It is week 6 of the 2023 session of the General Assembly. Yesterday was Crossover–the date by which each body must send all bills that have originated in that body and been passed to the other body. In other words, the House sends all passed bills to the Senate to process and vote upon, and the Senate sends all its passed bills to the House. Senate bills sent to the House go through the same subcommittee, committee and floor vote process that bills originating in the House must navigate. If a bill fails in the crossed-over to body, it goes no further. If a bill is amended by the crossed-over to body, it must return to the body of origin and be passed again. If no agreement can be arrived at, the bill is sent to a conference committee consisting of members of both bodies and an agreement is usually found. That agreement must be passed by each body.
Part of my legislative philosophy is to work on solving or at least shining light on problems/issues that are not being attended to by other legislators, to support the work of legislators working in areas that I have championed in the past, to respond legislatively to constituent concerns and to file a few bills that are position statements–even though I know their passage is unlikely.
This session, I have filed four bills supporting the rights of developmentally disabled Virginians. I was honored to be appointed to Chair the Disability Commission by Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn for the last two-year session. As such, I became an ally of the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities. This Board is federally required to exist in the language of the ADA. Their charge is to assess the services offered by our Commonwealth and to make recommendations to the General Assembly. The four bills I drafted and filed were based upon the VBPD’s assessment recommendations:
HB2315: Directs the Dept of Medical Services and the Dept of Behavioral Health/Developmental Services to convene a work group, including representatives of community services boards, local departments of social services, the Dept of Aging and Rehabilitative Services, the ARC of Virginia, the Dept of Education, the Board of Education and other relevant stakeholders to identify information needed across all partners and to determine how to enhance the existing data system or to implement a system that can easily integrate all existing data systems to make reliable information more accessible. The work group must report by Oct. 1, 2023. In a recent national study Virginia ranked 39th in accessibility of services and efforts to serve individuals with disabilities. My comment: We have an obligation and a responsibility to all Virginians, but especially the most vulnerable to make sure that the supports we offer are actually usable and used. Focus groups across the state emphatically reported that this is NOT the case now. This bill was passed by the Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee, the Appropriations Committee (even though it does not have a fiscal impact) and finally, the full HOD.
HB1980: requires the Board of Education to include in its guidelines and model policies for codes of student conduct criteria for the use of non-exclusionary student discipline measures and to require that school systems report to the DOE on the use of instructional supports and behavioral interventions. The VBPD termed this bill as an effort to end the ‘school to prison pipeline’.
HB1981: stipulates that the Bd of Ed’s Regulations Governing the Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools apply to school security officers and School Resource Officers. This action would also disrupt the ‘school to prison pipeline’. HB1983: requires the DOE to establish a work group based on successful national models to consider the feasibility of hiring school safety coaches and other practices of positive behavior supports and trauma-informed school security methods for students.
Although none of these bills would have a fiscal impact and would be, frankly, mild responses to the needs of developmentally disabled students, all were defeated by the majority party on partyline votes.
At my recent townhall, a constituent asked (without sarcasm) “Do you think these bills were voted down because of ignorance or lack of compassion?” My reply was “ignorance”–I do believe that ignorance of the needs of our more vulnerable children and adults is pervasive. We must work harder and louder to defeat this ignorance. We must start now.