Richmond Report – Two Weeks Remaining

With just two weeks left for the 2017 General Assembly session, the fast pace continues here in Richmond as the House and Senate worked to meet two major deadlines: the Crossover deadline on Tuesday and the vote on our respective versions of the State Budget.  Here are several issues that we have worked on at this point.

Jobs

We recognize that helping businesses create good paying jobs remains a top priority.  This year, we have passed legislation to prohibit local governments from adopting ordinances setting the minimum wage higher than the state government and legislation protecting small business owners that operate franchises from being forced to unionize their employees.

In addition, while my bill to create a Joint Subcommittee to Evaluate Professional and Occupational Licensing Requirements did not pass, I am a co-patron of similar legislation (HB 1566) sponsored by Delegate Michael Webert.  House Bill 1566 establishes the position of professional and occupational regulatory analyst within the Division of Legislative Services to assist the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules in (i) evaluating at least three professions and occupations in each year and (ii) the extent feasible, reviewing legislation establishing or modifying an occupational regulation to determine whether the legislation meets the state policy of using the least restrictive regulation necessary to protect or preserve the public health, safety, and welfare. The evaluation shall include recommendations for changes to occupational regulations to improve compliance with the state policy of using the least restrictive regulation necessary.  This bill passed the House of Delegates and is now being considered by the Senate. 

Education 

As we know, education is the gateway to opportunity, and a student’s background should not matter when it comes to receiving a good education.  The House has worked hard to scale back SOL tests that sometimes emphasize memorization, and we expanded on this effort this year by passing legislation that gives a student the appropriate amount of partial credit for a multipart assessment if the entire question is not answered completely correct.  

The Commonwealth is fortunate to have one of the best education systems in the world, and the bulk of our thanks should go to our great teachers and parents who have made it their life’s work to educate children.  Each year, the House of Delegates seeks to provide educators with the tools, resources, and flexibility they need to provide our children with a world-class education by reducing burdensome licensure and continuing education requirements.  To further this effort, the House passed legislation this year to waive certain licensure requirements for a teacher with an endorsement in career and technical education.

In addition, I introduced legislation this year (HB 2395) to require one reading specialist in any school division in which the local school board employs such a specialist to serve as an advisor on dyslexia and related disorders.  Over the years, I have learned just how important it is to identify dyslexia and related disorders early, and provide teachers, parents, and students with the resources they need to ensure that each child can succeed in school and beyond. 

Finally, the House is working to control college costs and make college more affordable. In addition, to passing legislation to set standard acceptance of dual enrollment credits taken in high school, the House passed legislation I am chief co-patron of to establish the Online Virginia Network Authority as a political subdivision of the Commonwealth for the purpose of establishing the Online Virginia Network to coordinate the online delivery of courses that facilitate the completion of degrees at George Mason University and Old Dominion University.  This bill builds on legislation that I enacted in 2015 (HB 2320) to make college more affordable through the use of online courses. 

Budget

In December of last year, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced his introduced budget, with adjustments to the 2016-2018 biennial budget passed last year as a result of the over $1 billion shortfall that was announced last fall.  Since the Governor’s announcement, the House Appropriations Committee conducted five public hearings across the Commonwealth to receive input on the priorities citizens would like to see addressed. 

This Thursday, the House voted on our version of the budget, which reflects the tough choices and priority setting necessary to present a balanced budget.  The House reviewed all discretionary spending and held fast to conservative budgeting while investing in the core functions of government. 

State Employees and State Troopers: The House budget invests resources to make a compensation package for state employees and law enforcement a reality.  This includes 3% raise for state employees and college faculty, and restoring the 2% pay raise for state supported employees at a total of $88.7 million.  In addition, funding is also included to provide Deputy Sheriffs with their compression pay adjustments.  Lastly, an additional $15 million is included to address the starting salaries and compression of our State Troopers and Capitol Police Officers.  

K-12 Education: During last year’s session, the House re-established the policy of sending back a portion of the Lottery proceeds to our school divisions on a per-pupil basis without requiring a local match.  This year’s House budget sends 40%, or $218.7 million, in Lottery Profits directly back to our school divisions.  This gives the schools much needed flexibility in allocating these dollars where they think it will be best served – whether it be a pay raise for their teachers or funding their share of getting to 100% of the required VRS contribution rate. 

Health and Human Resources: The House, Senate, and the Governor have worked together to make significant investments in the area of mental health.  This year, the House proposes to provide a $28.5 million increase in mental health services, including expanding the GAP program to cover individuals up to 100% of the federal poverty level.  In addition, we will also provide funding for supportive housing and same day access.  Finally, our budget recommendations will add an additional 144 DD waiver slots to meet the needs of Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens. 

The House budget recommendations adhere to our commitment to strategically focus our resources, by keeping our promises to our state employees, and to fund the core services of government.  If you wish to read more about the House’s budget proposals, you may do so by clicking here. 

I look forward to hearing and seeing folks from back home in the district.  Feel free to come see me and visit my office if you will be in the Richmond area during session.  While I may be in session or in a committee meeting, you can call or email to set an appointment to ensure that I will be available.  If you would like to reach me or need assistance, please contact me at my Richmond office at 804-698-1024 or by email at DelBCline@house.virginia.gov.  Additionally, written correspondence may be sent to P.O. Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218. 

Ben Cline