While much of the news out of Richmond for the last several weeks was about shocking and disappointing scandals, the just concluded 2019 General Assembly Session also produced some important legislation that will have a positive impact on the lives of Virginians across the commonwealth.
The biggest bill we took on during the 46-day session actually sent us into overtime and a rare 47th session day. HB1700 contained about 230 pages of amendments to the biennial budget we passed last year.
The amendments include money to give teachers across the commonwealth a larger than expected pay raise. Overall HB1700 provides a net increase of $85.7 million for K-12 education above the current adopted base budget and adds $12 million for school counselors in all elementary, middle and high schools in the commonwealth in an effort to lower the school counselor to student ratios.
Other legislation (HB 1729) mandates that at least 80 percent of school counselors’ time during the school day be dedicated to providing counseling services to students, rather than other administrative support functions counselors are often called upon to do.
The amendments include significant investments for water quality improvement projects, including $25 million to help Alexandria separate its stormwater and sanitary sewer systems to prevent raw sewage from flowing into the Potomac River during heavy rains. Two years ago, the General Assembly gave Alexandria a tight deadline to stop polluting the Potomac.
Another $127.4 million will go to assist local governments and individuals in reducing nutrient pollution, such as a municipal or industrial waste discharges, which can act like fertilizer causing excessive growth of algae, having negative impacts on the Bay, and $10 million to help localities install efficient and effective pollution-control measures — such as stream restorations and constructed wetlands — to combat runoff.
While we have yet to provide a recurring annual source of revenue for Virginia’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, we were able to provide an additional $1.5 million next year, bringing the total deposit to $7.0 million for the general fund annually.
We also funded a study of the potential need for an eviction diversion and prevention program in response to a recent study that found Virginia has one of the highest eviction rates in the country.
The budget also begins to make a down payment on the recently announced Amazon deal. Beginning July 1, 2020, the first $40 million of sales and use taxes remitted by online retailers with a physical nexus in Virginia shall be deposited into the Major Headquarters Workforce Grant Fund.
New investments in higher education will begin creating a tech talent pipeline, including new high-tech degree programs to produce more computer science bachelors and masters degrees Amazon and other tech companies desire.
The House and Senate overwhelmingly voted for a resolution to amend the Virginia Constitution to create an independent redistricting commission to draw new congressional and general assembly district lines after the 2020 census is completed. The resolution will have to pass in identical form next year, and receive a majority of votes cast in a referendum in November of 2020 for the change to take effect.
No Excuse Early Voting
Virginian’s will finally have to stop making up excuses to vote early, if the Governor signs the bill we passed that allows any registered voter to vote absentee in person beginning on the second Saturday prior to election day without having to provide a reason.
School Resource Officers
The General Assembly directed the Department of Criminal Justice Services to establish compulsory minimum training standards for law-enforcement officers serving as school resource officers including mediation and conflict resolution, including de-escalation techniques; awareness of cultural diversity and implicit bias; working with students with disabilities, behavioral health or substance abuse disorders, or trauma experiences; and student behavioral dynamics, including child and adolescent development.
Del. Richard P. “Rip” Sullivan championed a bill known as “Jacob’s Law” that allows unmarried and same sex couples to start families using assisted conception. His bill changes the statute to provide gender-neutral terminology and allows an unmarried individual to be an intended parent, paralleling the ability of an unmarried individual to adopt under the adoption statutes. The bill also allows for the use of an embryo subject to the legal or contractual custody of an intended parent in a surrogacy arrangement.
Help for Families with Autism Coverage
Legislation passed this year requires health insurers to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in individuals of any age. Currently, such coverage is required to be provided for individuals from age two through age 10.
Deep Fake Video Harassment
Finally, my own bill updates Virginia’s anti-revenge pornography statute to include creating, adapting, or modifying a sexually explicit videographic or still image with the intent to depict an actual person.
Marcus Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates.