It has been an extremely busy and productive week at the General Assembly. Besides making up time lost from last week’s snowstorm, we only have two more weeks before Crossover, which falls on February 16, 2016, this year. “Crossover” is the halfway point of the General Assembly Session, when more than 1300 bills will have traveled through the committee process, and if passed out of committee, head to the floor of the House of Delegates for passage or defeat.
We have “hit the ground running” here in Richmond. Of the thirty bills I filed, 15 have already been considered in various subcommittees and full committee levels. Two of my bills have already passed the House of Delegates with unanimous consent and will head to the Senate for consideration. In addition to all my legislation in the pipeline, I sit on four standing committees and hear bills presented by other delegates at the Courts of Justice, Transportation, Privileges and Elections, and new this year, the General Laws Committees. Finally, I presented two of my three Budget Amendments to the Appropriations Committee. I will highlight many of these legislative accomplishments below.
Before I share with you my thoughts from this week’s session, please be aware that my online 2016 Legislative Survey is still active. Before we process the results, please take a few minutes to complete my 2016 Legislative Survey I greatly appreciate your input and look forward to sharing the results with you once the report has been prepared.
First, I would like discuss the 2016-2018 biennial budget process and the amendments to the Budget Bill (HB 30) that I have filed this year. The budget bill is a unique bill. It is the only bill that is open to amendments by any delegate, and it consumes 90% of the time of the Appropriations Committee. Crafting a budget for the Commonwealth is the most important work that the General Assembly does every two years.This year I filed three budget amendments:
- Budget Amendment: C-47 #10h: Department of Conservation & Recreation. This amendment sub-allocates funds from Governor McAuliffe’s $140,000,000 request for state parks for the acquisition of additional lands for the new 600-acre state park located in northwestern Loudoun County. The beautiful site is the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship and the creation of this new state park was one of the final acts of the McDonnell Administration back in 2013. I foresee this new park as being similar to the Sky Meadow State Park in Fauquier County with a wonderful array of active and passive recreation opportunities.
- Budget Amendment 196 #2h: Department of Education, University of Virginia. This amendment will secure stable funding for two full time Environmental Educator positions at Blandy Experimental Farms in southern Clarke County in order to sustain and expand the pre-K-12 educational programs offered at this wonderful facility.
- Budget Amendment 376 #1h: Department of Historic Resources. This amendment asks for $1,000,000 over two years that will be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis for the preservation, interpretation and development of Civil War Battlefields in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. This amendment is not for land acquisition.
Keven Walker of Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation testifies before the Appropriations Committee.
Two of my bills have already passed the House of Delegates unanimously. HB 386 (passed 91-0) adds a module for observational and reporting techniques in Nurse Aide training programs. Because they are now required to report suspected cases of abuse or neglect to authorities, they are the first to see problems in early stages of development. We want them to have training to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens. This bill was suggested to me by the Northern Virginia Aging Network (NVAN) and a number of senior citizen advocacy groups in our region.
HB 181 passed the House today on a 97-0 vote. It does one thing and one thing only. It allows the third most populous county in our Commonwealth, Loudoun, with more than 350,000 residents, to have two voting members – instead of one - on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC). This change is warranted in light of the fact that the NVTC has the duty to oversee the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), and in light of the fact that Loudoun County has chosen to join the WMATA Compact and have Silver Line Metro service in its future, we need more Loudoun voting power on the NVTC.
Several of my bills have also reported from subcommittees and committees this week.
- HB 233 – This bill allows any locality to fund the cost of participation in mental health treatment and counseling programs by members of volunteer fire or rescue companies. Our volunteer fire fighters and rescue squad men and women put themselves into harm's way and sometimes need mental health and counseling services after their heroic acts. This bill passed Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns without opposition. (22-0)
- HB 906 - This bill strengthens the priest-penitent privilege and the confidentiality of communications between religious ministers and those citizens who consult with them. It is supported by many religious groups and the Family Foundation and, in my opinion, will strengthen Virginia's free exercise of religion constitutional right first written by George Mason in 1776 and now enshrined in Article I of the Virginia Constitution. This bill is also a recommendation of the Virginia Bar Association's Boyd-Graves Conference and the bill reported out of the Courts of Justice Committee on a 22-0 vote.
- HB 707- This bill addresses a growing problem of "meth labs" that are often set up in residential homes. Methamphetamine and other clandestine drugs are highly toxic and can permeate the drywall, flooring, and other areas of these residential structures. My bill will lead to certified and licensed remediation professionals who can clean up these homes and allows them to to be resold. Currently, these "meth lab" homes can create a blight in their neighborhoods and negatively affect property values. This bill had its second reading on the House floor today and was reported from the General Laws Committee on a unanimous vote.
You can always look at my legislation online at the Virginia Legislative Information System. The legislation is updated nightly with all the bill’s legislative history to date. The Virginia General Assembly website is an invaluable tool for advocacy, education and general information about the Commonwealth’s legislative process and history.
“My Door is Always Open”
Visitors to my office and the General Assembly this week included Town of Leesburg and Loudoun County public officials, medical professionals, the Virginia Farm Bureau, the Virginia Horse Council, and the Homebuilders from across the state as well as from our 10th district.
Physician Assistant students from Shenandoah University
Virginians for the Arts and Virginia Tourism Corporation were in the General Assembly Building yesterday making a great case for promoting the great historic resources and cultural activities in our Commonwealth. “Virginia is for Lovers” is still the great tagline for tourism in our state.
And now, I end with a one last reminder to complete my online legislative survey here. As your delegate, I rely on your comments and views to better serve you in the General Assembly.
I look forward to seeing many of you in the upcoming weeks. If you wish to visit the Capitol and my office, please call my staff at 804-698-1010 to arrange a visit.
Hopefully, the snow has abated enough in our great 10thDistrict that you are able to resume your normal activities. Have a great weekend~