Monday, February 10, 2020

Cross Over Looming with So Many Bills Still Left

February 10, 2020

Today the House and Senate have each spent the entire day on the floor working their way through hundreds of bills that have made it through the committee process and proceeded to the floor for consideration. In each body, the bills must be considered three times, so with just about 30 hours until each body must complete action on the bills that originated in that body, the floor session is a marathon. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are nearly 40 percent more bills this session than in the last long session of 2018. Legislators are being very careful to move the bills along, but to not go too quickly as every bill that is on the floor will have an impact in Virginia. This long process will continue tomorrow, when the House and Senate have until midnight to finish work.

On Wednesday, we start the second half of session. All the bills that passed their body of origin will move to the other body to go through the whole process again. Luckily, most of the bills that the VEA either initiated or represent our top legislative priorities have a House and a Senate version. That allows us to know what happened in the other body and prepare for that. Three of our top bills passed each body with identical language. That’s really good, as those bills should be considered early after crossover, and legislators who already passed their version of the bill will be informed that the version before them is identical to the one they already passed. The three bills we have that are in this posture are: restoring teacher probation to three years, removal of one unsatisfactory evaluation as a definition of incompetency, and removing the mandatory reporting to law enforcement by principals of some disciplinary violations. Those bills should move quickly through the second half.

We only have a Senate version of bill that would restore the option of a three-person panel, so the House will hear that for the first time soon. The House has been very favorable to our bills to reverse the due process harm done in 2013, so I feel good about this bill passing the House.

Two of our bills did not fare well in the first half of session. Our efforts to reduce the SOL tests to the Federal minimum have been carried over to next year. Legislators are concerned that there is not a state-wide assessment to replace the SOLs. We have work to do to educate members of the General Assembly that our goal is NOT to replace the SOL tests with other state-wide standardized tests, but instead to build meaningful, locally developed performance assessments that will meet all of the criteria established by the Board of Education. Our test culture has swallowed up many members of the House and Senate. If you are passionate about the need to reduce the number of SOL tests, I urge you to work closely with your elected officials to get them to understand what we are trying to do. There is a lot of teaching that needs to happen for these bills to move forward anytime soon.

Our bills to allow school employees to participate in the state employee health insurance plans fared the worst of the bills we initiated. Both passed unanimously out of the committees that reviewed the policy. (If you don’t know what I mean by that, read Friday’s daily report.) Both bills were referred to the money committees, although there was no established fiscal impact. We worked with the administration and the DHRM to add all the language they wanted so that these bills could pass. At least the Senate Finance Committee heard the bill, kind of. They put it in a block of bills to carry over to next year. They took no testimony on the bill, but at least it made it to the docket and there was a vote on it. The House version of the bill reported 20-0 out of Commerce and Labor with a referral to House Appropriations. The Appropriations Committee Chair never put the bill on a docket, so it was never heard. We call that “pocketing” a bill. It is the Chair’s prerogative to hear a bill or not, but this is the first VEA bill I have worked that was pocketed. I was very disappointed so put it very mildly.

Of course, our other big bills are the Collective Bargaining bills. The House version will cross over since it already passed, and the Senate version should (fingers crossed) pass tomorrow. Thank you to all our members who are keeping the pressure on with phone calls and emails to our Senators. The word on the street is that pressure from educators is what is keeping the Senate in line on this bill.

Tomorrow, I hope to summarize some of the legislation that is part of our 2020 Legislative Agenda that is moving on after crossover. There has been lots of good work by the General Assembly this session, so I am trying to get over having a bill pocketed. Check with me when session is over to see if I have let it go.