Solid Mix From the 26th, Newsletter 1-26-15

January 26, 2015

Friday marked the end of the first full week of session. I believe everyone agrees that it was one of the busiest in recent memory! While legislation was slow to make it to the floor for consideration, there was no shortage of bills to take up in committee.

Focus on Education
There are several measures I fully support that will make improvements to our education system, both higher ed. and K-12.

As you know, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to save and pay for college. Virginia students are now borrowing more than $1 billion every year to pay for school. In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama outlined a tax scheme that includes targeting 529 college savings accounts for taxation. This would make it even more difficult for parents and students to save. Despite this threat at the federal level, I joined my colleagues in supporting a bi-partisan measure that will work to make college more affordable by capping expensive athletic fees and making it easier for small schools to cut wasteful spending.

The House will also take up a final vote this week on two measures that provide some much needed flexibility for our school systems. I co-patroned a bill which will allow the Department of Education to review the accreditation status of public schools either on an annual basis, every three years, or every five years, as opposed to the current annual requirement for all schools. In a nutshell, this will alleviate unnecessary paperwork and administrative burden for many of our schools. I will also be voting for a measure that will permit the SOLs to incorporate multiple subject areas into one test. This authorizing legislation can hopefully serve as a way to continue our efforts to reduce the total number of assessments that children are required to take.

These are just a few of the bills that House Republicans are pursuing this session that work to make improvements to our education system and provide greater opportunities for all students across the Commonwealth. I hope to highlight others in the coming weeks.

Last week I took the opportunity to discuss a few of my bills and I would like to highlight a few additional measure this week.

Scenic Rivers Program (HB 2028)
Virginia has a program that allows the General Assembly to designate various segments of rivers and other waterways as a Scenic River. The idea is to protect and preserve these segments and to prevent actions that might alter the scenic quality or the flow of the waterway. While certainly a noble goal, my concern with this program and other similar programs is the potential risks for adverse impact on property owners attempting to use their land as they see fit (within the bounds of local zoning requirements). In addition, I have concerns about the ability of a Scenic River designation to prohibit or significantly limit the ability of a government entity or public utility to proceed with a project that most all would agree is for the benefit of the public. For example, if a small vocal minority wanted to prohibit VDOT construction of a bridge over a river designated as scenic, I can easily envision a scenario where the designation would provide the necessary leverage to do so quite successfully.

My legislation simply seeks to clarify current code by reiterating that the program can in no way restrict riparian land or water uses along or in the designated section of the river. The Department of Conservation and Recreation is the agency that administers the program, and they are responsible for making recommendations to local governing bodies concerning the rivers designated as scenic. The bill makes it clear that such recommendations can not include measures that would act to restrict land use. This bill adds a layer of protection for property owners against any future threat from an overzealous government agency or official.

Dismissal, Expired Registration and Inspection (HB 2315)

In the hectic pace of life, it’s sometimes easy to forget to renew your vehicle registration or get your car inspected on time. We all have been there. Unfortunately, we are often reminded of our tardiness when we receive a ticket from law enforcement. While I certainly don’t condone or endorse failing to meet these deadlines, I think we can agree that generally such a violation is often the result of an honest mistake and oversight. Therefore, I have introduced a bill that makes it a bit easier on the citizen receiving such a traffic infraction, and will hopefully act to free up some docket time for our judges so they can focus on more pressing matters.

I introduced HB 2315 to allows the court to permit an individual who receives a ticket for an expired vehicle registration or dead inspection to present proof to the court that the issue has been corrected prior to their scheduled court appearance. By doing so, the citizen will not be required to pay the fine and will only likely be responsible for court costs. The bill also requires law enforcement to notify the citizen of this option when they issue the citation, provided it’s a permissible option in that particular jurisdiction.

Currently, individuals can choose to either pay the fine and court costs in advance, or they can plan to take the time to appear in court in hopes that the judge will drop the fine…which they often do. However, when this is the case, it seems an unnecessary waste of time for all involved. The citizen often has to take valuable time away from work or family to go to court, and given our general shortage of judges across the Commonwealth, it seems less than productive for them to use valuable court time to hear these cases.

The bill is permissive, meaning that it does not require every General District Court in the Commonwealth to allow this, it simply gives them the ability to offer this option. If this bill becomes law, it’s my hope that it will make life a bit easier on individuals who simply made an oversight on one of the many details of life we encounter every day.

Legislative Survey
If you have not had an opportunity to complete my online legislative survey, there is still time to do so. You can access the online survey by clicking here. I value your input, and this survey is one of the tools I use to try to gauge where my constituents stand on a number of issues.

Like I said earlier, last week was a busy one. Given that last Monday was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, alot of folks utilize the holiday to make the trip to Richmond and advocate on issues of importance to them. On Monday I met with constituents with the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), a pro-Second Amendment group that advocates for the rights of gun owners. I met with the Virginia Young Democrats to discuss legislation of common interest to all Virginians. Last week, I also had the pleasure to meet with representatives of the Virginia Environmental Coalition, local correctional officers, Gerald Lehman who is the Director of Food Service with Rockingham County Public Schools, representatives of the Collins Center in Harrisonburg, local supporters of the Hemp legislation, Baker Garber on behalf of our local free clinic, and Dr. Downey with a group of Blue Ridge Community College Students. Finally, I also had the privilege to meet with a large group of folks representing the Valley Associates for Independent Living (VAIL). It so happens that they came on the same day that my NAP credit legislation (that I touched on last week) was heard in the Finance Subcommittee. Since they receive an allocation of NAP credits and fully support my bill, I was pleased to have VAIL’s Director, Gayl Brunk, speak in favor of the measure. It reported unanimously out of the subcommittee as well as the full committee. It will be up for debate on the floor Wednesday.

Contact Me
I welcome you to reach out to my office if you would like to share your thoughts on any matter before the General Assembly.

In Richmond we can be reached by phone at (804) 698-1026. If you are visiting Richmond, my office is located in room 526 of the General Assembly Building. You can continue to email [email protected].

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to represent you in Richmond!