The news from around Virginia this week was dominated by snow and the struggles to dig the Commonwealth out of a major storm. That storm left its mark on Capitol Square, too.
Like many Virginia localities, the City of Richmond found snow removal challenging. Although major thoroughfares and highways were plowed, three-and-two-lane cross and side streets were effectively reduced to one, and that one lane was often not cleared.
The road conditions in the Richmond metropolitan area deterred a lot of visitors from coming to the Capitol during the early parts of the week. It also kept many members of the General Assembly’s support staff from making it in to downtown Richmond. As a result, the General Assembly Building and Capitol were unusually quiet early in the week.
By week’s end, the elevators were jam-packed once again and the visitors had returned in force.
This week the Republicans in the General Assembly and Governor McAuliffe reached an agreement on the conceal handgun permit reciprocity with 50 states. The bipartisan agreement protects the Second Amendment for the law-abiding concealed permit holders not only in the Commonwealth but in our neighboring states. It also adds that the Virginia State Police to be present at every firearms show to perform background checks on a voluntary basis and prevents anyone with a protective order for domestic abuse from possessing a firearm.
Every day this week included legislative action, as both the House and Senate got down to business. The process of reviewing, considering, and debating the 2,168 bills and over 500 resolutions filed by the 140 members of the General Assembly moved at a brisk pace.
Not all of those bills will ultimately be enacted. In order to become law, a bill must clear multiple hurdles, securing the approval of both houses and the signature of the Governor. In sessions held during this decade, approximately two out of every five bills filed by lawmakers ultimately become law.
Some of my own bills have passed committee and will be on the floor of the Senate for a full vote. Since first elected in 2011, I have been writing and proposing legislation that will improve workforce training and educational opportunities for our region. Some of the legislation that I have written and have proposed this year relating to these issues are as follows:
• SB 7 STEM Grants for donations for qualified schools: Establishes a grant program administered by the Board of Education beginning in 2017 for donations made by STEM organizations to qualified rural and underserved schools. The donations must be used by qualified schools to support STEM programs.
The bill defines qualified schools as those public elementary and secondary schools at which at least 40 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Grants are capped at $50,000 per organization per year. This bill will bring the STEM disciplines to our area using partnerships with the private sector to enhance the educational opportunities for our students in the public school system. (Passed committee 15-0 and referred to the Senate Finance Committee).
• SB 245 Comprehensive community colleges; dual enrollment agreements: Requires each comprehensive community college to enter into agreements with the local school divisions it serves to facilitate dual enrollment of students into a program preparing students to pass a high school equivalency examination (GED) offered by the local school division and a postsecondary credential, certification, or license attainment program offered by the comprehensive community college.
This legislation will allow those who attain a GED equivalency diploma to also attain a professional training certificate that will make them job-ready in a particular field that will make them immediately prepared for the competitive job market. (Passed Committee 15-0).
• SB 246 STEM Competition Team Grant Program and Fund: This bill will create and establish a grant program administered by the Board of Education beginning in 2017 to establish STEM competition robotics teams at qualified schools. The bill defines qualified schools as those public secondary schools at which at least 40 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Grants are capped at $10,000 per school per year.
This bill will fund robotics competition-grade programs to our region that will allow our students to be educated and compete with other public schools throughout Virginia in the important STEM disciplines, which in turn will provide them with the pathways to successful college careers and post-graduate employment opportunities. (Passed committee 15-0 and referred to the Senate Finance Committee).
The sunlight snow removal method ultimately allowed visitors to return in force to the Capitol this week. We had several friendly faces from home stop by our office, including Scott Grindstaff, Henry County Treasurer, Sandra Stone, Patrick County Treasurer, Margaret Torrence, Franklin County Commissioner of the Revenue, Janet Rorrer, Patrick County Commissioner of the Revenue, and Ruth Easley, City of Martinsville Commissioner of the Revenue; and Steve Helms of Meadows of Dan.
If you are visiting Virginia’s historic Capitol between now and March 12, please remember to stop by our offices in Room 313 of the General Assembly Building. If you’d like me to know your thoughts on issues under consideration by this year’s General Assembly, send an e-mail to District20@senate.virginia.gov or a letter to Senate of Virginia, P.O. Box 396, Richmond VA 23218-0396. You can also call us at (804) 698-7520.
I hope you stayed safe and warm during Virginia’s first snow of 2016. I’ll be back next week with another dispatch of the comings and goings at Virginia’s Capitol. Until then, have a great week, and I hoped you enjoyed the snow as much as possible.