Richmond Report: Sixth Week
We're counting down the last few days of the 2015 legislative session, and I can't wait to go back home to Vienna to spend time with my family . . . and to return to my "day" job!
By this late stage in session, most of the over 1,500 bills that were introduced this year have been disposed of, and the only ones remaining are the budget bill and those that are in conference between the House and Senate.
I'm on a conference committee on a controversial House bill that deals with providing reciprocity among states for people who hold concealed carry weapon licenses. The conference committee will be meeting early next week so I will let you know then what we decide to do.
With today's email, let me share an overview of my legislative agenda. As I normally do each year, I introduced 15 bills during this legislative session.
Two of them have passed both the House and Senate, and are now on the Governor's desk for his signature.
First, my House Bill 2090 would require restaurants in Virginia to provide workers with training on food allergy and safety awareness. This bill was requested by a 14-year old constituent from Vienna who suffers from food allergies, and wanted to ensure that restaurants are able to address the needs of customers who may suffer from such allergies.
As described in this news article, I want to thank Claire Troy and her mother Delia for coming to Richmond to testify in support of my bill, as well as the Virginia Restaurant Association and the Department of Health's staff for working with me on this important legislation.
The other one, my House Bill 2068, would increase the means test for low-income, elderly Virginians to take classes for free at colleges and universities. Since 1974, eligible senior citizens have been able to receive tuition waivers to enroll in college classes where spaces are available after all paying students have enrolled.
To qualify, however, one has to earn less than $15,000 per year, which is too low of a threshold considering today's cost of living. As described in this news article, my bill increases this means test to $23,850, which is the federal poverty line for a family of four.
Recently, with the economic downturn and federal sequestration impacting companies in northern Virginia, many workers over the age of 60 find themselves out of a job and unable to return to the workforce without being trained for other work opportunities. My bill will hopefully help some of these unemployed senior citizens by allowing them to gain new skills for a potential second career.
I want to thank my constituent Gary Koerner for asking me to work on this issue to assist many other senior citizens like him.
Two bills I introduced this year were incorporated into other bills, which have passed both chambers and were sent to the Governor.
One of them, my House Bill 2069, would require day care centers to notify the parents of all children enrolled at that day care center if any emergency situation, such as when another child goes missing or is severely injured, occurs at the center. Current law requires such notification for only the parents of the impacted child, but I believe that all parents should have the right to know such information.
The substance of my bill was included in HB 1570, a bipartisan omnibus childcare center reform bill sponsored by the Chairman of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee. This bill is now working its way through the Senate.
The other, my House Bill 2096, would allow towns to assess a $5 fee, as a part of each criminal or traffic case, to be used to pay for maintaining an electronic summons system. This bill was requested by the Town of Vienna to offset the cost that the Town's police department has to incur.
The text of my bill was combined with similar bills introduced by two other delegates, passed the House as HB 1560, passed the Senate and is now headed to the Governor.
Three of my bills were reported favorably out of committees but did not make it past the House.
One was my House Bill 2087, which would have doubled the extremely low compensation of $120 per case to $240 for court-appointed attorneys to parents in child welfare cases who handle complex matters that require months or even years of work.
While the House Courts of Justice Committee passed the bill unanimously, the House Appropriations Committee was unable to provide funding for this cause this year, therefore, the bill failed to be included in the ongoing budget discussions. However, members of the Appropriations Committee urged me to bring the bill back in next year's session when we will draft a two-year budget.
The second was my House Bill 2066, which would have declared as a policy of Virginia that public libraries provide an essential service to communities. I worked with the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations and the Fairfax Library Advocates on this bill, which passed the House General Laws Committee and was subsequently referred to the Appropriations Committee.
Unfortunately, questions were raised about whether a designation such as "essential service" would lead to an expectation to increase the state budget to aid localities with funding library services, so the Appropriations Committee decided not to act further on this bill this year.
The third bill, my House Bill 2093, would have required landlords to install new locks or rekey exterior doors whenever old tenants moved out to provide added security to new tenants. The bill passed the General Laws Committee but failed on the House Floor based on concerns over potential costs that landlords could incur.
I want to thank the Northern Virginia Realtors Association and the Apartment and Office Building Association for working with me and for supporting this bill.
My remaining bills did not do as well; they were debated but ultimately left on the table of various subcommittees. Some of these bills dealt with transportation concerns within the Town of Vienna, which would require massive revisions to existing state policies to correct. Other bills dealt with complex healthcare licensing issues that were unable to be addressed during a short session.
I also had a couple of bills that addressed enforcement of ethics violations, but they were not included in the comprehensive ethics reform measure that passed this year.
In addition to the 15 bills I introduced under my name, I served as "Chief Co-Patron" to several bills that passed the House and Senate this year:
House Bill 1286 would allow taxpayers to choose to receive their tax refunds in the form of paper checks in addition to having the option to receive their refunds by debit cards or direct deposits, reversing a decision that the state made a few years ago to provide solely the debit card or direct deposit options. Many taxpayers, especially the elderly, did not like the inconvenience of using debit cards, which could also include fees on the customer.
House Bill 1843 would extend the "Green Jobs" tax credit for two additional years beyond the five years that this incentive has been on the books. In 2010, I carried the bill to enact this same law in Virginia to encourage the creation of clean, renewable, alternative-energy jobs.
House Bill 2081 would prohibit an employer from requiring access to their workers' social media accounts as a condition of employment. While an employer can prohibit employees from using work computers to access Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites, I don't think they should be allowed to delve into the privacy of workers' lives by requesting their passwords to access these personal accounts.
House Bill 2306 would create the new "ABLE" savings account in Virginia to allow families to invest into tax-free accounts to benefit their loved ones with disabilities. ABLE stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience, and Congress recently established this as a federal program.
House Bill 1648 would waive sales taxes for the next five years when purchasing gold, silver, or platinum bullion when the sale price for the entire transaction exceeds $1,000. The policy goal behind this bill is to compete with Maryland, which has a similar tax law, and to where many Virginia bullion dealers are moving to do business.
You can read more about any of these bills from the Virginia General Assembly's Legislative Information System website at lis.virginia.gov. Next week, I will share more updates on other bills that passed the Legislature this year. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about any of these or other issues, please contact me at DelMKeam@house.virginia.gov or 804-698-1035.