Column: Some Bills Move Forward, While Others Create a Stir

Column: Some Bills Move Forward, While Others Create a Stir

With the General Assembly session moving at its typical breakneck pace, several of my initiatives are moving forward, while others are creating a stir.

My top priorities this session include working to expand access to quality early childhood education, and my two bills on that subject won unanimous support from the Students and Early Education Subcommittee last week. House Bill 143 would allow school divisions to enter into public-private partnerships that leverage private investments in pre-k to lower special education costs, reinvesting those savings to further expand pre-k and further lower special-ed costs. House Bill 144 would ensure money the General Assembly has allocated to pre-k is used for that purpose by distributing "leftover" funds from the Virginia Preschool Initiative as grants to localities to expand pre-k access. Each year, some of the money the General Assembly allocates to the Virginia Preschool Initiative is left on the table because poorer localities cannot afford the matching funds necessary to draw down their share. This legislation would ensure they still have access to some portion of those resources.

As a member of the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee, I have been working to promote jobs and economic development through sustainable and locally-grown agriculture, which also ensures our community has access to ecologically conscious, farm-fresh products. Last year, I was the chief sponsor of the Virginia Cider Act, which has helped launch a renaissance in Virginia’s burgeoning hard cider industry. Since the bill became law last July, production of traditional Virginia hard cider — the very kind Thomas Jefferson served at his dinner table — has expanded, and several new cideries are in varying stages of development. This year, I am working to support efforts to market this historic Virginia product by designating the full week before Thanksgiving each year as Virginia Cider Week. On Friday, my Virginia Cider Week legislation passed the House unanimously.

Friday also saw my resolution designating Feb. 28 as Spay Day in Virginia pass the House. The Humane Society asked me to carry this legislation as part of a national effort to shine a spotlight on spaying and neutering as proven methods of saving the lives of companion animals, feral cats, and street dogs who might otherwise be put down in shelters or killed on the street. The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria admits more than 3,500 animals through its doors every year, highlighting the need for strategies to reduce overpopulation. Four million cats and dogs — about one every eight seconds — are put down in U.S. shelters each year. Often these animals are the offspring of cherished family pets. By designating Spay Day in Virginia, we will focus attention on spaying and neutering as steps individuals can take to address this problem.

Two other resolutions I am carrying have yet to be heard but are creating quite a stir. One would allow Virginia to implement its medical marijuana law, which has been on the books since 1979. For nearly 33 years, Virginia law has allowed medical marijuana for the treatment of cancer or glaucoma. However, to actually implement this policy and allow doctors to prescribe marijuana, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency would need to move marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug, making it a highly controlled substance that can be prescribed. At the request of Veterans for Medical Marijuana, my legislation would have Virginia’s governor join the governors of Rhode Island and Washington in petitioning the DEA to change how marijuana is designated so we can implement Virginia’s long-standing law. I believe that doctors and science, and not politicians, should determine medically appropriate treatments for their patients.

My other marijuana legislation is even more provocative. Selling hard liquor through ABC stores brings in as much as $140 million per year for education, health care, public safety, and other core services. Given that we need more revenue, and tax increases are a non-starter for the Republican majority in the General Assembly, I have proposed that we find out how much revenue we might bring in if we legalized marijuana and sold it in ABC stores. A number of constituents have suggested this to me over the years, but I want to be very clear that this legislation would not actually legalize marijuana. It would simply conduct a study to determine how much revenue potential is out there so we can have an informed and intelligent public policy discussion. While this idea is not without controversy, the response from constituents has been overwhelmingly positive. Moreover, forcing the conversation highlights the dire need for new revenue options in light of Governor McDonnell’s proposed cuts to education and health care services for the poor.

Things move quickly here in Richmond, so I hope you will visit or follow me on Twitter at @dlenglin to stay up to date about these and other issues.

By David Englin

Delegate (D-45)