Week 5 at the General Assembly
Rest assured that the operations of state government continue uninterrupted and critical services are not being compromised in any way. Moreover, lawmakers and civil servants are working diligently to conduct the state's business. However, everyone acknowledges that we need to find a pathway forward that is both healing and empowering for all of us.
Disturbing and painful issues involving racism and sexual assault have come forward surrounding Governor Northam, Lt. Governor Fairfax, and Attorney General Herring. Each individual continues to execute his duties and responsibilities as an elected official, while doing some soul searching. Like you, I want a Virginia that reflects our shared values of equity, inclusion, dignity, and opportunity for all. I believe our way forward must include a difficult conversation acknowledging our painful history of racism and offering tangible solutions for meaningful reconciliation. I also believe that any allegation of sexual assault deserves to be heard and taken seriously. Even as our faith has been shaken in our executive leaders, I am determined to continue our fight in the Senate for a better Virginia.
First Pass at the Budget—Senate Version:
Education: The Senate budget includes funding for the state portion of a 5% pay raise for teachers. After a lively discussion on the Senate floor, additional money was added to decrease the counselor to student ratio to 1:250 students. This decrease brings Virginia in line with the recommended ratio of the American School Counselor Association and provides important resources to schools that will make positive impacts on discipline and learning environments. I have to give a shout out to the Virginia Association of Counselors, Voices for Virginia’s Children, and the many other advocacy groups that really care about helping kids succeed. Dollars invested in these early stages of development pay great dividends in the long run. It is also worth noting that the budget increases Virginia’s supplement to school systems for students from low income families.
Reproductive Health: Unfortunately, the Senate budget language reduces the number of healthcare providers and clinics eligible to participate in the Long Acting Reversible Contraceptive (LARCS) pilot program. The language intentionally removes Planned Parenthood clinics from the program and, thereby, considerably reduces access to LARCS for low-income and college-age individuals as well as others who may not have a medical home. I keep reiterating how everyone benefits when parents are empowered to plan their families. Similar pilot programs have significantly reduced Medicaid costs and the number of abortions. I am planning a strategy for working with the conferees to reverse this language.
Family Support: The budget also includes my request to provide additional funding for TANF recipients so they can receive child care assistance while they attend school. Currently, this transition program, commonly known as the Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare (VIEW), provides child care subsidies to former TANF individuals only if they are working. I vigorously argued that funding is needed for individuals to continue with their education or workforce training to qualify for jobs that will enable them to support their families. Moreover, some jobs are going unfilled in high-need workforce areas such as the skilled trades, healthcare technicians, customer service representatives, and IT technicians. Fortunately, appropriators saw the multiple benefits of my request. Thank you Social Action Linking Together (SALT) for your effective advocacy on this.
Paid Family Leave: The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee paid family leave. There are sound economic and competitive benefits to offering paid family leave, as well as the benefit of fostering stronger families. I was very disappointed that both the House and Senate versions of the budget removed a $250K appropriation to establish a committee to study this important issue. I hope we will see movement on paid family leave in the 2020 session.
Developmental Disability Waiver Slots for Former Foster Kids: My bill, SB1135, directs local departments of social services to notify the appropriate community service boards (CSBs) when a child in the foster care system has a developmental disability so that the CSBs may screen the child for placement on the statewide developmental disability priority waiver list. This directive should ensure a seamless transition for children in foster care who need developmental disability waivers upon leaving the system. Efforts are also being made to provide early interventions to this population.
Proffer Bill: I negotiated compromise legislation among the Homebuilders, Smart Growth Coalition, and other stakeholders this session. The legislation removes language that impeded the ability of local government staff to discuss desired county benefits. However, the context of reasonableness and the relationship between impacts associated with the development to desirable community benefits remain. I hope this bill will restore avenues for honest communication and the ability for home builders to participate more fully in a community’s vision for how to grow. This bill was voted out of the House Counties, Cities, and Towns Committee unanimously and should pass the House early next week.
Full Day Kindergarten: I am also pleased to report that SB 1278, a bill I am co-patroning with Senator Barker that would increase the minimum number of instructional hours for kindergarten from 540 to 990, passed out of the Senate and is in the House. This bill would ensure that all accredited kindergartens in Virginia would be full day, giving students equal instruction time. It is critically important that all children receive this foundation so they are ready to succeed academically. Moreover, full day kindergarten supports families as they balance the challenges of coordinating school and work schedules.
I am excited to say that eight bills I carried and many others that I have co-patroned have crossed over into the House and I am navigating their progress through the House committees. Next week will be determinative. My SB1139 has already reported out of the House Courts of Justice Committee and is on second read today on the House floor. This bill will ensure that families and children involved in the adoption process are more aware of communication arrangements that can be made between birth parents and adoptive families. In addition to the Virginia Poverty Law Center, the Family Foundation also supports this bill. It is always encouraging when advocacy groups, that often adopt opposing positions on legislation, agree.
This week, my staff and I received many visitors to the office. Visitors included Moms Demand Action Loudoun, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, JCRC of NoVa, the League of Women Voters, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, EcoAction Arlington, Northern Virginia Community Colleges, Indivisible Arlington, and students from Christopher Newport University. As always, we value your input and I appreciate your ongoing support.
It is a privilege and pleasure to serve you. Together we will move Virginia forward.