Richmond Report – Adjournment Sine Die

On Saturday, February 25, the 2017 General Assembly adjourned “sine die," completing its work on time and with a balanced state budget.  This Session, the House of Delegates worked diligently to help middle class families by strengthening Virginia’s economy, improving our education system so all children have the opportunity to succeed, and charting a responsible fiscal course for the future.  

To help our efforts to strengthen Virginia’s economy, the House of Delegates advanced several major pieces of legislation intended to foster private-sector economic growth, promote a positive, pro-business climate, and protect small businesses through regulatory reform.  We are also leading the effort to review the Commonwealth’s economic development spending to ensure that we are maximizing the effectiveness of your tax dollars.

In addition, improving our education system continues to be a top priority for the House of Delegates.  This year, we remained committed to supporting our world-class public education system by making a 2% teacher pay raise a priority in this year’s budget.

We also recognize there is room for innovation is the classroom so all students can learn in a way that best fits their needs. In addition to creating an Education Savings Accounts for parents, we also took steps to finalize the establishment of Virginia’s virtual school.  This important legislation, combined with our investments in public schools, will help make sure all children have the opportunity to succeed. 

I am also pleased to report that legislation I introduced (HB 2395) to designate one reading specialist in each school division to serve as an advisor on dyslexia and related disorders has passed the General Assembly, and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.  For several years, I have worked with a grassroots group of parents and students called Decoding Dyslexia, and I have learned of the importance of identifying dyslexia and related disorders early.  Once diagnosed, it is vitally important that we provide teachers, parents, and students with the resources they need to help each child succeed in school and beyond. 

One of the most important tasks of the General Assembly is crafting the State Budget, and I am happy to report that the House of Delegates passed a conservative, responsible, and structurally-balanced amended budget.  The budget passed invests in the core functions of government while protecting precious taxpayer resources.  

Here are several highlights of the amended 2016-2018 State Budget: 

  • 3% salary increase for state employees
  • An investment of over $18 million in new funding for K-12 more than Governor McAuliffe proposed. The funding also gives local school divisions added flexibility to spend the money as best fits them.
  • $32 million for a 2% teacher pay raise, with no local match required, effective February 2018.
  • Over $20 million in new funding for higher education to hold down tuition costs for Virginia families.
  • The budget does not include Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Instead, we continue to build on our work to strengthen the healthcare safety net.
  • Finally, the budget does not contain any tax or fee increases on hardworking Virginians.

This Session, I was able to continue my work on the important issue of domestic violence prevention.  I carried legislation (HB 2473) to expand the list of offenses that may be counted as prior convictions for the purposes of enhancing the penalty for a third conviction for violating a protective order. Under the bill, a previous conviction for stalking in violation of § 18.2-60.3 could be counted as a prior conviction in order to raise the penalty for a third conviction for violating a protective order from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony.  The bill passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 91 to 6.  While the Senate Finance Committee did not vote to pass the bill, we were successful in providing additional funding in the budget for domestic violence programs like Project Horizon, a local domestic violence shelter on whose board I am proud to serve.  

In addition, I participated in a conference committee of select House and Senate members on legislation that precludes a person who has been convicted of any felony defined as an act of violence from being eligible for first offender status for assault and battery against a family or household member unless the attorney for the Commonwealth does not object to the person being placed on first offender status.  Under current law, only prior convictions for assault and battery against a family or household member serve as a disqualifier.  This bill passed the General Assembly and is awaiting action by the Governor. 

Although my bill did not pass this year’s session, I remain committed to strengthening the Commonwealth’s laws related to the important issue of preventing domestic violence. 

The General Assembly tackled many issues this Session.  If you wish to research the legislation we considered this year, you may do so by visiting Virginia’s Legislation Information System.  In addition, you can review the State Budget by visiting the Virginia State Budget Portal.

Now that our work in Richmond is complete, if you would like to reach me or need assistance, please contact me at my District office at 434-946-9908 or by email at DelBCline@house.virginia.gov.  Additionally, written correspondence can be sent to P.O. Box 1405, Amherst, Virginia 24521. 

Ben Cline