By Senator Lynwood Lewis
Listen to this report:
It is truly a crazy time to be in Richmond for General Assembly Session. While there is a lot happening unrelated to legislation, we still must govern. With Crossover on February 6, we have hundreds of Bills to debate and vote on before we receive the House’s Bills and direct them to Committee. We are also reviewing the Senate and House Budgets that were just released.
The week kicked off with an incredible day at the Capitol; teachers, students and public education advocates descended on Richmond to share their stories and ask their legislators to prioritize public education. We have seen successful #RedforEd movements in other states, and I am hopeful that we will see significant changes related to public education both in the final Budget and in legislation. In my view, these should include the desired pay increase for teachers, funding to enable the change of the student-to-guidance counselor ratio and investments to address major infrastructure issues in our rural and urban school districts. I was visited by educators, students, parents and public school staff from across the 6th Senate District, including the Kiptopeke Elementary PTA. It was a treat to be able to take their group on the Senate Floor and I hope to be able to do the same for groups visiting from the Eastern Shore in the future.
In addition to many visits and advocacy days at the Capitol, my legislation has been relatively successful in moving through the Senate. Last week I discussed several Bills related to local issues on the Eastern Shore, all of which made it out of Committee. This past week each also passed unanimously on the Senate Floor, as did my Bill related to Groundwater withdrawal within the Eastern Shore Ground Management Area. This legislation – SB1599 – is critical for the Shore and I am pleased to see it be so readily embraced by my colleagues and well-received by those back home.
The final week before Crossover also saw the hearing of SB1559, my Bill to expand C-PACE Loans to include resiliency within the parameters for loan distribution. C-PACE stands for Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and relates to financing for green energy upgrades. Many states have seen their C-PACE programs become more robust over recent years and this legislation should help in giving our C-PACE program here in Virginia stronger. It will also enable our region specifically to access another resource to make lasting and necessary commercial improvements to ensure our buildings and businesses are not only more energy efficient, but also more resilient – a critical need as we make every effort to adapt to and find solutions for coastal flooding and sea level rise. This Bill received strong support from both the business community and the environmental community; it passed unanimously out of Committee and the full Senate.
There was much conversation during the beginning of the Session around a set of Bills related to casinos and gambling; as it stands, these Bills, including my Bill pertaining to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and their potential Norfolk casino, were all rolled into Senator Louise Lucas’ Bill and will head to a study to be completed by 2020.
My legislation to include beneficial use and recycling in the Virginia public school curriculum – SB1561 – passed unanimously after getting hung up on a technicality last Session in Senate Finance, and my resolution put forth at the request of the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters to declare July as National Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month passed as well.
While SB1570, my legislation to create an Adult Abuse Registry, was not quite ready to move forward due to a hefty price tag and bureaucratic issues, we do believe we will be able to iron out the details prior to next Session. At my request, the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services will be putting together a report on the true costs of developing this important database, as well as working with me to ensure the legislation is both comprehensive and feasible. I am confident that heightened attention around the issue of elderly abuse will result in the positive reception of this Bill next year, particularly with the planned work in the off-session.
The end of Session is quickly approaching, but there is still time to visit! We adjourn February 23 and I encourage everyone to come see us in Richmond before then and to continue to monitor the activities of the legislature on the General Assembly website VirginiaGeneralAssembly.gov. I can be reached at our legislative email District06@senate.virginia.gov and while in Richmond by telephone at (804) 698-7506. Please do not hesitate to contact me on issues with questions about legislation or on issues of concern.