I am pleased to announce my Fall 2019 informal office hours. The first one will be this Saturday, October 26, at Main Street Bagel from 9-11 am. Join me for coffee and conversation about the upcoming 2020 General Assembly session, issues affecting our community, or anything else that is on your mind. The format is casual and no appointment is needed.
Below is the full schedule. All events are from 9 to 11 am.
I am also happy to arrange individual appointments on specific issues or concerns.
Conversation Starters - Issues in Commissions
While the General Assembly is "officially" in session for only about two months, various commissions and boards meet to work on issues throughout the year. For example, I sit on the Housing Commission, Joint Commission on Health Care, Southern Regional Education Board Legislative Advisory Committee, State Water Commission, and Chesapeake Bay Commission.
Click here for a full list of current commissions, councils, and committees
To help get the conversation started for my coffee hours, here are a few items being discussed in these commissions that will likely be debated in the 2020 session.
This summer, the Governor called the General Assembly into "special session" to address gun safety legislation. After convening on July 9, most legislation was referred to the
for study. The Commission met on August 19 and 20 to review submitted legislation. The full list of legislation introduced in the House can be found
. Bills generally fall into the following categories: background checks on all firearm sales; ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, bump stocks, and silencers; reinstatement of the one-handgun-a-month law; reporting lost or stolen firearms within 24 hours; extreme risk protective orders that allow courts to temporarily remove firearms if a person exhibits dangerous behavior (also known as "red-flag" laws); increasing penalties for allowing a child to access an unsecured, loaded firearm; and, providing localities with the ability to prohibit firearms in public buildings. There are also bills to increase the penalties for the illegal use of a firearm.
The special session is scheduled to meet again on November 18, at which time the General Assembly may (or may not) consider any recommendations from the Crime Commission. In all likelihood, however, I suspect that most of the debate will wait until the 2020 regular session.
Casinos, sports betting, slot machines - not the first things that come to mind when thinking about Virginia. However, that may change depending on next session. Last year, the General Assembly directed the
Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission
to study casino laws in other states and develop recommendations no later than December 1, 2019. The push has come from several economically distressed areas of Virginia that see casinos as an economic development tool. Under legislation passed last year, a locality (currently limited to four) would need to approve a casino by referendum, while the Virginia Lottery Board would provide regulatory oversight. However, the legislation has a "re-enactment" clause - meaning that the General Assembly must pass the legislation again in the 2020 session for it to go into effect.
At the same time, a ruling by the
U.S. Supreme Court
struck down federal prohibitions on sports betting. In response, several states have opened the floodgates to legalized sports betting -- often with the rationale that illegal betting is rapidly increasing with internet technology and that it is better to tax and regulate the industry. Multiple bills were introduced in Virginia last session, but the issue was deferred to 2020. I will admit that I don't love the idea of casinos and sports betting. At the same time, the pragmatist in me recognizes that the train may have already left the station, and that the better part of valor may be to make sure that consumers and the integrity of professional and college sports are protected.
Joint Commission on Health Care
, of which I am a member, has been busy with several studies. One issue is the need for more forensic nurses and better oversight over who calls themselves forensic nurses. Forensic nurses are specially trained to support victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. Not only do forensic nurses provide medical and emotional support, but they also ensure that evidence is collected in a way that best preserves a victim's legal options.
Additional study topics include prescription price gouging, public access to Naloxone to combat deaths from opioid overdoses, and supported decision-making by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The great thing about the Commission's work is that the studies are very detailed. The full Commission will select its recommendations for 2020 legislation at its November 14 meeting.
The 2020 session is gearing up to be a big year for education - particularly with regard to early childhood education and the definition of the state's Standards of Quality (SOQs).
A child's earliest experiences - and particularly those in the critical years between birth and age five - have lifelong impacts on their likelihood of success.
In 2016, the General Assembly created the
School Readiness Committee
, which was tasked to look at professional development for Virginia's early childhood education workforce. Then, this past July, Governor Northam signed
Executive Directive Four
establishing an Executive Leadership Team to develop a plan for expanding access to early childhood education for all at risk three- and four-year-olds by 2025. The
, recently presented at an Early Childhood Education Summit, focus on maximizing access through partnerships and more flexible use of existing funding, measuring and improving quality, and consolidating oversight and administration.
Almost at the same time, the Board of Education released its
new SOQs for public schools
. While the revisions are subject to modification by the General Assembly, they raise the bar considerably for our K-12 system. Specifics include:
- Increasing funding for reading specialists
- Establishing a new teacher leader program
- Amending staffing requirements for English learner teachers
- Setting specific staffing ratios for school nurses, social workers, and school psychologists
- Providing state funding for regional work-based learning coordinators
- Creating a state-wide principal mentorship program
- Providing state funding for one-full-time school counselor for every 250 students
The most far reaching recommendation, though, is to create a consolidated "equity fund" to more effectively help schools serving significant numbers of children in poverty. Specifically, the fund would focus on recruiting and retaining experienced teachers and other professional staff.
The List Goes On!
And that is just the tip of the iceberg:
Of course there will be many, many other issues raised in the 2020 session, including clean energy/climate change, minimum wage, vaping, marijuana reform, Equal Rights Amendment, and bi-partisan redistricting - just to name a few.
So join me for coffee and conversation! I am looking forward to your thoughts.