Debates Over Budget, Transportation Await Loudoun Legislators

By Renss Greene & Danielle Nadler

With Virginia’s General Assembly having convened for its 2016 session Wednesday, representatives from Loudoun have picked their battles—with broad consensus on local issues and stark divides on national debates. Lawmakers also will work during the 60-day session to find agreement on a two-year budget.

Education and Funding

Continuing some of the education reforms made over the past few years is a priority of Del. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (R-32) this session. The Ashburn resident serves as chairman of the Education Reform Subcommittee and championed successful legislation two years ago to reduce the number of Standards of Learning assessments students are required to take. That legislation also created the SOL Innovation Committee, a group of educators, business leaders, parents and lawmakers who have delved into how best to hold public schools accountable.

One of Greason’s bills this session, HB 381, is a change recommended by that committee. It would allow school divisions to design a customized SOL exam for children whose disabilities inhibit them from taking a standard state test.

It’s the school divisions that best know those children and how best to measure their progress, Greason said. “So why would we have Richmond creating a standardized test when, by definition, the child with the specific disability is probably unique compared to any other child in the commonwealth?”

Another focus of Greason’s, and every other Virginia lawmaker over the next 60 days, will be the state’s budget. Greason is one of 12 budget conferees in the General Assembly, which means he has a seat at the table during negotiations over how the state spends money.

A $1 billion boost in K-12 and higher education funding was the highlight of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D)’s proposed two-year budget, unveiled last month. The funding would provide pay raises for teachers, bolster financial aid and promote research.

Greason said he was happy to see the governor allocate more money for schools, but he wants to know what other line items took a hit to make it happen. “He’s not raising taxes, so it’s too early to tell where all that funding came from,” the delegate said. “We’ll dig into that over the next four to five weeks, so we know the totality of what the budget will look like. This is now when the hard work on the budget really begins.”

Mental Health Coverage for Volunteer First Responders

Two local senators and three local delegates have filed identical bills from Loudoun’s legislative agenda that would allow localities to pay for mental health care for its volunteer first responders.

“We need to recognize that when you’re in high stress situations, your mental health might be challenged,” Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10) said. “You may need some post-traumatic counseling and treatment because you put yourself in harm’s way as a hero.”

The locality would be able to offer fire and rescue volunteers mental health packages comparable to what is available to paid employees.

“It probably wouldn’t cost the county that much,” Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-31) said. “They already have these employee assistance packages. Adding a few more individuals accessing just a narrow band of mental health services probably is not a cost buster, so what is there not to like?”

Favola’s Senate Bill 134 and Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton’s (D-33) SB 79 have been referred to the Senate Committee on Local Government. Minchew’s House Bill 233, Del. Jennifer B. Boysko’s (D-86) HB 199, and Del. Dave LaRock’s (R-33) HB 257 have been referred to the House Committee on Counties, Cities, and Towns. The legislation will likely be rolled into one bill in committee.

Transportation

Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10), Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33), Del. James M. LeMunyon (R-67), Del. John J. Bell (D-87), Del. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-86), and Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34) have all signed onto bills relating to transportation in Northern Virginia. All six have signed onto HB 181, which would put one more Loudoun representative on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. Currently, the county has only one representative on the commission.

“When Alexandria and Falls Church have one member each, and all of Loudoun County only has one, I think there’s so many different needs in the fast-growing Loudoun County that it can only help to have one more voice at the table,” Boysko said.

LeMunyon also has introduced HB 1, which would prohibit tolls east of mile marker 76 on I-66.

Other bills from local representatives worth following include:

  • HB 192 [Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10)] Would provide an exception to the current moratorium on the granting of new city charters for towns with a population of at least 40,000 desiring to transition to city status. Leesburg is the only town in Virginia with more than 40,000 residents.
  • SB 53 [Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33), Sen. Mamie Locke (D-2)] Would remove the requirement that a woman undergo a fetal ultrasound prior to abortion.
  • SB 59 [Sen. Jill Vogel (R-27), Sen. Janet Howell (D-32)] Would require the General Assembly to consider political boundaries, equal population, racial and ethnic fairness, contiguity, compactness, and communities of interest in redrawing election districts.
  • SB 68 [Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33)] Would allow a person 65 or older to request an absentee ballot.
  • SB 69 [Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33)] Would expand acceptable forms of identification to vote to include photo IDs issued by private entities licensed or certified by the Virginia Department of Health, Department of Social Services, Department of Medical Assistance Services, or Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.
  • HB 106 [Del. Jennifer Boysko (D_86)] Would amend the Town Herndon’s charter to reflect the town’s current boundary line and remove the mayor’s authority to take command of town police during emergencies.
  • HB 181 [Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10)] Would increase the number of representatives from Loudoun County on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission from one to two.
  • HB 211 [Del. James LeMunyon (R-27)] Would provide civil immunity to a person who breaks into a car to rescue an unattended pet that is at serious risk of injury or death provided that person has first attempted to contact a law enforcement officer, animal control officer, or other emergency services personnel if feasible.
  • HB 255 [Del. Tag Greason (R-32)] Would add applied behavior analysis to the treatments for which coverage is required to provided under certain health insurance policies and plans, among other mental health coverage expansions.
  • HB 259 [Del. David LaRock (R-33)] Would prohibit the Board of Education from replacing SOLs with Common Core State Standards without prior approval from the General Assembly.
  • HB 283 [Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10), Sen. Richard Black (R-13), Sen. Jill Vogel (R-27), Del. John Bell (D-87)] Would require the SCC to hold a hearing in the area affected by construction of an electrical transmission line of 138 kV or more upon the request of the local governing body.
  • HB 354 [Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (R-32)] Would provide funding for the Department of Health to conduct a two-year point of disease Lyme disease prevention pilot program.

See related articles, “Local Lawmakers At Odds Over Guns” and “Loudoun Delegation Differs On Gender Identity.”

rgreene@loudounnow.com

dnadler@loudounnow.com

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