Feb 26, 2019

Weekly Newsletter 2-26-19

Wrapping Up

The 2019 General Assembly session ended this past weekend, wrapping up a busy two months.  I am proud of the work my colleagues and I in the House of Delegates were able to accomplish.
Despite distractions from the Executive Branch, the General Assembly maintained focus and did our work in a timely and responsible manner.
We balanced the budget as our Virginia Constitution requires.  And we did so without raising taxes.  We put the brakes on over $1 billion in proposed new spending supported by Governor Northam and leading Democrats.
The budget has no tax or fee increases. It also includes $120 million in healthcare savings coming from lower-than-expected Medicaid costs and updated revenue forecasts.
It also features a five percent teacher pay raise and $85.7 million in new funding for K-12 education. This is the fourth teacher pay raise in six years. The budget also makes targeted investments in "at risk" programs, helping every student get a fair shot at an education regardless of their zip code. 
The amended budget also includes $12 million for school resource officers, infrastructure, and other initiatives designed to keep our students safe in schools. We also included $57 million to freeze tuition at state colleges and universities, and increased funding for financial aid by $16 million. 
The state budget also includes a three percent pay raise for state employees...and it maintains longstanding language that prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions.
I was pleased to see several measures I introduced clear both houses of the General Assembly.
HB 1839: (Industrial Hemp) --- This aligns Virginia code with the new Federal Farm Bill, allowing Industrial Hemp to be grown in Virginia.  Hemp is NOT marijuana. This will help local farmers and processors, along with the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville.  They will do the testing required in the bill. This passed as Emergency Legislation means it will go into effect immediately, allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp during the 2019 season.
HB 1734: (School Safety) --- I was honored to have introduced one of nearly two-dozen bills stemming from a special committee to which I was appointed last year...the Select Committee on School Safety.  My bill would require the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety to develop a case management tool for use by public elementary and secondary school threat assessment teams. It also requires those teams use such tools to collect and report to the Center quantitative data on its activities.
HB 1840: (Industrial Park Infrastructure) --- This bill will allow electric utilities to set up pilot programs for transmission facilities serving large economic development projects.  This will help promote economic development in rural areas by allowing a utility to build an electric transmission system for a megasite BEFORE there is a public announcement of a possible occupant. Utilities can recover the costs of the transmission facility through a rate adjustment clause. This bill would make it less risky for utilities to invest in these projects, while giving them more flexibility to get a return on their investment.
Locally, this bill could lend a major boost to efforts to develop the Southern Virginia Mega Site at Berry Hill (formerly known as the Berry Hill Mega Park project) and the Commonwealth Crossing Industrial Park in Henry County.
HB 1836: (Fire Insurance policy rates) --- This prohibits an insurer from increasing or decreasing the amount of fire insurance coverage on commercial property under a policy that has been in effect for at least 60 days unless the insured has consented in writing to such a change.
This stemmed from the case of a constituent who was going to get a commercial policy. The insurance company valued his property at $150,000.  The problem was that the same property had recently been appraised at only $75,000.   Both sides agreed to insure it for $100,000.  The constituent made his first three quarterly insurance payments.  When he got his next bill, the insurance company had raised the rate to reflect $150,000 worth of coverage.  They also threatened to cancel his policy for non-payment.  
This bill would prevent an insurance company from increasing rates, provided their client had been timely in their payments.
HB1841: (Pharmaceutical processors; employment; misdemeanors) --- Currently, pharmaceutical processors (not your local pharmacy) may not employ anyone who has been convicted of a drug-related misdemeanor in Virginia. But because of the way the law was drafted, a person convicted of a drug-related misdemeanor in another state can be hired. This puts Virginia residents at an unfair disadvantage. My bill eliminates the disparity by allowing pharmaceutical processors to hire individuals who have been convicted of a drug-related misdemeanor in any state.  It requires a five-year waiting period before the person can be hired. This bill does not change the prohibition on hiring people with felony drug convictions.
HB 1838: (Virginia Regional Industrial Facilities Act; revenue sharing; composite index) --- This bill requires calculating the proper apportion percentage of tax revenue ultimately received by each locality participating in a Regional Industrial Facilities Authority. This bill fixes a problem with Virginia funding for education. It will go into effect July 1, 2021.