Minchew Memo Feb 17th

Last week on Tuesday, February 7th, the General Assembly reached the midway mark of the 45-day session or “Crossover”.  In the four weeks leading up to Crossover, the House of Delegates considered over 1,000 pieces of legislation.  After a nine-hour session on Tuesday, we concluded our work on all bills that originated on the House side of our bicameral legislature, passing along 562 bills to the Senate.  We will now spend the remaining time considering legislation from the Senate. 

Thank you to all who completed my 2017 Constituent Survey, participated in my two Town Halls in Berryville and Leesburg, or contacted my office about your legislative priorities.  I value your feedback and believe the House of Delegates is working to make progress on many of the issues you identified as priorities. We are focusing on legislation that supports job creation and economic development, healthcare, education, and public safety while continuing our work on transportation improvements.  

On Sunday, February 5th, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled the amended House Budget for the 2016-2018 biennium.  The House Budget bill (HB 1500) is a structurally-balanced and responsible spending plan that protects taxpayer dollars while carefully investing in the core functions of state government with no new taxes or fees. We want to invest in our priorities but believe Virginia should be cautious and prudent with taxpayer resources and I am pleased to report HB1500 passed the House with strong support, reflected in the 98-Y 2-N vote.

As many of you know, our senior Loudoun County Circuit Court judge, the Honorable Burke McCahill, retired in December and one of our more important duties for the 2017 Session is to elect a replacement judge for this now-vacant judgeship.  But last Friday evening, 36 hours before the House Budget was released by the House Appropriations Committee, I learned that vacant judgeships would not be funded in an effort to close the deficit in our biennial budget adopted last year.  I immediately contacted the Loudoun House and Senate Delegation members and, in particular Loudoun’s own Budget Conferee Appropriations Committee member, Delegate Tag Greason.  Within 36 hours, Delegate Greason was able to get funding for our Loudoun judgeship restored in the House Budget.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that the Senate Budget does not have this funding included.  We will all work hard to ensure the final, reconciled version of the budget has this funding included so that our Loudoun judiciary can remain fully staffed.

A top budget priority of mine through this year’s budget process was to approve a 3% salary increase for our Virginia State Troopers.  This bill also includes funding to address the issue of “salary compression” among employees in the local sheriffs’ offices and regional jails.  This salary compression adjustment will address the current pay schedule that has a minimal pay increase for seniority and job experience.  This salary compression adjustment will promote retention of experienced employees in these important positions.  With regards to public safety, we also included a comprehensive funding to combat domestic violence, including additional funding for prevention, treatment and counseling services.

Education continues to be a top priority for the House of Delegates as we continue to make strategic investments in education.  The 2017 House Budget Bill (HB1500) calls for new funding for K-12 education. We look to invest $15 billion for direct aid to public education and build on our lottery investment by sending $218.7 million directly back to local school divisions with fewer strings attached than other funding.  We have designated an additional $20 million investment in funding for financial aid to address rising college tuition costs and to increase prioritization for in-state students.

Below is a brief update on my legislation that has passed the House and is now going through the Senate for consideration.

HB2350- Trespassing by drone-This bill was recommended to me by the Town of Leesburg and grew out of problems with drone trespassing on private property.  I proposed this legislation to help the existing law keep pace with the rapidly developing technology of unmanned aircraft systems, more commonly known as drones.  While existing code states it is unlawful for a person to “peep or spy into a dwelling or occupied building”, it does not allow for prosecution of those who may choose to do this by drone.  This bill expands protection by prohibiting the use of an electronic device to knowingly and intentionally enter onto another person’s property or dwelling to secretly peep or spy.  This bill passed the House (97-0), reported out of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, and will be voted upon by the full Senate early next week.

HB2303- "Energy Liberty"- Production of electric power by agricultural landowners- This bill was the result of months of intensive meetings and the hard work and compromise of landowners, investor-owned utility companies, electric cooperatives, solar developers, and solar advocates.  Specifically, this bill creates an option for farmers to use their land to “harvest” solar energy or generate power by other means (wind, bio-gas, or geothermal) and put that renewable energy back into the power grid, offsetting their operational costs and reducing their level of energy consumption by selling the excess energy back to the power companies.  While it does not give all stakeholders everything they were seeking, I think it will serve as important step in advancing the expansion of renewable energy in the Commonwealth, while providing increased opportunities for economic development. This bill also augments the ability of farmers and rural economy landowners to exercise two great American virtues:  self-reliance and individual determination. This passed the House (82- Y, 13- N, 2-A) and passed the Senate (36 - Y, 2- N, 2- A) and will now go to the Governor's desk.

HB 2435- Handheld personal communication devices; use while driving, penalty- I filed this bill to address the growing problem associated with the use of handheld personal communication devices by drivers that can result in distracted driving behavior.  This past August, our region experienced a tragic loss of five-month old Tristan Schulz of Lansdowne, apparently due to a driver using his cell phone while operating his vehicle crossing the pedestrian crosswalk where Tristan's mother was pushing his stroller.  The issue of distracted driving needs to be addressed by proper amendments to our criminal and traffic offense laws.  Drafting this bill was a laborious process as it is hard to balance (as all criminal statutes do) public safety with personal liberty.  My bill was combined with an identical bill (HB1834) but regrettably, did not clear the rigorous review of the House Courts of Justice Committee Criminal Law Subcommittee and failed on a tied 10 - 10 vote.  I remain committed to working on this issue going forward. 

HB 1712- Energy performance-based contract; cooperative procurement-  Energy performance-based contracts (EPC) is a form of financing that permits State agencies and local government facilities to make energy efficiency upgrades without increasing their budgets.  This bill makes a minor adjustment to the Energy and Operational Efficiency Performance Based Contracting Act that would allow a greater level of cooperation between governmental entities when in implementing these energy performance contracts, which will lead to cost savings and energy savings.  This bill passed the House (98-0) and was passed by the Senate (40-0).  It will now proceed to the Governor's desk.

HB1713- Electronic access to non-confidential court records; background checks- This bill streamlines the background screening process for the Clerks of Court and companies providing background screening services to employees.  It will also help speed up the background screening process for job applicants who must await the results of the background checks before they can be hired, and will assist employers in getting jobs filled with qualified applicants more efficiently.  This bill passed the House (99-0) and Senate (40-0) and will move to the Governor’s desk for a signature. 

HB 1740- Sanitary districts; creation by board of supervisors- This bill was recommended to me by Clarke County and amends a long-existing but rarely used law that gives Circuit Court judges the ability to create and alter special taxing districts to address a variety of needs of a community, including elements such as water supply and sewerage.  The existing law dates back to the days when local judges often did what we could consider today to be local government public policy-making.  This bill moves this public-making authority to the elected County Board of Supervisors, who are directly accountable to the voters, and who are required to hold advertised public hearings when they legislate.  This bill passed the House (95-2) and the Senate (40-0), and now moves to the Governor’s desk for a signature.

HB1816- Demurrers; amended pleadings-I filed this bill at the request of the Virginia Bar Association (VBA) that provides a resolution to what many lawyers have called the “Demurrer trap” and provides a technical solution for the legal pleading process and the preservation of appeal rights.  It was a recommendation that came out of the VBA’s Boyd-Graves Conference.  This bill passed the House (99-0) and the Senate (39-0), and now moves to the Governor's desk.

My office staff is available to provide constituents with a range of assistance in state and local matters. We can be reached at (804) 698-1010 during session or (703) 777-1570 during the rest of the year.  Please do not hesitate to contact me through email at DelRMinchew@house.virginia.gov.  

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.

Best regards,

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"My Door is Always Open..."

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Berryville Town Hall Meeting on February 4th

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Speaking to Leadership Loudoun Class of 2017 with Senator Wexton and Delegate LaRock


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Dulles Area Association of Realtors visit the Capital on Realtors' Day

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Longwood University President W. Tayor Reveley IV and Bob Wertz, Rector of Longwood's Board of Visitors

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Students from the University of Virginia Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy met with Delegate Minchew and Delegate Austin


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