Happy Valentine's Day to all! It's been a busy week in Richmond and I am looking forward to getting home and spending some time with Shelley. But it will be a short weekend, because this Sunday the House of Delegates will adjourn to "vote out the budget". This is one of the many "first steps" that the General Assembly takes to put the budget into conference, which is where the House and Senate sit down and debate what our final budget will look like. More on that next week.
This week has very extremely busy because of Crossover, which is when all the bills in the House must be completed and sent to the Senate and vice-versa. Despite the hectic week, we passed several pieces of landmark legislation. Here are some of the highlights from this week.
K-12 Education Initiatives
Many of you know that my wife Shelley is a school teacher in Prince William County which is why I am particularly excited about the K-12 Education initiatives that we passed this Tuesday. Any of you that have children in school will know that our students are held to a high standard by the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs). Over the past several years, students, teachers, and parents have called for reforms to the current SOLs to ensure that the tests place greater emphasis on developing the skills that our students need to succeed in life. They have also called for greater flexibility for teachers (Shelley supports this!) and for a process to ensure that our assessment system is constantly improving. By reducing the number of tests taken by students in grades 3-8 by 23% and placing greater emphasis on problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge applications skills, House Bill 930 begins the SOL reform process which is so desperately needed. And it passed with bipartisan support! I am proud to say that we also passed legislation to expand access to educational opportunities through the use of virtual classrooms. In this day and age, online classes open the door to educational opportunities that are hard to find in many areas.
This week, the Virginia House of Delegates also passed legislation that would significantly reform and update Virginia's ethics, transparency and disclosure laws. The bill imposes a $250 gift cap, creates a statewide ethics advisory council, updates and modernizes several aspects of Virginia's financial disclosure system and implements a mandatory training requirement for elected officials. The goal of this process was to enact substantive reforms to correct the issues we have seen in the Commonwealth recently and begin the process of restoring the trust between our elected representatives and the citizens we are honored to serve. Both Republicans and Democrats came together to accomplish this goal, and the countless hours spent crafting this legislation have resulted in a considerable step forward to strengthen accountability and increase transparency. Recognizing an issue, bringing all sides to the table to resolve that issue, and crafting meaningful legislation which passes with nearly unanimous support- that is the "Virginia Way"."
Accountability in Transportation Spending
It's no secret that us in Northern Virginia spend a significant amount of time sitting in traffic- on the way to work, on the way to the grocery store, dropping our kids off at school- you can't travel anywhere without hitting traffic. It's a huge problem in Northern Virginia but all across the Commonwealth, there are transportation issues that need to be addressed. It also isn't a secret that there isn't unlimited money at our disposal to solve these issues. House Bill 2, which was recently passed in the House of Delegates, requires VDOT to develop and utilize a prioritization model for making determinations about all transportation projects. Metrics like congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety and environmental quality will all be accounted for in this new model to ensure that we are making fiscally prudent decisions with our transportation dollars.
Next Week in Richmond
Next week will be a busy one as we take up the budget on the House floor. I hope you will stay tuned in because we will have a robust debate about whether to expand Medicaid, which will essentially expand ObamaCare in Virginia. I oppose this in large measure because our current Medicaid system in Virginia is riddled with problems, with $3 out of every $10 spent wastefully. It makes no sense-none-to throw huge amounts of money at a system that is screaming for reform. It's like pouring new fuel in a leaky fuel tank. That's why you will hear people like me calling for a reform approach. This is the right answer. As always, I want to hear from you. Please consider taking a moment to complete our online legislative survey, which can be found here!
If you have any questions about the work we are doing down here in Richmond, please feel free to give us a call at (804) 698-1031 or email me at SLingamfelter@ScottforVA.com