Having just passed Crossover, the midpoint of the 2016 Legislative Session, I would like to provide you with an update. Crossover signifies a time that bills must be passed in their house of origin, whether House or Senate, in order to then be considered in the other body. A bill must be passed in both the House and Senate before it can be signed into law or vetoed by the Governor.
Several subjects have generated ample debate and floor speeches in the House, including K-12 education, economic development, healthcare, the environment, gun safety, and issues of equality. You may want to review bill summaries from the Richmond Times Dispatch here and the Virginia Pilot here.
If you are interested in learning more specific details about this session’s legislation, I encourage you to use the Legislative Information System (LIS) website: www.lis.virginia.gov. Here you can access information about all legislation, individual House and Senate members, committee agendas, the daily General Assembly calendar, and the proposed budget for the next biennium. The House and Senate normally convene every day at 12 noon to vote on legislation; if you are interested in viewing session virtually, you can do so at virginiageneralassembly.gov.
The subject of charter schools has generated much interest. House Joint Resolution 1 moves the authority to establish a charter school from local school boards, which presently exists, to the State Board of Education. One delegate argued on the floor that he could support charter schools if his locality did not have to pay for charter school construction; his locality already has a difficult time identifying funding even for repairs and renovations. Delegates had to weigh the arguments of keeping the initiation of charter schools at local levels where there is more knowledge of specific need and funding availability versus the need for educational options. Analysis from The Commonwealth Institute provides a short overview of the status of both charter school and education funding initiatives as the budget process continues. The charter school resolution passed in the House with a narrow margin, and will be heard in the Senate. Meanwhile, a similar measure, which originated in the Senate was defeated there.
Gun safety has been another important subject. Governor Terry McAuliffe and Speaker of the House William Howell reached a historic bipartisan compromise on this issue. The deal consisted of three parts. First, an agreement to allow for voluntary background checks on gun sales that occur at a gun show. Second, an agreement to prohibit a person that is subject to a protective order from possessing a gun during the duration of the protective order. Lastly, an agreement was reached to restore reciprocity agreements for concealed carry permits with all states that previously had their agreements severed. You can read more about the compromise, as well as the individual pieces of legislation, that when passed together will make up the deal, by clicking this link.
Issues involving the importance of conservation and preservation of our environment have drawn attention. There was an effort to increase the reporting and public notification requirements in situations where there has been an unlawful discharge of a substance into state waters (HB977). Additionally, the bill would have required the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to report the unlawful discharge to the news media. A bill involving the Clean Power Plan (HB2), which would require the DEQ to submit any plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions to the General Assembly for its approval passed the House.
Several bills targeted equality for all citizens. One attempted to eliminate sexual orientation listed in nondiscrimination policies and another defined the use of public bathrooms. I opposed these two bills; they were defeated. However, another bill affirming discriminatory action based on sincerely held religious beliefs, which I opposed, passed.
I carried corrective and agency bills for the Treasury and Labor Departments (HB529 & HB691) and an expansion bill (HB1287) for Drive to Work, a local non-profit. Constitutional amendments concerning non-partisan redistricting (HJ92) and restoration of rights (HJ93) were not heard.
From my participation on the Housing Commission, I was able to chief co-patron Delegate Danny Marshall’s bill authorizing the establishment of land bank entities (HB268). Land banks operate across the United States and are a proven tool utilized by local governments to reduce the number of tax delinquent, and often vacant, blighted structures. Since the land bank is a government instrument, it enables the government to take a strategic and entrepreneurial approach to redevelopment. The land bank, in partnership with the local government, works to advance the priorities of the locality—whether those priorities be the development of more affordable housing or the redevelopment of aging commercial corridors. Establishment of a land bank is a local option and completely unrelated to eminent domain. This bill passed the House and is continuing to the Senate for consideration. A land bank entity could be helpful in the Richmond metropolitan area and the City supported the bill.
Additionally, I introduced legislation (HB693) that indexes the standard tax deduction for inflation. There has been no increase since 1989 for standard deduction single filers at all. A majority of filers claim the standard deduction, but get little of the total benefits, and the vast majority of the people claiming the standard deduction are low-income filers. This legislation did not pass; however there was bi-partisan agreement that it is a good idea, which the General Assembly could explore ways to finance.
Two other bills that have had strong community support were defeated: Workers Rejoining the Workforce (HB530), known colloquially as “Ban the Box” and expungement (HB 934). The first bill aimed at helping workers rejoin the workforce by removing the section pertaining to criminal history on public governmental job applications. Employers would still be able to determine a potential employee’s criminal history after an initial interview and deny employment. Citizens with criminal histories deserve a second chance at gaining employment and becoming contributing members of our society.
HB 934 would have allowed a person convicted of certain misdemeanors who has successfully completed probation to apply for expungement. One well informed constituent came to the General Assembly during a snow day to share his own story and testify on behalf of the bill. Viewers, including myself, were impressed with his compelling argument how expungement can help individuals with histories, such as his, to return to their communities as fully contributing and tax paying citizens.
For the second time, I introduced a bill (HB959) that would establish a Commission for the Commemoration of the Centennial of Women’s Right to Vote in the United States. After working across the aisle to ensure that the League of Women Voters was represented, the bill was combined withHB856 and passed out of the House. There is also a similar Senate bill (SB771).
My HB960 sought to restore a principle originally intended in our Virginia Constitution. The Constitution framers, like Thomas Jefferson, sought to have the collection of certain highway fines and fees go to the state Literary Fund, in order to separate any collectors of fines from the recipient agency of those fines. However, a number of years ago, the legislature allowed for local ordinances to be written concerning highways that were under both local and state jurisdiction, so that the localities could receive the collected fines rather than having them go to the Literary Fund.
Today, a number of localities depend on the income of the collected highway fines to help fund local law enforcement needs. Our dedicated and hardworking law enforcement officials should not have to prioritize whether to respond to a local “hold up” call at a convenience store or a call concerning domestic violence, or whether to man a local speed monitor.
HB 960 would have returned a more even balance to our system by sending 50% of the fines and fees to localities and 50% to the Literary Fund. The bill did not pass and sheriffs across the Commonwealth noted their opposition.
Developing and passing a budget is the most important work of the General Assembly each year. The budget that will be passed this session will lay out plans for how our Commonwealth will spend taxpayers’ money for 2017 and 2018 (HB30). In addition, there will be a vote on the “caboose” budget (HB29) which makes any amendments to planned expenditures for 2016. The Appropriations Committee, of which I am a member, will meet on Sunday, February 21, to present amendments to the Governor’s introduced budget. K-12 education will be a priority as well assalary increases for state and state supported workers.
One budget amendment I submitted would benefit our community and has received interesting comment. It would set up a pilot program similar to Thad Williamson’s Community Wealth Building Program in the City of Richmond. This model encourages leaders to alleviate long-standing poverty and support economic development through collaboration in the areas of education, workforce training, housing, transportation, and health rather than operating in silos.
On January 30th, the General Assembly travelled to Williamsburg to meet in the Hall of the House of Burgesses for the 26th Commemorative Session. W. Taylor Reveley, III, President of the College of William and Mary, gave an eloquent, informative, and inspiring speech entitled, “In the Beginning, there was Virginia and Virginia Led…,” which is available to read here. Moments spent in the Hall of the House of Burgesses only come once every four years for the General Assembly. I am happy to have had the opportunity to participate twice now as Delegate. Each time I have been reminded of the deep privilege I have in serving the 69th District. It is always an honor to pay tribute to our nation’s greatest architects and experience a connection to those who helped build our great Commonwealth into what it is today.
I am so appreciative of each email, telephone call, letter, and office visit this session. I enjoy learning and hearing from you as it helps me to represent you in the best possible way. Please never hesitate to reach out to my office by calling 804-698-1169, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by my General Assembly office, room 527.
Betsy B. Carr