A Divided Delegation
Alexandria’s Senate delegation is divided on the King’s Dominion Law, the 30-year-old mandate that prevents school systems from opening before Labor Day. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) is against the restriction, and he introduced legislation earlier in the session to undo the limitation.
“I feel strongly about local school divisions having autonomy,” said Ebbin, who represents the city’s east end.
Ebbin’s bill died in the Senate Education and Health Committee in late January. One of the votes against Ebbin’s bill was cast by Sen. George Barker (D-39), who represents the city’s west side. Now that the Senate Education and Health Committee is set to take up the House version, the senator is being lobbied heavily to change his vote. But Barker says he’s sticking by his guns on this vote because he wants to make sure the Virginia’s business community remains strong.
“The objective here is to provide the best education we can for our students,” said Barker. “And if we don’t have the revenue to do it, we’re not doing our job.”
Local school districts across Virginia have tried to change the law for years, although with little success. Many thought this might be the year for a breakthrough when Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell identified the issue as one of his top priorities for the session during his annual State of the Commonwealth speech.
“Local communities can best balance their teaching and calendar needs with the important concerns of local tourism and business,” said McDonnell during his annual state of the commonwealth address. “They know their situations far better than Richmond.”
Supporters say they only need to change two votes on the Senate Education and Health Committee.
Eye of Beholder
How valuable is the governor’s Task Force on Local Mandate Review?
During a discussion of the task force last week, Democratic Vice Mayor Kerry Donley took aim at the group, criticizing the group for spending a whole lot of time doing not all that much. After Republican Councilwoman Alicia Hughes explained that the group considered about 600 unfunded mandates and made recommendations on about 40, the vice mayor struck.
“Pretty low batting average,” he quipped. “You hit that kind of batting average, you’re not playing in the major leagues.”
Donley said that the group accomplished little more than creating a smokescreen, describing the goal as merely to be a campaign plank than a serious government reform. Unsurprisingly, Hughes took objection to Donley’s suggestion that the task force was doing “a whole lot of nothing,” citing the savings accomplished by the task force to local governments.
“If you’re got a $60 million price tag to local governments, and it’s been reduced by $15 million, I’m not exactly going to call that nothing,” said Hughes, citing the savings in fiscal year 2014. “I will not call that a waste of my time, I will not say that’s rhetoric, and I will not say that’s government not working.”
One of the more aggressive conservative moves of the new Republican majority in the General Assembly has been to authorize licensed, state-funded foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate in making services available to children and prospective parents. The “conscience clause” would permit child placement agencies to create arbitrary disqualifying guidelines based on written religious or moral convictions or policies. Disqualifying characteristics of the child or potential adoptive parents could include religious affiliation, marital status or sexual orientation.
“The bill is far-reaching in the type of discrimination it allows,” said Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31). “The fact of the matter is almost any reason could be used to discriminate, and the only protections that will remain will be federal protections against discrimination on the basis of race, color or nation of origin.”