(Feb. 12, 2018) Catherine Read speaks with several advocates to look at where their legislation is headed during the 2018 VA General Assembly. February 14 marked “crossover”, which was the halfway point of the General Assembly session. The bills that made their way through the House will “crossover” to the Senate, and the bills in the Senate will make their way to the House for debate and discussion. Additionally, they will take up the Governor’s Budget starting on Monday February 19th.
Catherine’s first guest was John Horejsi, director of SALT (Social Action Linking Together ), a network of persons in Virginia embracing the principle that “The justice of a society can be measured by how the most vulnerable members of society are faring and being treated”. Their legislative agenda is very robust, here is a breakdown of how their bills are faring this year:
This bill would not allow the prisons to limit in-person visitation, if the facility also offers video visitation as an option. Studies have shown a lower rate of recidivism and higher success rates upon re-entry to society when they have the opportunity to see their loved ones in person.
This bill would require Insurance companies to provide medical insurance coverage for children ages 10-18. Currently they are only required to cover children ages 2-6 years old. Passed the Senate and referred to Appropriations.
A temporary 2 year pilot program would establish a scholarship fund for students in poverty of up to $4000 per student, should the student meet the requirements. This bill passed the Senate and was referred to House Appropriations. Unfortunately, it’s companion bill in the House (HB 285) was killed, so the fate of this bill does not look promising.
HB 50: School Lunch Shaming
Requires local school boards to develop policies of how to deal with students whose lunch accounts are overdue. They would be required to communicate with parents, instead of shaming the children by singling them if their account it overdue. It would prohibit the school board from having the children perform chores in order to get food. It would also not allow the school to put a sticker or hand stamp on a child whose account is overdue. Passed the House 100-0.
This bill would give the needed financial support to Grandparents or other extended family who are raising children who cannot live with their parents. The bill sets forth eligibility criteria, payment allowances to kinship guardians, and requirements for kinship guardianship assistance programs. The bill passed the House and was send onto the Committee for Rehabilitation and Social Services in the Senate.
This bill would repeal the requirement that a driver’s license of anyone convicted of any violation of the law who fails or refuses to immediately pay the fine or cost be suspended. This bill disproportionately affected those in the lowest income bracket. If someone loses their license and cannot get to work, then they cannot ever afford to pay their fines. This bill has passed the Senate and has been referred to House Appropriations.
Catherine’s second guest was Holly Seibold, Founder of BRAWS (Bringing Resources and Aid to Women’s Shelters ). Their mission is to bring dignity and empowerment to women and girls living in shelters by providing them with new, personally fitted undergarments and menstrual supplies. Holly’s group has several initiatives that they were working on this year.
Directs the State Board of Corrections to implement a standard to ensure that all women prisoners have access to feminine hygiene products at no charge. This bill passed the House 100-0.
This bill would have made feminine hygiene products exempt from sales tax. A sister bill (HB 25) was put in to make these products exempt from tax during the sales tax holiday each August for back to school shopping. Both of these bills died in the House this year.
Catherine’s final guest for this week’s show was Kevin Hickerson from the FEA (Fairfax Education Association) His organization advocates to make Fairfax County Schools the best school system possible. They are trying to work with the General Assembly to assist with the teacher shortage, without reducing standards of quality. Kevin spoke about one of their largest initatives, which would allow local schools to increase recess time without having to increase overall instruction time (HB 1419). He also noted his excitement about working with Atif Qarni, the new Secretary of Education under Gov. Ralph Northam. Hickerson noted that having a former classroom teacher at the top of the hierarchy will be a great asset to the Commonwealth.
This bill would give local school the ability to expand recess without having to increase instructional time. Studies have shown that if students are given more time for unstructured play and the ability to move around, that they have more success in the classroom and are better able to focus on their learning. This bill has passed the House and is moving on the Education and Health Committee in the Senate.