The third week of the General Assembly is now complete. With a little more than a week away from crossover, the midpoint of session where each chamber must finish work on their bills so that the other chamber can consider them, I’m happy to share this update with you covering many of the week’s events.
School Safety Legislation Passes the House
The Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday passed five pieces of legislation that were the direct results of the 24 priority recommendations from the House Select Committee on School Safety, which I formed during the 2018 Session.
I am proud of my colleagues for taking the issue of school safety seriously. With the passage of these five pieces of legislation we are showing our students, teachers, and parents that we will do everything necessary to protect our schools.
- HB1729 requires each public school counselor to spend at least 80 percent of their staff time during normal school hours in the direct counseling of individual students or groups of students. Currently, school counselors are overburdened with administrative tasks that limit the amount of time they can spend providing direct student services.
- HB1733 requires the school board in each school division in which the local law-enforcement agency employs school resource officers to enter into a memorandum of understanding with such local law-enforcement agency that sets forth the powers and duties of the school resource officers.
- HB1738 requires a licensed architect who is trained and experienced in crime prevention through environmental design to approve plans and specifications for new or remodeled public school building construction.
- HB1725 requires each school board, in consultation with the local building official and local fire marshal, to develop a procurement plan to ensure that all security enhancements to public school buildings are in compliance with the Uniform Statewide Building Code and Statewide Fire Prevention Code.
- HB1732 requires each public elementary and secondary school to conduct at least one general safety/emergency training or drill for students per year.
I would encourage my colleagues on the Senate side to pass these pieces of legislation so they can head to the Governor for his signature.
There are roughly a half-dozen other school safety priority recommendations still making their way through the committee process in the House. I look forward to supporting them when they make it to the House floor.
Coal Ash Bipartisan Agreement
On Thursday, I joined a bipartisan group of leaders to announce an agreement on coal ash that will protect our ground and drinking water, as well as our waterways, from toxins and pollutants.
This agreement is good for Chesterfield and Virginia. Coal ash in two currently unlined ponds will be moved into new, state-of-the-art lined ponds that will ensure no dangerous toxins or pollutants can seep into the groundwater and surrounding soil and will be capped with an additional liner. By constructing new ponds on site, we are eliminating many of the traffic concerns that have been expressed to me by many constituents. An alternative recycling plan would have cost $6 billion and resulted in 300 trucks per day for 15 years to get all of the coal ash to the recycling facility in Amelia County.
Due to the proximity of the two coal ash ponds to Henricus Park and the public boat ramp, many have asked if access to the park and boat ramp will be affected. I’m glad to share that Dominion has agreed to work with county leaders to ensure that access to both Henricus Park and the boat ramp remains open and accessible to the community.
The plan is both environmentally responsible and fiscally sound. I believe our actions will prevent seepage into the James River and other waterways and will allow Virginians to continue enjoying the natural beauty of our landscape.
Raising Smoking Age to 21
Recently, I joined a bipartisan coalition of General Assembly leaders to announce our support of legislation to raise the minimum age required to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Legislation to increase the eligibility age, which would apply to both vapor-based and traditional tobacco products, has been filed in both the House of Delegates and the Senate. This is an issue that many of my constituents have approached me about recently.
With the Surgeon General characterizing teenage vaping as an ‘epidemic,’ and with one-out-of-five high school seniors using these products, raising the minimum age for purchase is the most expeditious way to address this rising healthcare problem.
The rapid growth of the number of teenagers vaping, at a time when the use of traditional tobacco is at an all-time low, should set off alarms for every parent. This legislation will help to reverse that trend. The overwhelming majority of high school seniors turn 18 before they graduate, increasing the prevalence of tobacco products in our schools. Obtaining vaping products from friends and classmates who are already 18 years old is just too easy for the younger kids. Raising the age will have a positive effect on our schools.
2019 Session Survey
The last day to take my 2019 session survey in Monday, January 28th. I encourage you to take time to share you views with me on this 10 question survey before the deadline. I’ll be working to tabulate the results and will share them with you in next week’s email update.
Visitors from the District
The General Assembly received many visitors this week. On Monday alone, the General Assembly had 6,500 people come to advocate for a wide range of issues.
This week I had a chance to sit down with Hannah, Lauryn, and Jakob to talk about their time thus far serving as a House page. These three middle school students are representing the 66th district in the House Page Program. Pages spend the entire session at the Capitol working from 8 to 5 each day. Their work is vital to ensuring that the legislature operates in an efficient manner.
On Monday, my friends from Arc South of the James visited to advocate on behalf of Virginians with disabilities. Last year, the weather prevented them from attending, so I was glad to see them this year. We discussed our successful efforts last year to completely fill all Priority 1 waivers slots and ways to ensure that those with disabilities are treated fairly.
I look forward to hearing from you concerning matters coming before the General Assembly. You can call my office at (804) 698-1066; email me at DelKCox@house.virginia.gov; or write to me at PO Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218. In addition to my weekly email newsletters, you can stay up to date by liking my Facebook page and following me on Twitter.