With Washington D.C. in chaos, the emerging opposition to the Trump Agenda is having an impact in Virginia. We are seeing more citizens come to the State Capitol to protest the conservative agenda and argue for values we consider important, such as increasing the minimum wage, creating greater economic opportunity for more Virginians, investing in public education, protecting Planned Parenthood, or bringing redistricting reform. [Read more…]
By the end of Tuesday, February 16, the House of Delegates and the Senate must pass their respective bills and send them over to the other chamber in order for them to be considered for passage this year. We call this “Crossover.”
We will likely hear hundreds of bills today and tomorrow, some of which have substantial consequences for the Commonwealth.
One of the more controversial bills is the proposed Constitutional Amendment that would allow the Commonwealth to override local governments’ decisions and require them to create Charter schools within their boundaries. Some of us in the legislature support the idea of Charter schools, but only if they are locally created and controlled. We have successful Charter schools in our area that provide options not available in traditional public schools. Data indicates that Charter schools work in some instances, but that is not always the case.
The proposed Constitutional amendment, sponsored by local delegate Rob Bell, would dramatically transform how Charter schools are approved in Virginia; it would grant the state Board of Education the power to overturn a local decision not to authorize a Charter school. The cost of operating the charter school, as a public school, will be partly borne by the locality even though it was imposed on them by the state. This classic example of an unfunded mandate could undermine budgetary efforts to increase funding for existing public schools. The amendment narrowly passed the House (50-47), and it is not clear if it will pass the Senate. If it does, it will be on the ballot for voters to decide in November.
COPN and Hospital Revenues
In another controversial and close vote, the House approved a significant change to the Commonwealth’s system for scrutinizing expansion of hospital or ambulatory services. Most citizens know very little about this, but it has important implications, especially in areas with multiple hospitals like Charlottesville-Albemarle. The “certificate of public need” (COPN) process is designed to ensure that hospital services are not overbuilt in a community, and a certificate is only issued when there is a demonstrated need in the region. Some critics claim the COPN process stifles competition; however, hospitals are concerned that without state oversight, other providers will offer only the most profitable services to patients. This would leave hospitals with less revenue to provide levels of charity care, particularly in the emergency room, and could lead to increased costs for other services so the hospital can remain solvent. The risk posed by repeal of COPN to rural hospitals, which operate on very tight margins, is especially troubling, and the people most likely to be caught in the crossfire are the poor, who depend on hospitals for indigent care because they lack insurance.
I support reform of the COPN process, not its elimination, and only if it is part of reforms that provide greater access to health facilities for indigent and uninsured citizens. Therefore, I voted against full repeal. The bill to repeal COPN passed by a narrow margin in the House and faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
Update on My Bills
My bill (HB936), which gives local school divisions more flexibility in helping students with limited English proficiency to graduate from high school, has passed the House and is now headed for the Senate. Another of my initiatives, designed to extend foster care to youngsters who are over the age of 18, is still alive in the House Appropriations Committee.
Cars of the Future
Last week, I was given the opportunity to ride in a self-directed, driverless automobile, a prototype being developed by Audi that may be on the roads in the next five years. It was an amazing experience. You simply push two buttons, take your hands off the wheel, and the vehicle drives itself. We traveled 65 MPH on I-64, and through the use of almost 30 separate sensors on the vehicle, we were able to change lanes and pass without incident, accelerate and decelerate to take account of the traffic, and negotiate curves smoothly without departing from the lane. Audi is not, of course, the only manufacturer working on these vehicles, but we can expect a day in the not-too-distant future when the technology will not only make travel safer but more enjoyable as well. Just in case you are wondering, you are not permitted to fall asleep while you are at the wheel.
Bills offered by Delegate Toscano
Most of the Virginia General Assembly bills have now been filed and they include eleven of my own. I have a great package this year and they include the following:
- HB899, which will allow persons over the age of 65 to vote absentee without having to provide any excuse whatsoever. This will allow greater ease of voting for senior citizens and hopefully will increase voter participation.
- HB935, a bill to extend foster care services to youngsters who would otherwise “age-out” at age 18. There are many youngsters who would benefit by remaining in the foster care system for a few more years after they reach the age of 18. This bill would allow them access to a wider variety of services designed to better prepare them for adult life. Virginia has one of the highest percentages of children who age-out of foster care; many of those do not yet have the skills necessary to negotiate adult life. This bill will allow those services to be extended up to the age of 21.
- HB913, which will prohibit discrimination, employment and housing on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
- HB 915, a measure that will allow localities like Charlottesville and Albemarle which have video-monitoring systems on school buses that record violations of unlawful passing of a bus to execute a summons for a violation by mailing the summons to the vehicle owner who committed the offense. There are an increasing number of drivers who are illegally passing stopped school buses, and this will provide an additional tool to penalize those who violate the law and deter people who might otherwise consider it.
- HB933 and HB936, two measures that will assist public school divisions. HB933 will keep school divisions from being penalized for taking youngsters who have been placed in their custody from out of their jurisdiction and who drop out soon after entering the division. In some instances, a student will be placed in the custody of the local Department of Social Services and come into a school division from another jurisdiction. They will then drop out almost immediately and the student is then counted against the drop-out rate for that division. This is unfair because the division has not had sufficient time and opportunity to work with the student and retain them in school.HB936 will provide flexibility for school divisions which have to address students with limited English proficiency, primarily among immigrants. The students may be perfectly competent, but because of language difficulties they fail math or English SOLs. This bill will give greater flexibility in how these youngsters are assessed.
- HB914 is a measure that will prohibit political fundraising by legislators during legislative special sessions. At present, we are prevented from raising money while we are in regular session. The rationale behind that is that we are dealing with bills that affect the economic condition of groups and individuals who provide us political contributions, and acceptance of contributions one day and voting the next on a law that benefits the contributor is not proper. We do not have such a prohibition, however, during special sessions when a number of significant pieces of legislation are considered. For example, we had a long special session several years ago about transportation funding and yet we were allowed to take political campaign contributions from the very groups that would be benefiting by decisions we were making. My bill would stop this.
- HB941 is a bill that would extend the scope of clean energy programs by including certain residential properties that cannot avail themselves of voluntary special lien assessment provisions that encourage the installation of rooftop solar collectors.
- HR75 is a resolution that commends the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom and condemns the statements of prominent politicians who argue that Muslims should be prohibited from entering the United States because of their religion.
You can follow these and all other bills offered before the 2016 General Assembly by visiting lis.virginia.gov. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to comment on my legislation or any other legislation before us this Session. My office number in Richmond during Session is (804) 698-1057.