Commentary: Richmond Report: Assembly at Halfway Point

Commentary: Richmond Report: Assembly at Halfway Point

As we pass the halfway point for the 2018 General Assembly, I wanted to provide an update on my legislation and where we stand on important issues.

I am proud that several of the bills I have been working on passed the House and are now headed to the Senate. In addition, some of the issues I have been promoting and advocating for years, such as raising the felony larceny threshold and making cannabis oil more accessible to those with difficult illness, are moving forward in different forms.

Keeping Children Safe in Cars, HB 708

HB 708 would require car seats to be rear-facing until a child reaches 2 years of age or until a child reaches the weight or height limit of the rear-facing child restraint device, whichever comes first. Rear-facing car seats support a child’s head, neck and spine, and they are designed to distribute the crash forces across the shell of the car seat. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children in the second year of life are five times less likely to die or be seriously injured in a crash if they ride in a rear-facing car seat. Children under the age of 2 are simply not strong enough to withstand a strong crash without the extra protection that a rear-facing car seat provides.

It would be an important step to implement rear-facing car seats for 2-year-olds and under as a standard in Virginia – not an option.

Boundaries Bill, HB 45

This bill would allow any family life education curriculum offered in our public schools system to incorporate lessons and understanding on the important of personal privacy and personal boundaries.

Unfortunately, bullying and personal space topics are prevalent issues in our schools – the rise of cyberbullying underscores this. It is important that students of all ages and backgrounds should learn how to be respectful of one’s personal space. If we are encouraging our children to live healthy and productive lives, we should be teaching them in schools the true meaning of respecting one’s personal boundaries.

Passing this piece of legislation would be a major step forward for our children’s understanding of personal space and safety.

Promoting the Use of Open Educational Resources, HB 454)

My bill, HB 454 would require the governing board of each public institution of higher education to implement guidelines for the adoption and use of low-cost and no-cost open educational resources and low-cost commercially published materials in courses offered at such institutions.

Just as students struggle with crippling tuition debt, so too do many students struggle with the rising costs of textbooks. My bill helps universities and colleges make it easier for teachers to create courses with low cost or no cost educational materials.

I am excited to report that this bill passed the House and I look forward to presenting it in the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Combating Absenteeism in Schools, HB 1485

A child can be absent from school for a variety of reasons – but regular school attendance is critical for academic and personal success. It’s important to remember that many times, absenteeism itself is not the problem – it can be an indicator of other problems in a student’s life. When students aren’t in school, we need to understand why they stay away or why they are missing school – not immediately jump to the courts to fix the problem. HB 1485 starts at the bottom by working towards reforming public policy related to absenteeism. It works to find better options to keep children in school before they are referred to the court system for truancy.

I am pleased that my bill passed the House by an overwhelming margin, and I will present it before the Senate Education and Health Committee in the coming weeks.

I additionally wanted to provide updates on legislation of note that moved forward in other forms.

Raising the Felony Larceny Threshold

For two years now, I have been working on the issue of raising the felony larceny threshold. I was honored to carry the bill to raise the threshold on behalf of Governors Northam and McAuliffe. While my bill, HB 706 did not pass, we are moving forward with this concept with HB 1550, patroned by Delegate Les Adams. I am proud to serve as a co-patron on his bill, which passed the House last Tuesday.

This move will not only create a more just and fairer system – but it’s fiscally responsible and will create a safer Commonwealth. I applaud the efforts by Governor Northam and Speaker Cox for their bipartisan agreement on this issue earlier this month. I hope that this action will set a tone for the remainder of the legislative session.

Improving Transportation in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads

I introduced HB 1083 to institute a gas tax floor in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Currently, the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions could lose millions of dollars in gas tax revenue that would be used to fund transportation projects, in particular, provide a portion of the necessary Metro subsidies to expand and improve public transit systems in Northern Virginia. The ability for Virginia to attract and retain business is dependent on a 21st century transportation infrastructure solution. Our state’s growth and and economic development depends on providing optimal relief of road congestion and achieving the best return on investment for Virginia taxpayers. My bill was later incorporated into House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones’ bill HB 768. Passage of this legislation would bring more stability to Northern Virginia’s transportation systems and will allow us to more effectively fund Metro.

Cannabis Oil

I am pleased that Delegate Ben Cline’s HB 1251 passed the House unanimously several weeks ago. This bill is very similar to my earlier introduced bill, HB 458. Both bills would allow doctors to recommend the use of cannabis oil to treat conditions that a physician feels appropriate. This came about from a study by the Joint Commission on Healthcare. I am proud to serve as a chief co-patron on Delegate Cline’s bill and to be able to continue the work on this issue with my constituents Beth, Patrick and Jennifer Collins and so many other amazing parent advocates. It is hard to believe this all began over coffee in the 41st District with Beth Collins, Teresa Brogan, Senator Dave Marsden, and myself five years ago.

License Revocation

No one should have to worry about their livelihood or professional license being taken away from them because they have crushing student debt. Currently, Virginia law allows the Commonwealth to order the suspension of a license if a person is delinquent in the payment of their “federal or state educational loans.” The law can impact health professionals like nurses, psychologists, massage therapists and more. I introduced HB 456 to repeal this section of Virginia’s code. My bill was incorporated into HB 1114, authored by Delegate Van Valkenberg—which not only repeals this code, but protects other professions as well. I am proud to be the chief co-patron and pleased this bill is now headed to Governor Northam’s desk.

There are still several weeks left of session and with it will come in-depth discussions and debates on the budget as well as the bills that have crossed over from the House to the Senate and the Senate to the House. I look forward to keeping you updated as we move forth.