Dear Friends and Neighbors,
So far, about 2,000 bills have been filed for consideration during our 45 day session. While much of the first week of the session was procedural, this week began the early morning subcommittee meetings and frantically running between floors of the General Assembly Building to speak on my own legislative initiatives.
First Annual Constituent Day
One of my favorite parts of being a delegate is when constituents come to visit me here in Richmond. This year, on Monday, February 18th, I am hosting my first ever Constituent Day at the General Assembly. The day will include a tour of the General Assembly Building and State Capitol, watching a House of Delegates floor session from the gallery, and a tour of the Library of Virginia. I hope that you will be able to join us! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP. For more information, click here.
Focus on Education
This year, the Governor has introduced several bills for the General Assembly's consideration regarding K-12 education. Since I am a member of the Education Committee, I get to be on the front-line of considering these proposals. Many of these initiatives are positive steps, such as a proposal (HB2068) to focus greater attention on early intervention services for math and reading (something that Fairfax County already does). Others I am willing to give a try on a pilot basis. For example, HB2144 would allow schools where third grade students are not meeting the Standards of Learning (SOL) assessment for reading to opt out of SOL testing for science and social studies. Studies have shown that there is a direct link between future academic success and early reading ability. The idea isn't to diminish the importance of science and social studies, but that teachers should be allowed to focus on reading rather than preparing for SOLs in other subjects. The bill was amended several times to ensure that there is still accountability for learning science and social studies. The legislation expires in 2015, so we will need to assess the results before extending the initiative.
One proposal from the Governor that I do not support is a constitutional amendment granting the Virginia Board of Education authority to establish a charter school over the objections of a local school board. I have nothing against charter schools, and think that they can be a part of a well rounded education system. However, we elect our local school boards to make these decisions. Further, especially in places like Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax, local tax payers bear the great majority of the cost of education. Charter schools require capital and ongoing funding. It would be unfair for the Board of Education to be able to approve a charter school and leave the local school board to deal with the financial fall-out.
To me there seems to be too much focus on the type of school (charter schools, virtual schools, etc.) rather than giving all of our schools the tools to innovate. That is the impetus behind my HB1674. A selling point of charter schools is that they are often granted additional flexibility by the Board of Education to be creative. But, if an idea works there is no reason why there should be an artificial distinction between what a charter school can do versus any other public school. My bill provides that when the Board of Education gives flexibility to a charter school, that the local school board may also apply that flexibility to other schools.
In addition to K-12 issues, the Education Committee has been debating changes to the way our colleges and universities are run in the aftermath what happened at the University of Virginia this past summer. I supported two bills that passed subcommittee this last week. The first (HB1940) requires that all colleges and universities have a non-voting faculty member on their boards of visitors. This will help provide a very important perspective when a BOV is making decisions. I am proud that George Mason already does this. The second (HB1952) will mandate training for new BOV members on the fundamentals of running an institution of higher learning. Currently such training is voluntary. I think that this is probably the single most important action we can take to prevent situations like what happened at UVA.
There has also been a good deal of discussion about Virginia's process for vetting the Governor's appointments to BOVs. Virginia has a Commission on Higher Education Board Appointments. However, while it has representatives from past BOV members, former presidents and provosts, etc., it is missing any perspective from faculty or staff. My
HB2230 would add two faculty representatives to this commission so that the Governor will have their insights while considering appointments.
I am carrying several other bills this session in addition to my two education initiatives. A full list can be found by clicking here. The following is a brief summary:
HB1580 - Cramming. Cramming is when a third party places a misleading or deceptive charge on your telephone bill without authorization. The practice costs consumers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Last year I introduced legislation to require telephone companies to alert their customers whether or not they have a blocking mechanism to stop cramming. I resubmitted the bill this year, but found out that the requirement has now been implemented by the Federal Communications Commission. Since there is no longer a need for state legislation, it looks like I will declare victory and move on!
HB1584 - Access to Digital Accounts. Recently, I was saddened to learn that the 15 year old son of a friend of mine committed suicide. What happened next, however, is what prompted this legislation. When the parents tried to access their son's Facebook account to get clues about what may have happened (they didn't have the password), they were told that they would need to get a warrant. While access to digital information is a very complicated issue, it seems common sense that parents should be able to access this information - especially if the child is deceased or incapacitated. Five other states have enacted similar legislation.
HB1883 - Texting and Driving. Many of you may remember reading about the death of Kyle Rowley, who was killed this past summer by someone who was texting and driving. There were no skid marks and no issues with visibility. Many of you also expressed anger that a judge decided that the driver couldn't be charged with reckless driving. But, that is the General Assembly's fault for not taking this issue seriously. Texting and driving is a secondary offense (you must be pulled over for something else first) and subject to a fine of only $50. I have attempted to strengthen Virginia's overall texting and driving law in the past, but with no avail. This year, I have introduced a bill to clarify that when someone texts and drives and causes an accident, he or she should at least be guilty of reckless driving. I also support a stronger bill that has been introduced this year. However, I submitted mine as a fallback in case that initiative failed.
HB2230 - Chesapeake Bay Clean-Up Cost-Share Program. While I support efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, it will not be inexpensive. This bill would establish a cost-share program to help foster partnerships between government and private property owners to more cost-effectively reduce pollutants going to local streams and the Chesapeake Bay. This approach is modeled after a successful program used to provide incentives for farmers to reduce pollution.
HB2326 - Regional Strategic Planning. There are very few issues in Northern Virginia that respect local government boundaries. Although we have a regional planning organization, Northern Virginia is the only region in the state that is exempt from putting together a regional strategic plan. While it is not my intention to place a new mandate on our regional planning organization, my bill makes it clear that it
has the authority to develop a strategic plan for how to better work together on common interests and concerns.
Please let me know how I can serve you better! If you haven't already, don't forget to fill out my 2013 Constituent Survey and mark your calendar for my Town Hall meeting on February 2nd with Senator Chap Petersen. Your feedback is invaluable.