Danny's Desk: News from the Virginia General Assembly
Jan 19, 2015

An Overview of Important Legislative Goals

This year is a shorter, 45-day General Assembly legislative session, but my colleagues and I in the House of Delegates are offering a robust agenda that will prepare Virginia for long-term growth. Some of our top priorities for this year include:

  • Legislation requiring General Assembly approval on new regulations and rules, with the goal of preventing adverse impacts on economic growth, private sector job creation or employment,
  • Supporting K-12 Education
  • Making college more affordable by capping student athletic fees, giving smaller and mid-sized colleges and universities additional flexibility to improve operating efficiencies, and incentivizing colleges to create affordable “flat-fee degree” programs,
  • Making additional reforms to Virginia’s ethics, transparency and disclosure laws and
  • Building two new much-needed veteran’s care centers
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K-12:

Our education agenda focuses on building a foundation for classroom success by supporting teachers, eliminating bureaucratic red tape and better measuring student success.

 One of the ways to support teachers will be to prioritize teacher training and professional development by creating a statewide platform for teachers to share their best practices. To cut through red tape, we are going to give good schools the flexibility to seek accreditation every three or five years, instead of every single year. This will let local school leaders spend more time innovating and less time pushing paper.

 

 We are going to continue our efforts to reform the SOLs and focus more on critical thinking and problem solving skills. In 2014 we reduced the number of SOL tests required at elementary and middle school levels, giving more teaching time in place of constant test preparation.

And our goal, even as we face budget challenges, is to maintain the K-12 education funding, holding them harmless from budget cuts. Virginia has great public schools filled with selfless public servants. Education Week ranks Virginia in the top 10 for five of six major categories. We must maintain quality schools.

Higher Education

Virginia has some of the greatest colleges and universities in the world, but the cost of college is simply rising too much, too fast. We must take steps to make college more affordable. Virginia students are borrowing over $1 billion per year to pay for college.

The average cost of a four-year degree increased by 28 percent since 2008. In 2012, Virginia had the fifth highest net cost in the country.

A recent JLARC report found that athletic and auxiliary fees were the main driver behind rising costs of college. For example, student fees represent about one-third of the cost of attendance at Virginia schools – about $3,500 per year. That’s $14,000 in fees alone over four years.

Only three percent of Virginia students play intercollegiate sports, but student fees fund approximately 69 percent of expenditures in athletic programs at Virginia’s four-year schools. In other words, non-athletes and their parents are paying about two-thirds of the cost of intercollegiate athletics.

Republicans in the House of Delegates have proposed several specific measures to make college more affordable, including caps on exorbitant student fees, increased flexibility for small- and mid-sized schools and seeking to incentivize affordable “flat fee” degrees in high-demand fields. These are solid first steps to making college more affordable for Virginia students and families.

Ethics Reform

We took a number of steps last year to strengthen Virginia’s ethics, transparency and disclosure laws. We implemented a limited gift cap, created a statewide ethics advisory panel, increased the frequency of disclosure filings, clarified reporting requirements for spouses, immediate family and personal friends, and required mandatory ethics training for elected officials.

Republicans also proposed implementing a $100 gift cap and eliminating the distinction between tangible and intangible gifts. We will also look at other items such as requiring pre-clearance for travel and better definitions and simpler reporting requirements.

Veterans’ Healthcare

Virginia is home to more than 800,000 veterans and armed forces members – the seventh highest total of any states. We have a longstanding goal of making sure Virginia is the most veteran-friendly state in the nation.

Unfortunately, Virginia only has two long-term veterans care centers. That ranks us 46th in the nation. Veterans Care Centers are state-of-the-art long-term care facilities for veterans.

We proposed in July prioritizing $57 million in state funding out of an already approved bond-authorization to build new veterans care centers – one in Hampton Roads and one in Northern Virginia. The City of Virginia Beach has already agreed to provide land for the Hampton Roads Care Center. Local officials in Prince William are working to bring the care center to that area.

There has been a long-time demonstrated need for these projects, but unfortunately they’ve been stalled at the federal level. Our hope is to work with Governor McAuliffe to move these projects forward as soon as possible.

  • The Budget Challenge

Virginia is facing a tough economic climate, due in large part to sequestration and federal tax increases promoted by President Obama. This created a $2.4 billion revenue shortfall for the current budget cycle.

The General Assembly took decisive action to close most of that shortfall last fall, passing a supplemental budget that responsibly used some of the rainy day fund and cut spending. Out of the $2.4 billion shortfall, $322 million remains.

The Governor has proposed new taxes and fees in order to cover the remaining shortfall. He wants to eliminate important tax incentives for Virginia families and businesses.

“Tax reform” cannot be a code word for “tax increases.” Tax reform should be accompanied with tax relief for Virginia families and businesses.

The House of Delegates is in the process of crafting its budget proposal. The House will work to craft a conservative budget – without any new taxes or fees – that funds the core functions of state government.

As always, I hope that my 14th District constituents will let us know how you feel about the state issues that are before us. If you want to read or keep up with Virginia legislation, you may go on line to: http://legis.virginia.gov/ 

We are currently in our offices in Richmond.  My Legislative Aide, Mary Franklin, is staffing our office here, located in Room 702 of the General Assembly Building.  You can contact us by sending an e-mail to DelDMarshall@house.virginia.gov or by sending a letter to me at PO Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218-0406, or by calling 804-698-1014. And, visit www.dannymarshall.com to complete our 2015 Survey (on lower right Homepage).