General Assembly Update: Week 4

As of February 3rd, the House has completed 24 of the 46 days of the 2017 session. Two major dates are fast approaching. Tuesday is Crossover, the deadline with which each chamber must complete work on bills that originated in their chamber. Thursday the House will vote on their version of the budget.


House Compensation Package

On Sunday, February 5th, the committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals. The committees, however, have already announced the compensation portion of the budget. The proposal includes a 3% pay raise for state employees.

It dramatically raises the starting salary of Virginia State Police. New police officers, as they enter the academy, will see a salary increase of almost $6,800 to bring their annual salary to $43,000. One year after they graduate from the Police Academy their salary will increase to $47,275.

The proposal includes funds to address salary compression for sheriff’s deputies. The agreement includes a compression salary adjustment for employees in local sheriff’s offices and regional jails an additional $80 per year of service for 3 or more years and $65 per year of service for other personnel.


K-12 Education Funding

Governor McAuliffe’s introduced budget proposal does not include a teacher pay raise. His budget has a 1.5% bonus, but the language does not require the bonuses go towards a teacher pay raise. If school divisions were to elect to use the proposed state allocation for a 1.5% bonus, then they would have to provide a local match, estimated to be about $83 million, for employees to receive the actual bonus percentage.

This year we look to build on our previous lottery fund investment that gives local school leaders additional revenue with the flexibility to meet their own unique education needs. The House budget will fully restore the amount of lottery proceeds that go back to school divisions unencumbered to 40%. Our language would permit the school divisions to use this lottery money to provide a teacher salary increase or to pay for increased local Virginia Retirement System costs.

Statewide, education seems to be going relatively well. Virginia children are scoring higher on their pre-college entrance exams, we rank 3rd in the nation in AP achievement, and accreditation and graduation rates are up. But if you look closely at Petersburg, Southside, Southwest, Northern Neck, and Eastern Shore regions, things aren’t looking so great.

For years now, schools in rural and urban areas have been struggling primarily due to the economic downturn and enrollment losses. As jobs left, so have students and their families. Since our education funding formulas are based on a per pupil basis, as the students leave the schools, so does our education funding.

A group of budget leaders in the House have come up with a way to fix this growing problem with a plan called the 10-10-10 formula. If in the last 10 years there is a 10% or more decline of students, and the school district has a population of less than 10,000 students, we will provide a 15% enrollment loss supplement.


Fighting the Opioid & Heroin Epidemic
If you’ve watched the news over the last 6 months, you’ve no doubt heard about the heroin and opioid epidemic sweeping across Virginia. While the Department of Health is still evaluating the numbers, Virginia is on track to meet Department projections of over 1,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, the highest in the history of the Commonwealth.

This week Delegate Todd Pillion (R-Washington) spoke on the House floor about that gravity of the situation. He shared the many House bills we are advocating to address the various aspects of this epidemic to include: identifying resources to help substance-exposed infants, developing standards for our health professionals in training, and directing the Board of Medicine and Dentistry to develop regulations on the prescribing of opioids including dosage limits, treatment plans and Prescription Monitoring Program utilization.

I was pleased Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard and Captain Jim Pritchett could testify on behalf of my model addiction recovery pilot legislation during the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee. HB 1845 creates a pilot program with grant money for 4 jails to use in the establishment of an addiction recovery program for struggling addicts to receive treatment upon entering jail and before sentencing. It is modeled off the HARP program Sheriff Leonard implemented with such success.


Criminal Justice Reform

The House is taking positive steps on reforming the criminal justice system by removing obstacles for offenders who are trying to get their lives back on track.

Currently, if an offender cannot pay their court fees they can have their driver’s license suspended. This can create an unfortunate cycle where if a fine is not paid, people cannot get to work to make money to pay off their court fines and get their licenses back.

HB 2386, which has passed the House unanimously, allows courts to establish a payment plan for offenders unable to pay court-ordered fines to avoid a driver’s licenses suspension. This legislation will help those offenders who are struggling to get back to work so they can provide for their families and assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society.


Manchester High Visits the Capitol

This week I welcomed two AP Government classes from Manchester High School to their Capitol. Students observed debate in committee, heard from a host of speakers, toured Mr. Jefferson’s historic building, and observed the House and Senate in session from their respective galleries.
Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard speaking with students about
interactions between state government and local law enforcement.

During session, you can contact me at my Richmond office by phone at 698-1066; by email at delkcox@house.virginia.gov; or by mail at PO Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218. I appreciate your views on legislation that will help me do a better job for the people I represent.

Please visit my Facebook page and my Twitter page. These pages, along with my website, have information/links to the 2017 General Assembly session to include my legislation, visitors’ photos, my legislative survey, videos of floor remarks, and related topics.

Please forward this update to your friends and neighbors.