Greetings from Richmond! It is hard to believe March is already here. Since there is only one more week in the 2018 legislative session, the General Assembly is working diligently to complete the committee dockets. Here are some highlights from this week:
Joint Meeting of the Military and Veteran Caucus & the Arts Caucus: During the weekly meeting of the Military and Veterans Caucus, members of the Arts Caucus joined us for a presentation by the Hylton Performing Arts Center on their Veterans & the Arts Initiative. Programming at the Hylton Performing Arts Center runs all year long to bring meaningful experiences in the arts to veterans, service members, and their families. By working in a truly collaborative way, they create positive and uplifting experiences to enhance the community. For more information please go to HyltonCenter.org/veterans, and support these programs that do truly great work in our community.
Capitol Square Basketball Game : For the third year, I participated in the 2018 Massey Capitol Classic. This charity basketball game pits the House of Delegates’ team against the Senate, and the Governor's team against the lobbyists. The pages even came to participate in the spirit competition. I thoroughly enjoyed the excitement, teamwork, and sportsmanship displayed by everyone who stepped on the court. It was a fun night of camaraderie from both sides of the aisle as we raised over $35,000 for the VCU Massey Cancer Center!
Notable Bills that Passed This Week:
- Transponder Fees - My SB 643 passed from the House committee on Transportation on Tuesday, and will head to the Governor’s desk for signature. The bill protects consumers by requiring VDOT to wait one full year before they can collect a fee for not using the EZ Pass FLEX in the flex mode. The current practice is to charge the fee after six months. If we want to encourage people to slug or carpool, then we must remove barriers that make it more difficult.
- ABC Applications - My SB 647 moves the alcohol licensing process into the 21st century by allowing business owners to apply for licensure through online applications. On Thursday the House Committee on General Laws voted unanimously to send this to the House floor for a vote.
- Disability Employment - SB 652 brings together a variation of stakeholders from industry and state government to discuss state procurement policies that will encourage employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. This bill passed unanimously from the House committee on General Laws and heads to the House floor for a vote.
- Industry Credentials for High School Students - My SB 664 adds the flexibility for school districts to allow students, who have passed their SOL or end of course assessment, to take real-world certification courses that could be used to bolster their resume. These certificates better equip our students for the workforce and increase employment opportunities. This bill has passed the House and is on its way to the Governor’s desk for signature.
- School Suspension Reform - On Monday, the Senate passed HB 1600, which limits the number of days that a student can be suspended from school to a maximum of 45 days. In 2015-16 Virginia Schools issued 2,965 long term suspensions according to a Legal Aid Justice Center report published in October. Students of color were suspended at a rate 3.8 times higher than their peers, and students with disabilities were suspended 2.6 times more than their peers. The new legislation forces school districts to develop more constructive and effective ways to address discipline issues that don’t ostracize students from their learning environments. Exceptions can be made by the Superintendent for a suspension longer than 45 days, if there are aggravating circumstances, such as a crime being committed.
- Teacher Licensing - In an effort to address our teacher shortage, the Commonwealth will now instruct the Department of Education to grant an interim, one-year teaching license to the spouse of an active duty service member that has an out of state license. This legislation will dissolve barriers keeping qualified teachers from joining the workforce.
- “Lunch shaming” - Both the House and Senate unanimously voted to pass SB 840, requires the Virginia School board to enforce policies that prohibit publicly identifying, segregating, and shaming students who cannot pay for a school meal or who have a lunch debt. Every child deserves a full balanced lunch at school, regardless of family income. Many thanks to Adelle Settle for her advocacy on the “Settle the Debt” campaign to help pay off meal debts in Prince William County Schools.
- Student Loan Ombudsman- The House voted to approve SB 394, which creates a student loan ombudsman office. This office will be in charge of fostering a culture of transparency between loan providers and student borrowers by offering various methods repaying loans, reviewing borrower complaints, and educating borrowers of their consumer rights. This legislation is one step towards a more fair and effective system for student loan borrowers.
- Recess Bill - The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1419, to expand elementary school recess to at least 20 minutes per day. Recess has both physical and cognitive benefits for students. It encourages teamwork and creativity, as well as developing social skills between students and improving focus and attention when back in the classroom. Since this bill is slightly different than the Senate companion, both bills will go into a conference committee so compromise language can be agreed on.
Bill that Failed This Week:
- AEDs in Gyms - I am disappointed that SB 654 failed this week in the House committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions on a party line vote. This bill would have required that health clubs and fitness facilities to have a working automated external defibrillator (AED) on the premises. Supported by the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine, this bill has the effect of vastly improving the survival rate of someone in cardiac arrest.
It is my honor and privilege to serve you in Senate of Virginia. The General Assembly is in session for one more week, and I will continue to update you on our progress until we adjourn.