Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Big Start to the Day


Jan 14, 20120

The day started early and in a big way. At 7:30 a.m., the House Privileges and Elections (P&E) subcommittee reported (passed) the Equal Rights Amendment. This is the subcommittee that has blocked this legislation in past sessions. The House of Delegates has always been the roadblock to passage, but with a change in majority, the Democrats are moving quickly to finally pass the ERA.

The full Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee also met this morning to get the December revenue updates and to hear reports on the Governor’s introduced budget. It was exciting to see some of the newly appointed members, including our good friend and champion Senator Jennifer McClellan. She will also serve on the subcommittee on K-12, a big win for us. All of the requests for funding go through this committee and its members serve as budget conferees. Aside from getting some optimistic updates on revenues, there was a lot of discussion about gaming in Virginia.

The VEA will follow the gaming debate very closely this year. As you may know, all proceeds from the VA Lottery go to support important K-12 programs. As new gaming initiatives have come into Virginia, we have seen a drop in VA Lottery proceeds. We know this is a direct result of the new gaming, including what are being called “gray machines,” which are unregulated and untaxed games of skill that you may have seen pop up at convenience stores and gas stations. We expect to see legislation this session to start regulating and taxing such games. In fact, Governor Northam included this in his introduced budget. The corporations that own these machines have said they are happy to be regulated and taxed, because they want to stay in Virginia. They know that to stay, they will need to accept the state’s authority. The VEA would like to have all gaming in Virginia under the umbrella of the VA Lottery. That will then require that all gaming proceeds go to K-12 education. That is important. When Virginians voted to designate all VA Lottery proceeds to K-12, they were all that existed in the “gaming world” in the Commonwealth. I am sure that Virginians wanted the lottery proceeds to “do good,” which is why they were directed to our public schools. We will fight to make sure any gaming revenue goes to K-12. Expect a whole lot of updates on this topic this session. Interestingly, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Janet Howell, and the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Tommy Norment, have both introduced legislation to ban the gray machines in VA. We will certainly see a debate on this whole issue this session. It will also need to be settled before a budget is developed as there are tax and revenue implications to all of this.

This afternoon has been spent meeting with legislators to make sure they all know which bills are VEA bills. Last night the VEA Legislative Committee took positions on about 150 bills and we are making sure legislators know where we stand on all of them. There are also bills that are well-intended but may have some unintended consequences, so we are talking with patrons to try and improve language on those bills. Of course, there is lots of work with partners on bills, too. The VEA Legislative Agenda is very broad, so we work with partners on bills that deal with voting rights, racial and social justice issues, LGBTQ non-discrimination policies, gun safety, student loan debt relief, and raising the minimum wage. Obviously, K-12 public education is our priority, but we will support a wide range of issues again this session.

Tomorrow the House Education Committee will meet and announce subcommittee assignments. For the last two sessions, the sub committees (“subs” for us at the Capitol all day) in House Ed have been called #1, #2, and #3. That allowed some odd assigning of bills. This session the chair, Delegate Roslyn Tyler gave the subs actual names: PK-12 Public Education, Post-Secondary and Higher Education, and SOLs/SOQs. I think this breakdown will make sure there is balance in the subs.

Today was far quieter at the Capitol than yesterday when the NRA was here. Monday, January 20 State Police are preparing for 50,000-125,000 gun rights advocates heading to Richmond. They are coming in strong for their Lobby Day. While we won’t get 50,000, we need to show up in big numbers for the VEA Lobby Day on January 27. What is your plan to attend? Who are you bringing with you? We need to show up and make sure legislators know we are still here and we want our public schools funded. You can learn more about Lobby Day at our web site and you can RSVP here: mobilize.us/vea.

Make your plan now.