There are just two weeks left in the 2016 General Assembly session, but we continue at a fast pace here in Richmond. This week has seen more of my legislation moving forward.
Sunday, the House Appropriations Committee sent the budget to the full House for consideration. Included in the budget report was one amendment I submitted at the request of the Clarke and Frederick County Sheriffs, as well as all the other Law Enforcement agencies in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. This Amendment would allow them to have their own Regional Criminal Justice Academy in Middletown instead of being based in Fredericksburg.
Monday afternoon, the Senate passed my HB 259 by a vote of 24-16. This bill prohibits the Board of Education from implementing Common Core State Standards without the prior statutory approval of the General Assembly. Moments before passing HB 259, the Senate passed Del. Rob Bell's "Tebow bill," which would allow Public High Schools to make a decision to permit homeschool students to play on their teams. See a great video on this here. Governor McAuliffe vetoed these bills last year but we picked up more Senate Democrat support this year, and will fight to over-ride a veto if he goes that route again. He has until March 3rd to decide- please encourage him to sign them!
Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak at a forum on Criminal Justice Reform sponsored by Prison Fellowship and others. They were encouraged to hear about the progress we made this year on reducing the number of Virginia students our schools refer to Law Enforcement.
Thursday, we had the first Senate hearing for my Education Savings Accounts bill, receiving an 8-7 vote in the Education and Health Committee. It will have to go through the Finance Committee next week in order to get to the Senate Floor.
Yesterday, on the House floor, I presented Senator Carrico's bill, which is identical to one I filed to protect school kids from reckless drivers.
Even a couple of my bills that were "killed" in the House are continuing to make progress by keeping important policy topics in the news. This week there was a Washington Post article and a National Right to Life blog post about my Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act bill. There was also a good article about my efforts to move Virginia toward Restorative Justice rather than prosecution of kids.
Finally, I'll share an update I received yesterday from our friends at VCDL: "As expected, Governor McAuliffe signed all six bills that made up the “deal” today. Virginia will begin to honor the permits from all states that issue permits starting July 1. Details as to the status of the current reciprocity cut-off-date of March 1st will be shared with you once we find out. I expect the cut-off date to either be rescinded altogether or to be moved out to July 1." Congratulations, VCDL! More details are here.
The big focus this week was on the House passing a new two-year state budget. The budget is the most important work we do each year at the State Capitol. The House budget carefully manages taxpayer resources by prioritizing saving and reducing borrowing. We also make targeted investments in our schools, colleges, and universities. The budget highlights our efforts to grow Virginia’s economy and support the healthcare safety net. Now that the House budget has passed, our budget negotiators will work with the Senate to craft a final agreement that can be sent to Governor McAuliffe’s desk for his signature.
The budget reduces what Virginia will borrow over the next few years by over $900 million compared to what Governor McAuliffe proposed.
Our commitment to educating our children for the future is unwavering. The House budget invests nearly $70 million more in our public schools than Governor McAuliffe’s proposal. In addition, the House sends over $270 million back to local schools through the lottery program, which gives school leaders significantly more flexibility than either the Senate budget or Governor McAuliffe’s introduced budget. Our schools will be able to use these funds to meet their unique needs, rather than answer to one-size-fits-all mandates from Richmond.
Our budget also makes significant investments in higher education in order to help make college more affordable for Virginia families. Our budget includes $66 million more than Governor McAuliffe proposed, and we have designated $237.1 million to hold tuition increases to three percent or less per year. These investments will improve access to and affordability of our colleges and universities.
We continue to hold the line against Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. The House budget does not include Medicaid expansion. For years, we have argued that Virginia cannot afford to expand Medicaid, and the experiences of other states prove that. Just this week, we learned that Kentucky’s Medicaid program faces a $611 million shortfall, largely because of Medicaid expansion.
Instead of expanding an expensive and inefficient program, the House budget invests $28.9 million in new funding to build a stronger healthcare safety net (including funding for substance abuse treatment) and to create two new Programs of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) teams that provide patient-driven, proactive, personalized, team-based care to patients with serious mental illnesses. The House budget also expands eligibility for the GAP program (related to medical and behavioral health coverage) to 80% of the poverty level. Our budget provides for 100 new Developmental Disability waiver slots to address the critical waiting list backlog of people transitioning from institutionalized care to community-based care.
This Tuesday, March 1, is the Presidential Primary in Virginia, part of "Super Tuesday."
I have endorsed Senator Ted Cruz.
If you are not sure if you can make it to the polls on Tuesday, the final opportunity to vote absentee is today at your local Voter Registrar office. More information is on my website here
Visitors and Events this Week
Early Tuesday morning, I spoke at a prayer breakfast here in Richmond. I greatly appreciate those who make a focused effort to pray for me and the other legislators. There are multiple examples of things that took place this session that can only be attributed to these and other faithful prayer warriors!
Tuesday morning, we crammed a great crowd of Clarke County 4-H students, parents, and leaders into my office
Here's a more "formal" picture of the 4-Hers
Constituent Megan Best of Purcellville and others from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Beth Kaeser and Pamela Janney of Purcellville visited with me about the Inova Loudoun Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
A few of the wonderful folks who came to support our Education Savings Accounts bill in the Senate Education and Health Committee hearing
I was presented with a "Distinguished Advocate for Virginia Business" award from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce for my voting record in the 2015 session
Josiah Alway, my campaign manager last year, volunteered in our office this week. He was a huge help, and I think he learned a lot about how our state legislature works.