Monday, February 20, 2017

Last Week of Session and Confirmation That Speaker Howell is Retiring

As we start the last week of the 2017 General Assembly session, it’s time to evaluate where we are, what bills are left, and what action we will ask Governor McAuliffe to take on some really bad bills.

The House and Senate Charter School bills are still making their way through the GA. Our cyber lobbyists have done a great job contacting legislators urging them to vote NO on HB2342 and SB1283. Each bill will be on the floor of the opposite body today. We anticipate Senator Hanger voting NO on the House version of the bill just as he did on the Senate bill. We have talked endlessly with Senator Petersen on the bill, but he will still cast a bad vote, and vote YES on the bill.

The Senate also has HB1605, Delegate LaRock’s Educational Savings Account bill, on their floor calendar. This bill already passed the House and we anticipate it passing the Senate. It is a bill we will ask Governor McAuliffe to veto. It is a bad bill for public education and a terrible bill for state expenses.

Also in the Senate is HB2251, Delegate Jones’ VRS Defined Contribution (DC) plan bill. Again, our cyber lobbyists did a fine job contacting members to oppose this bill. We have been hearing that the Senate did not want to kill the bill this session since a DC plan is Speaker Howell’s baby and, the rumors are, this is his last session. Today there are media reports confirming Howell will not seek reelection to the House in 2017, and the Speaker gave a wonderful speech during the House session today announcing his retirement.  So the rumors are true, and that is why the Senate added a reenactment clause to the bill- it keeps them from killing it while Mr. Speaker is still the Speaker. The reenactment clause requires the bill to pass next session if it passes this session. They passed it by on Friday, so we will see what happens today. We know the Senate doesn’t like the bill, but will they kill it as the Speaker’s time here wanes, or will they wait until next session? That is the big question. Personally, I’d rather see it die now, sorry Mr. Speaker.

However, we must acknowledge the historic nature or Delegate Bill Howell’s tenure as Speaker of the House. He has served since 2003 and is the second longest serving Speaker in Virginia’s history. We may not always agree on policy and legislation, but the VEA admires his service to the Commonwealth. His retirement clears a likely path for Delegate Kirk Cox to become the next Speaker, but we will see.

I did want to update you all on a bill the VEA opposed and spoke against throughout session, HB1829 from Delegate Dudenhefer. This bill would add another requirement to teacher licensure and renewal. The bill requires the completion of hands-on CPR and first aid training for all new teacher licenses and each time a license is renewed. Currently teachers must complete the on-line training to satisfy the requirement. This bill is an unfunded mandate on teachers and school divisions. The VEA recognizes the good intentions of this bill, but we are opposed to another mandate on the teacher licensing requirements. This bill passed unanimously from the House and will likely pass the Senate. We need to be prepared for its passage.

I am hearing from the Budget Conferees that negotiations are going well and we may see the budget early. If that happens, session could end early. The rumor is that how to appropriate a teacher salary increase is currently a point of debate. The good news is teacher salaries will be addressed, we will need to see the details.

It is another glorious day here in Richmond and we have been fortunate that most of this session, the weather has been unseasonable warm. The rest of this week temps are expected to be in the 60s, so I have hung up my winter coat until next session.