Loudoun’s legislators in the General Assembly this year include a lot of freshmen, but for the most part that hasn’t slowed them down filing bills.
The delegation is pushing bills in the Senate and a newly rebalanced House of Delegates ranging from local problems like tolls on the Dulles Greenway and rural broadband access to statewide issues like redistricting and net neutrality.
Every Democrat representing Loudoun in the House of Delegates got behind a bill that would require the three school systems that do not offer universal full-day kindergarten to adopt and implement a plan to phase it in. Loudoun, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake are the three remaining school districts in the state that do not provide a full school day to every kindergartener.
Loudoun’s elementary schools have expanded their full-day kindergarten offerings each year. By this fall, assuming the School Board adopts the budget drafted by Superintendent Eric Williams, 93 percent of Loudoun kindergarteners will attend a full day. Williams has said reaching that 100 percent threshold will take additional money to build three-classroom additions at the four elementary schools that will still not have the program, which all sit in the fastest growing part of the county.
Del. David A. Reid (D-32) said his proposed legislation addresses that issue. He sponsored a budget amendment that would, if approved, provide $3.25 million in matching funds to help pay for those classroom additions. For HB350, he said he got together with delegates from Virginia Beach and Chesapeake to draft the bill, which includes a requirement for the school divisions without universal full-day kindergarten to share their plans to get there, and lessons learned, with one another.
“I know Loudoun County has a plan and Virginia Beach and Chesapeake have a plan, and I want them to share that information with each other so that if they’re good ideas they can learn from them and they can learn from us,” Reid said.
Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10), also a sponsor of that bill, said most of her district is offered full-day kindergarten, except for a pocket in Loudoun. “So this would put everyone on an equal footing,” she said. “Every delegate has something that they want for their district—this is something that Loudoun County needs so we’re going to come out as strongly as we can and try to get it done.”
Reid also introduced a bill that would put a four-year freeze on in-state tuition increases retroactive to last fall’s tuition rate. It also put a cap on what colleges can charge for room and board.
Reid said that bill, plus the full-day kindergarten legislation and a bill that would implement distance-based pricing on the Greenway, reflect what he heard from constituents when he knocked on doors during the campaign. “Those were the first three pieces of legislation that I introduced, as well as the budget amendment, to actually provide real solutions to the problems that I identified during campaign,” he said.
Meanwhile, Del. John J. Bell (D-87) thinks he may have another way to tackle tolls on the Dulles Greenway—and that fact that local legislators are apparently powerless to bring them down. The Greenway recently filed paperwork to raise tolls another 10 cents, a fairly routine process after previous General Assembly legislation that took away much of the State Corporation Commission’s oversight over Greenway toll increases.
Bell’s HJ 8 proposes directing the Department of Transportation study purchasing the Greenway, something that has been done before. Studies in 2013 and 2015 found it would be prohibitively expensive for the state.
But Bell said, “frankly, I think they studied it wrong.”
“What I want to do is a partial buyback of the Greenway,” Bell said. He proposes getting partial ownership for the state, getting the commonwealth a seat at the table for decisions about the operation of Virginia’s only privately-owned highway. The Greenway is owned by Australian company, Macquarie Atlas Roads.
Bell said the state could buy back some of the Greenway’s bonds that currently have 7.25 percent interest, refinancing at much lower interest rates to save money. With partial state ownership, he said, the Greenway could also see a reduced tax burden, stop paying for the State Police patrolling the road, clearing snow, and other expenses.
“If the commonwealth were a partial owner of the Greenway, we could change all those things and pass those savings on to the user,” Bell said.
He was also one of Loudoun’s legislators to tackle common gripes on the county Board of Supervisors, like restrictions of proffer agreements, affordable housing, and government procurement. Bell’s HB 89 would have exempted the affordable dwelling units the county requires in big rezoning applications from the restrictions of the General Assembly’s 2015 proffer legislation, but was struck down in a subcommittee of the Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns. But Bell said he’ll be back with another one next year.
“I think one of the unintended consequences of the proffer bill was [affordable dwelling units],” Bell said. “And frankly, since the [proffer] bill has passed, the ADU program as we knew in both Loudoun and Fairfax—which were the two largest in the state—have virtually come to a halt.”
Another, HB 98, would allow public bodies to use competitive negotiation in hiring professional services contractors by allowing the public body to negotiate simultaneously with the two top-ranked bidders for the contract. Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-31) has filed a matching bill in the Senate. Favola’s bill has passed the Senate 24-15, with support from all of Loudoun’s four senators. Bell’s bill has been referred to the Committee on General Laws.
“Not having the communication is hurting us in getting the best deal for Loudoun County, so having more open communication and providing the clarification is really what I’m seeking to do,” Bell said.
And he has continued the General Assembly’s push to combat the opioid epidemic with bills that would limit how many days’ worth of pain killers can be prescribed at once, and requiring health insurance to cover alternative pain management medications, particularly for people recovering from addiction.
Legislators have until Tuesday, Feb. 13 to get their bills through their respective chambers on the General Assembly, at which point each chamber sends the bills it has passed to the other for consideration. The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn Saturday, March 10.