It’s been a busy start to the Virginia General Assembly Session and each day brings new solutions and opportunities for all Virginians. We are in third week of a 45-day legislative session and we have heard hundreds of legislative bills. As Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, my committee has heard over a hundred bills that effect our transportation network, job creation and economic development efforts, government reform, and quality of life. Some of the issues that we are dealing with involve new transportation technologies that will help deliver goods and services and help make the roads safer.
TRANSPORTATION AND SAFETY
This year in bipartisan fashion a number of legislators partnered with groups like DRIVE SMART to curb the growing epidemic of distracted driving. Each year in Virginia, accidents and fatalities caused by distracted driving (i.e., texting and driving, using handheld devices) have increased. According to Virginia DMV, 24% of all fatal crashes were distraction related. As part of a multi-faceted approach bill, legislators put bills forward regarding driver education awareness, enforcement, and prohibition of handheld devices in transportation construction work zones.
HB1606 (VILLANUEVA) makes it unlawful to text or use a handheld communication device while driving through work zones. The bill passed committee and is coming to the House floor to vote for passage.
HB 1834 (ANDERSON) closes loopholes and prohibits using mobile applications such as facebook and twitter while retain the use of GPS navigation. This bill is in committee.
HB 1763 (GREASON) establishes a special license plate against distracted driving to raise awareness and will enlist public schools to come up with design and message in partnership with DMV. The bill passed committee and is coming to the House floor.
HB 2435 (MINCHEW) expands the prohibition of using a handheld personal communications device while operating a motor vehicle to all communications unless the device is specifically designed to allow voice and hands-free operation and the device is being used in that manner. This bill is in committee.
HB 2015 (VILLANUEVA) establishes the DRIVE SMART education fund from voluntary E-Z pass fees used for distracted driving awareness programs. The bill passed committee and is coming to the House floor to vote for passage.
Coming into this Virginia General Assembly Session, Virginia faced a significant budget shortfall. We are working hard to fund vital core services, balance the budget, and advance our economy. As part of this budget, we announced major steps to secure future for state employees. The new budget proposal includes a 3% pay raise for state employees, funds to raise the starting salary of Virginia State Police, and funds to address salary compression issues for sheriff’s deputies. The committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals on February 5, 2017.
Along with my legislation I have also made a point to add two budget amendments that relate to Rehabilitative services to better help our citizens with disabilities to the budget for this upcoming year. My first budget amendment is to amend the budget to add $703,746 thousand dollars the second year of the budget in fiscal year 18 from the general fund for the Extended Employment Services program to help better employment support for people with disabilities who want to work but need help finding a job.
My second amendment to this year’s budget would also take effect in fiscal year 18. It looks to give $1.0 million from the general fund for the vocational rehabilitation services program to help reduce the waiting list for services. As of November 1, 2016, 1,035 clients were awaiting services from the Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services. These funds will be required to provide services for children with disabilities in grades 9-12.
SPOTLIGHT ON EDUCATION
Earlier this session, I was briefed by Virginia Lottery Officials and how $272 million was sent back to local school divisions. This money gives local schools more flexibility by not requiring matching funds or mandating how the funds mustbe spent. This year we look to build on this investment that gives local school leaders the flexibility to meet their own unique public education needs.
As always, I am committed to maintaining Virginia’s strong K-12 system and working to give all children the opportunities in education they deserve by enacting reforms in public education, promoting choice and flexibility, and encouraging early childhood education. As a parent and community leader, I am involved with my local schools and sit on Green Run High School’s Academy Board to help link industry, government, and public schools together to help train our future leaders and workforce.
I also think that you would agree that all students in the Commonwealth deserve a quality education, regardless of their circumstances or neighborhood. That’s why a fellow member Delegate Dickie Bell is carrying HB1400 that establishes Virginia Virtual schools so students aren’t bound to brick and mortar buildings for their education. They can take classes offered all over Virginia.
Delegate Dave LaRock is carrying HB1605 that creates Education Savings Accounts. ESAs will empower parents to choose what is right for their child’s education by allowing families with special needs students to receive direct access to the state funding for that student. That funding is deposited into an Education Savings Account, where it can be used for private school tuition, homeschool, online classes, course materials, or other educational purposes.
We are exploring better ways to encourage early childhood education. Our focus is on improving access to private providers. Delegate Jimmie Massie is helping on this front with HB1963 that makes families with at-risk 4-year old’s unserved by Head Start eligible for tax credits to enroll in a pre-k program.
Every day we hear from the Commonwealth’s citizens that higher education access and affordability is a real problem. The House will continue to encourage all state universities cap tuition increases. Our caucus has several other ideas that ease the stress of the many other costs associated with postsecondary schools.
Dual enrollment credits provide a great opportunity for students to begin working on their degree credits while still in high school. Delegate Tag Greason is carrying HB1662 to establish a uniform policy for granting undergraduate course credit to entering freshman students so students can properly prepare their course schedules to maximize their benefits.
Virginia has a 40-year-old financial aid model. It is time to modernize that model by incentivizing students to complete their degrees on time ensuring they take out fewer loans. Delegate Kirk Cox is carrying HB2427 that will motivate and reward students to successfully finish their degree on time by increasing aid money as they progress through their academic career. He is also carrying HB2311 that creates the Online Virginia Network aimed at providing a new pathway for students to complete a college degree by establishing an online consortium of classes from various state universities. It is a one-stop shop for scheduling, registering, and taking online classes. Higher education institutions in Virginia have focused primarily on enhancing enrollment, retention, and graduation rates in pursuit of preparing a highly skilled workforce for the Virginia economy. The same emphasis needs to be directed toward identifying those individuals with some college credit, but who have not attained a degree.
SESSION SHOUT OUT
I would like to give a shout out to all of the groups that came by this past week: 66 Alliance, The Speech Language Hearing Association of Virginia, Moms Demanding Action, VCDL, the Virginia Economic Development Association, ODU Nursing Students, National Coalition of Public Safety Officers, South Eastern Alzheimer’s Association, Virginia Credit Union, and the American Heart Association, Drive Smart Virginia, The Virginia Municipal League, the Virginia Transit Association, the Virginia Beach Education Association, the Virginia Beach Hotel Association, and the CIVIC Leadership Institute.
A big thank you to all who have taken the time to call, write, and come by my office to share their needs and opinions with me. My 2017 survey is now available on my website. If you haven’t already, please take a few minutes to complete my survey. Your thoughts and opinions are important to me, and enable me to better represent you.
Please don’t hesitate to contact my office at any time for your insight and feedback on proposed legislation. For the duration of legislative session, I can be found in Room 503 of the General Assembly Building. As always, I can be reached at (804) 698-1021 or email@example.com.
Fellow Monarch Delegate Ron Villanueva and Pastor Kevin Swann (former ODU Basketball Standout)
Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne briefs Chairman Ron Villanueva and the House Transportation Committee on the progress of road and rail projects in Virginia
Delegate Ron Villanueva meets with Hampton Roads Interfaith Groups to talk about job creation and economic prosperity
Delegate Ron Villanueva meets with the Hampton Roads Transit Group to talk about transit progress