have several folks come by. Here are some highlights from the week.
Monday: Naloxone availability bill passes the Senate uncontested
Tuesday: Presenting the Transportation Lockbox in Senate Committee
Wednesday: Presenting my "Stop the Scam" bill in Senate Committee
Thursday: With Criag DiSesa in between ESA Senate Committee Hearings
Thursday: Christine Kriz of the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center
Thursday: Robyn Dahl of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Henrico visited with four outstanding young ladies, Lucy, Megan, Meadow and Katie, who gave a wonderful Pro-Life presentation
Friday: With Courtney Morris and Bryan Karns discussing the Senior PGA Championship which will be held in Loudoun County in May
Friday: I was able to talk with constituent Alex Levay, who is a candidate for the Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge vacancy, while he was in town for his judicial interview
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. While the session is soon ending, 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.