Friday, February 22, 2013

Strong Offense, Look for Posting Tomorrow

This is the point of the session when there are no committee meetings, but the floor sessions last for hours and are interrupted by frequent recesses.  Conference committees meet in every corner to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of numerous bills.  Time move slowly, and staying awake can become a challenge.

The big news of the day was the House passage of the transportation plan – HB 2313.  The Senate wants strong assurances from the Governor that he will support Medicaid expansion prior to passing the transportation plan.  They adjourned early this evening when those assurances were not offered.  They go back into session at 10 am on Saturday.

The budget conferees have not finished their work, which makes it likely that the session will be extended.

I will post an update tomorrow.

The frequent breaks give time to reflect upon the session.  In this tough session, when so much of our effort was defensive in nature - VEA played some exceptional offense.  I can't remember a session when we successfully advanced as many bills.  In one area of note, we lost the bills, but won the battle in the budget.

I'll discuss defense another day, but let's talk offense.

Virginia's underfunding of public education is a continuing crisis for our next generation.  Senator Saslaw's SJ 328, a VEA initiated resolution calling on the Joint Legislative Audit  and Review Commission (JLARC), may turn the education funding debate in our favor, as was the case with the last JLARC study of the SOQ in 2002.  Gaining passage of this study resolution not only reflects years of work, but it reflects the dogged willingness and determination of VEA.  We fought for this measure when all other education advocates saw its passage as unachievable.

For many years, VEA has been working to gain a statewide health insurance option for Virginia's educators.  Both Delegate Yost's HB 1356 and Senator Barker's SB 1367  failed to pass, but funds to do the feasibility study needed to achieve this goal are in both the House and Senate budgets, assuring that this study will be done prior to the next session.  This progress on this issue is the result of years of VEA work.

The passage of Delegate Jennifer McClellan's HB 1871, the VEA initiated anti-bullying bill, will have a chilling effect on all forms of bullying in our schools.

We have seen the horrible effect of teacher evaluation information being provided to newspapers in other states.  We have all read of thesuicide of 5th grade Los Angeles teacher Rigoberto Ruelas following the publication of his professional growth indicator in the LA Times.  That won't happen in Virginia thanks to the passage of Delegate LeMunyon's HB 1889, a VEA initiated measure which shields teacher growth indicators from Freedom of Information Act requests.

Although we came into the session fighting for a 4% salary increase for school employees, gaining 2% and having the increase provided for all school employees, not just teachers, is significant.  This is the first salary funding provided by the state since 2007.