This week at the 2018 Virginia General Assembly-Week 8
The Virginia Catholic Conference spent the week advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable Virginians, including low-income adults without health care coverage, pre-school children and unborn children who may be born with disabilities, as well as for safer neighborhoods through strong community policing.
But a resolution agreed to by the Virginia Senate late Thursday afternoon brought a smile to the faces of Conference staff watching from the gallery. That’s when the Senate passed a memorial resolution honoring Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, the diocese of Richmond’s 12th bishop. SJ 161 (Dunnavant), passed unanimously. The resolution honored and celebrated the life of Bishop DiLorenzo, known for his humility and concern for the least fortunate, as well as his commitment to ensuring Catholic education is available to all. The Conference is grateful to Senator Dunnavant for offering this resolution.
Here’s how our other issues fared this week:
Assisting at-risk pre-K children: A House committee missed a significant opportunity to help potentially thousands of at-risk pre-K students. SB 172 (Stanley) would have expanded the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits (EISTC) program to include pre-K students. It passed the Senate earlier in session with bipartisan support. But this week the bill was defeated in the House Finance Committee in an 11-11 vote. Under the EISTC program, which currently serves K-12 students, donors who give to scholarship foundations receive tax credits. The scholarship funds then are provided to low-income families who choose nonpublic schools as the best option for their children. Extending the program to pre-K would have provided greater opportunities for younger low-income children, especially in places where public school options are unavailable. The main opponent of this bill was the Virginia Education Association, VEA, whose members are K-12 -- not pre-k -- public school teachers. The VEA brought considerable pressure on many delegates to vote “no,” but offered no other viable option to give pre-K opportunities to these children. See here to watch deliberations for SB 172 (Click on Feb. 26 in Calendar, then House Finance tab and scroll to Stanley Bill SB 172.)
Promoting community policing: A measure that could leave communities less safe by threatening the willingness of crime victims and witnesses to come forward (HB 1257, Cline) passed the Senate Local Government Committee in a 7–6 vote despite overwhelming public opposition in the committee hearing. The Conference has long opposed bills that jeopardize the trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement. The full Senate will vote on the bill next week.
Shielding vulnerable Virginians from usury: The Conference supported a bill to protect the poor from unjust lending practices. SB 625 (Surovell) would have extended the 36% APR interest rate cap to all consumer finance loans. By a voice vote, a House Commerce and Labor subcommittee chose not to advance the bill this year.
Student discipline: The Conference supports efforts to reform public school suspension policies in favor of discipline geared toward restorative justice and rehabilitation. HB 1600 (Bourne) would limit the length of long-term suspensions to 45 days, unless aggravating circumstances exist. Having already passed the House, the bill has now passed the Senate in a 34–6 vote and heads to the Governor’s desk. Another bill (SB 170, Stanley) bans out-of-school suspensions longer than three days for students in third grade and younger. The House Education Committee approved the measure in a 20–2 vote. It has already passed the Senate.
Budget update: Budget conferees have been appointed to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. The Conference will continue to urge conferees to adopt a budget package that includes the Hyde amendment; extends health care access to low-income Virginians caught in the coverage gap; increases assistance for low-income seniors in assisted living; and improves assistance for those transitioning from welfare to work. The Conference will also continue its advocacy against funding for a pilot program that would promote long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) to low-income women and teens, without parental involvement.