2019 General Assembly Session Update - Volume 4

As we enter the last week of the 2019 General Assembly Session, there are still several important issues to be resolved, including amendments to the biennial budget adopted last year.  The Senate amendments and House amendments will now be resolved by a conference committee.  The majority of my constituents have expressed support for increased funding for public education, so here is an overview of some of the key differences in that area:
Teacher Pay:  The Governor's proposed budget increased the state's share of an initially budgeted 3 percent raise to a 5 percent pay increase for teachers and school staff for the 2019-2020 school year.  The Senate included these funds and added language allowing school divisions to provide a partial increase between 3 and 5 percent and still receive the state match. The House includes similar language, but only funds half the year, leaving local school divisions to either find the local dollars to pay for a full year or only give teachers a partial raise. The difference between the House and Senate proposals is $43.8 million.
School Counselors: The Governor's proposed budget starts a three-year phase-in to the desired ratio of one school counselor for every 250 students. The House budget funds the first year of this increase ($36 million). The Senate budget only includes one-third of these funds ($12 million) for the state share of an additional 250 counselor positions.  
At-Risk Add-On: The Governor's proposed budget included a $35 million increase in lottery revenues in Virginia's supplemental aid to school divisions with high concentrations of poverty. This increased funding, additional aid of 1-16% more per student eligible for free lunch, will assist schools with the additional services these students need to help them thrive in school.  These funds help reduce the inequity of the state's school funding distribution. The House eliminated this proposed increase, instead shifting much of the funds into the Lottery Per Pupil Allocation (Lottery PPA), another supplemental funding stream for schools. Unfortunately, Lottery PPA funds are allocated based solely on enrollment.  The Senate budget partially funds the Governor's proposal ($21 million).
Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) Plus:  The Governor's proposed budget invests state funds to cover the costs of an expiring federal grant that extended Virginia's state preschool program (VPI) to serve an additional 13,000 four-year olds living in low-income households.  The House proposal eliminates continuing the grant program with state funds, while the Senate proposal includes about three-quarters of the funding ($7.3 million). 
You can see a summary of these and other key differences between the House and Senate budgets here.
My Legislation

Six of my bills have now passed the House and Senate:
  • SB 1433 requiring the Department of Education to collect and report to each education program certain data regarding their graduates to allow us to track how well our teacher prep programs are preparing teachers to succeed in the Commonwealth; 
  • SB 1434 requiring the Board of Education to review and revise, in consultation with certain stakeholders and no later than December 1, 2019, its Career and Technical Education Work-Based Learning Guide to expand the opportunities available for students to earn credit for graduation through high-quality work-based learning experiences such as job shadowing, mentorships, internships, and externships;
  • SB 1435 giving the Commissioner of Social Services the power to issue a summary order of suspension of the license of any child welfare agency when conditions or practices exist that pose an immediate and substantial threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the children receiving care;
  • SB 1436 fixing unintended consequences resulting from 2017 legislation conforming Virginia law to federal requirements relating to women's use of substances during pregnancy, including reporting data, and mandating that hospitals report infants born affected by any medications to local Child Protective Services, even when the substance used is legal and used appropriately as prescribed; 
  • SB 1439 requiring electronic filing of death certificates, which was the result of stakeholder meetings held over the summer; and
  • SB 1461 exempting teachers/programs solely focused on how to pass a specified professional certification exam from SCHEV regulations. 
In addition, SB 1108 is in conference committee to address differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.  SB 1108 clarifies that the Marsh Criminal-Traffic Division at Manchester General District Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the John Marshall Criminal-Traffic Division at Richmond General District Court over all matters arising in the City of Richmond. 

Three of my resolutions reported out of committee and will be heard on the House floor this week:
  • SJ 297 acknowledging with profound regret the existence and acceptance of lynching within the Commonwealth and calling for reconciliation among all Virginians;
  • SJ 298 designating August 2019 and each succeeding August as Breastfeeding Awareness Month; and
  • SJ 299 designates November 17 in 2019 and in each succeeding year as World Prematurity Day.  

Despite passing the Senate with an overwhelming majority, two of my bills were not even granted a hearing in the House General Laws Committee:

  • SB 1062 prohibiting localities from discriminating in the application of local land use ordinances/guidelines or in the permitting of housing developments solely on the basis that they include affordable units; and 
  • SB 1109 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of an individual's sexual orientation of gender identity under the Virginia Housing Act. 

Similarly, despite passing the Senate 38-2, SB 1107 eliminating the criminal charge of disorderly conduct for behavior at a school or school-sponsored activity was defeated in the House Criminal Courts Subcommittee on a party-line vote.  I discussed this bill in a recent op-ed here.

Finally, despite passing the Senate unanimously, SB 1440 expanding mental health curriculum to all grades K-12 was tabled by the House Appropriations Education Subcommittee.  Last year we added mental health to grades 9 and 10, and SB 1440 has no fiscal impact.  Fortunately, the Committee Chair plans to send a letter to the Board of Education to request that the Board implement mental health curriculum through all grades as it works to implement legislation passed last year to include mental health in 9th and 10th grade health.

During the 2019 session, I am eager to hear from you on issues you care about. To share your views on legislation or identify individuals or organizations that should be commended in 2019, contact my office at (804) 698-7509 or district09@senate.virginia.gov.  You can also stop by my office in the Pocahontas Building, located at 900 East Main Street. My offices are located in E512.
You can also stay informed about General Assembly activities by following me on Twitterliking my Facebook page, and following me on Instagram

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