Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 1 of the Special Session: McAuliffe Stands Up for Public Education

When neither the House nor the Senate included salary increases for teachers and support personnel, VEA went to work.  We let every elected official know how wrong-headed it is to ignore the fact that Virginias teacher salary is heading in the wrong direction (37th in the nation, and $7,456 behind the national average).  Many of our sent cyber-lobby messages to Delegates, Senators and the Governor.

 House Republicans showed the first positive reaction, proposing state funding for a 1% salary increase on July 1, 2015. The cost of this increase in the biennial budget is $40.4 million.

Today, Governor McAuliffe showed that he listened, by proposing the state share of the 2% increase beginning on April 1, 2015 school year.  This 2% increase will cover all SOQ funded position, including support positions.  The cost of this increase in the biennial budget is $100 million.

McAuliffe also is attempting to undo what the House did when it defeated the statewide health insurance option for school divisions (Yost HB 463 and Kilgore HB 1016 were both killed in House Appropriations despite the fact that they would have saved the state between $44 and $66 million dollars a year).  The McAullife amendment allows schools divisions to participate in the state plan beginning on July 1, 2015.

In additional to salary and health care provisions, the budgets amendments include the following provisions:

Increased funding for extended school year grants

It doubles funding for the JVG dropout prevention program

It increases pre-K funding

In all, above and beyond the salary funding the Governor's amendments provide an additional $30 million for public education.  We will be providing detailed analysis in the days ahead.  The Governor's proposal is clearly the superior to the proposals of the House and Senate, but it will be a fight to gain passage of the Governor's amendments.

It is imperative that you call and email your delegate and senator urging support for the Governors budget amendments.

If any of you want to know the legislative process, here is what I think will happen.  The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) took up the Governor's budget bill (HB 5003) this afternoon.  Delegate Dance moved to report.  Delegate Landes offered a substitute motion to pass the bill by indefinitely (PBI), and that motion carried.  HAC then reported HB 5002, the bill that reflects the House position when the regular session ended.  The committee votes were along party lines with the exception of Delegate Joannou, who voted with the Republicans.  Presumably the Senate will adopt the Governor's bill (HB 5003), and when the House communicates HB 5002 to the Senate, the Senate will substitute HB 5003.  The House will reject the Senate substitute and request a committee of conference.  The conference will then begin anew, the difference will be that the Senate position will provide $89.6 million dollars more for public education than was in the introduced budget - thanks to Governor McAuliffe.   Then the conferees will begin the work of trying to develop an acceptable compromise.

The Senate announced a 2 p.m. public hearing in Richmond on April 1.  The next regular meeting of the Senate will be on April 7th.

The House goes back into session at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow evening.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Final Action on Key Bills is Pleasing/Budget Session Starts on March 24th

This was it!  The final day of the regular session, and the General Assembly decided on the final fate of five bills of interest to VEA.

Del. Greason's HB 930 and Sen. Deeds' SB 306, now identical, are the SOL reform bills.  Final action came down to the final day, not over policy issues, but over how many Senator and Delegates will sit on the SOL Innovation Committee.  The conference committee reports were approved by both chambers, and the bills now head to the Governor's desk.

Del. Hope's HB 1106, which calls for a review and report on the use of seclusion and restraint in public and private schools.  The final controversy was over which agency would take on this charge:  The Joint Commission on Health Care, the Department of Education, or the Commission on Youth.  The Commission on Youth will conduct the review and issue the report.  Both chambers adopted the conference report, and the bill awaits the Governor's signature.

Landes' HB1229 and Miller's SB 324 address the delay of A-F school grading implementation.  The conference reports, adopted by both chambers, call for a two year delay.  These bills await the Governor's action.

Del. O'Quinn's HB 1242 addresses how school boards with "tie breaker" provisions select the tie breaker.  This is obscure to most of us, but some Southwest Virginia school boards have an even number of members, and they appoint a tie breaker to resolve tie votes.  This individual has sometimes been the crony of the power structure, and this bill requires that the tie breakers be elected rather than hand-picked.  The conference committee report was adopted by both chambers, and this bill is headed for the Governor's desk.

 Although 2014 Session adjourned Sine Die, it did so without adopting a budget.  Consequently, the Governor is calling for a special session beginning on March 24th.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Diabetes Bills Passed, Work of Conference Committees Continues

Long day at the General Assembly as both chambers frequently recessed to allow time for conference committees to meet and to facilitate communication between the chambers.

The Senate and house have adopted the conference reports on Senator Stuart's SB 532 and Delegate Cole's HB 134, the diabetes bills.  The outcome was good for VEA, and if you want to see the impact of lobbying and perfecting in committee, contrast the introduced bill and the adopted conference report.  VEA, VASS, VSBA and the lobbyists from the various school divisions (the ducks) all worked on these two.  They went from being bills we opposed to ones we can applaud.

Both chambers go back into session on Saturday at 10, when the conference reports on SOL reform and A-F school grading should be heard.

The Governor is calling for the special session on the budget on March 24th.  This should make for a most interesting VEA Convention for your GR staff.









Thursday, March 6, 2014

Correction, Bills in Conference, Refusing to Give Up on Salary

Please accept my apology and allow me to offer a correction regarding my premature assertion that HB 930, Del. Greason's SOL reform bill, was on the way to the Governor's desk.  I missed the fact that the Senate had amended the bill.  The House has now rejected the Senate amendments, and the Senate has insisted on its amendments and requested a committee of conference.  House conferees are Delegates Greason, Rust and Brink, and Senate Conferees are Miller, Deeds, and McWaters.

The conferees have been named for the diabetes bills, Sen. Stuart's SB 532 and Del. Cole's HB 134.  They are Senators Barker, Deeds, and Stuart, and Delegates Cole, Dickie Bell, and Keam.  Both the Senate and House language constitute a dramatic improvement over the introduced bill, but we prefer the House language.

In regard to the A-F School Grading bills, Sen. Miller's SB 324 and Del. Lande's HB 1229 and heading for conference.  The Senate conferees on SB 324 are Miller, Barker, and Newman, and the House Conferees are Landes, Miller, and Bulova.  The Senate conferees on HB 1229 are Miller, Puller, and Carrico and the House conferees are Landes, Miller, and Bulova.  These conference committees are to our advantage.  Del. Miller is a fierce opponent of A-F.  I'm still hoping for a three year delay, but thinking it will be two.

We continue to meet with all urging support for funding for teacher and support personnel salaries.  The special session will offer VEA a new opportunity to fight for salary funding.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Sea Formally Known as the Sea of Japan, Show Us the Money in the Special Session, Progressive Presser

I apologize for today’s late post.  I had seven meetings today, and the last one just ended.

Of yesterday’s three questions, “What will we call the sea between Korea and Japan?” is the only one answered today.  With the passage of Senator Marsden’s SB 2, we will now call this body of water the East Sea.  When I first saw this bill I had no idea that hundreds of Koreans would come to Richmond in support of this bill.  Nor did I know that the Japanese Consulate would hire one of Richmond’s most prestigious law firms to lobby against it.  Well, the South Koreans won!  Click here if you’d like to learn more about the history of this controversy.  SB 2 passed on a 82-16 vote.
In light of the passage of this bill, I’m seeking a sponsor of a 2015 bill to change the name of the James River back to its original Indian mane, Powhatan, a much more beautiful name.

We spent much of the day trying to convince all who would listen that the budgets introduced in the special session should include funding for teacher and support position salaries.
The Virginia Progressive Caucus held a press conference in support of Medicaid Expansion this morning.  Scott Surovell did an excellent job breaking down the benefits of expansion for each House District.  For the sake of example, he asserted that if we used all of the General Fund dollars freed up by the expansion for public education in the next biennium Fairfax would gain $27.6 million, Prince William would gain $21.1 million, Virginia Beach would gain $15.4 million, Danville would gain $1.87 million, and Franklin County would gain $1.72 million.  Sorovell assumed all the free dollars would go to public education.  It is more likely that 30% of it would go to education, but that would still be a tidy sum.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lame Debate and Three Unanswered Questions: Funding, A-F, East Sea

It looks like this session will end, not with a bang, but with a whimper.  The morning began with the Democratic House Caucus and the Republican House Caucus Medicaid Expansion press conferences.  The Republicans worked to tie Governor McAuliffe to any government shutdown resulting from the budget stand-off, and the Democrats accused their counterparts of just saying "No."  Inspiring stuff – NOT!

One can only marvel at the failure of the Democrats to link the issue to the lives of real Virginians, and to articulate what they would do with the general funds made available by the expansion.  What would they do for home health care, for mental health, for the environment, and for education?  Answering that question would inspire support for their position, but I'm not holding my breath.

To their credit, House Republicans are bringing the teacher salary issue to the budget conference - 1%.  That's a start!  How about a bidding war?

With no budget in sight, the budget debate is tiresome, and neither side is putting their best foot forward.

The SOL reform bill, Delegate Greason's HB 930, gained final passage on a 36-4 vote in the Senate today.  This bill now heads for the Governor's desk.

The House rejected the Senate amendment to Del. Landes' HB 1229.  Presumably, the conference committee will be the same as the one for SB 324.  Both bills address A-F school grading delay.

For education the unanswered questions remaining at this point in the session, other than funding, are: “What will we call the sea between Korea and Japan?” (SB 2) and, “For how long will the implementation of A-F school grading be delayed?” (SB 324 and HB 1229).



Monday, March 3, 2014

The Work Goes on at the GA Despite the Snow

Everything in Richmond was closed except the General Assembly.  They stop for nothing.  Solo performance at VEA today, and the walk over to the Capitol was interesting.  Richmond is a snowy ghost town.

SB 624, Senator Newman's bill to provide immunity from liability for school board employees who provide emergency medical care to students passed the House 91-1.  This fine bill is headed for the Governor's desk.

HB 1115, Del. Greason's virtual school bill to facilitate sharing of virtual courses among public school systems passed the Senate on a 40-0 vote.

The Senate passed the Senate substitute for Del.Landes' HB 1229, 3 year delay of implementation of the A-F school grading bill.  The House position is one year is reflected in the House substitute for Miller's SB324.  These bills now go to conference.  What's the compromise between 1 and 3?

The House Appropriations Committee took up Senator Stuart's SB 532, the diabetes bill.  This bill was conformed to Delegate Cole's HB 134, putting the bill in proper posture to head for conference.  We have worked in coordination with the entire education community to address the concerns we had with these bills as introduced.  Most of the problems have been addressed, but the House language is preferable.
This was the last day for committees (with the exception of conference committees) to act on bills.
The budget bill was supposed to have been completed by the end of the day today - that isn't going to happen!