The 2019 Legislative Session has come to a close, and I’m excited to share with you the tremendous progress we have made for Giles County and the rest of the 12th House District. Session began on January 9, 2019 and continued through February 23, 2019. It was challenging but productive, as my colleagues and I dispensed with hundreds of bills and resolutions.
This year, I introduced 14 bills, nine of which were passed by both chambers of the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor. I’m very proud to share that I successfully passed more bills than any “freshman” member of the General Assembly this year. While not every bill was successfully passed, I take great pride in each piece of legislation, because each one was motivated by my constituents from the 12th district.
- HB 1786 is a disability access bill that allows for the use of Other Power Driven Mobility Devices (as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act) by persons with a verified mobility disability on public sidewalks in the Commonwealth.
- HB 2045 establishes a voluntary certification process for recovery residences (i.e. “sober homes”) to be regulated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services
- HB 1719 is a bill to increase transparency in our election processes. It requires that candidates for town office in towns of less that 25,000 people disclose campaign contributions and expenditures if they are in excess of $25,000.
- HB 1973 includes 2 historically African-American cemeteries in Pulaski County in the list of sites eligible to receive state funding for the maintenance of graves.
- HB 1868 establishes a new program to recognize the most impressive K-12 schools in Virginia. The Exemplar School Recognition Program is based on new standards for accreditation and is administered by the Board of Education.
- HB 2380 is a college affordability measure that requires institutions of higher education to include in the online course catalogue or online registration system, information about which courses use exclusively low- or no-cost educational materials.
- HB 1720 creates protections for students with a written certification from a physician to use CBD and THC-A oils on school property, as well as extends protections to school nurses who administer and store oils on students’ behalf.
- HB 1905 allows Doe Creek Farms in Giles County to be eligible for a liquor-by-the-drink ABC license for the expansion of their business.
- HB 2634 is an economic development bill that makes all counties in the Commonwealth “wet” with a local option to become “dry” via referendum. This change will allow Giles, Pulaski, and Montgomery to attract new restaurants and hotels to the area.
There were two additional bills that unfortunately did not pass this year, but were bills I worked hard to develop. HB 2381 establishes the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, which will take in and investigate claims against child-serving agencies. The bill would provide much needed oversight for families and children in Virginia, and had widespread bipartisan support in the General Assembly. Unfortunately, it failed to be funded in the House Appropriations committee. HB 2382 was a bill to create freedom of expression protections for student journalists who report well-vetted and factual stories. The bill would ensure that students aren’t censored unless their reporting would cause a clear and present danger to orderly operation of the school. This bill also had bipartisan support. Though the bill did not advance out of the Education Subcommittee #1, I intend to re-introduce both HB 2382 and HB 2381 in the 2020 Legislative Session.
Beyond my bills, the House of Delegates addressed many other key issues that are important to the residents of Giles County. In terms of the budget, the At-Risk Add-On funding for K-12 education was restored to about two-thirds of the Governor’s originally proposed $36 million. These funds will be administered on a sliding scale depending on how many at-risk students are in a locality. All of the schools in the 12th District will be receiving more funds because of this. While it isn’t everything we had hoped to get, it is a significant step in the right direction for K-12 funding. We will continue to push for more next year when we begin budget negotiations for the new biennium.
Also in the new budget, teachers will be receiving a 2% pay increase on top of the 3% that was included in last year’s budget. These teacher raises will take effect on September 1, 2019. Additionally, the budget increases funding to reduce the student to school counselor ratio. An additional $12 million was allotted for this purpose.
$56.4 million will be provided this year from the state for public universities that agree to not increase their tuition next year. This will effectively freeze tuition for the next year, which the General Assembly money committees estimate will save students and their families approximately 4-5%.
Unfortunately, we leave session with I-81 remaining the only major interstate without a dedicated funding stream in the Commonwealth. This year, at least 4 different funding mechanisms were proposed for I-81. I always advocated for the ones that brought in the most revenue with the least impact to local commuters. However, after lengthy debate, no consensus was reached. We were able to pass a bill establishing a new committee of lawmakers and transportation engineers as well as local advocates who will be negotiating funding options for the rest of the year. Currently, I-81 poses a public safety risk and economic development risk to our region if not improved. I remain committed to finding a dedicated funding source to fix I-81.
Lastly, many residents of Giles have reached out with concerns about redistricting. This session, several bills and resolutions were introduced to address the need for non-partisan redistricting. I have always be an advocate for an independent redistricting commission with non-partisan criteria. While we didn’t get exactly what we wanted, we did pass a resolution that I believe is a step in the right direction. The resolution establishes a committee of 16 members. Of those, 8 are legislators and 8 are citizen members. The legislators will be evenly divided between the House and the Senate, as well as evenly divided between party.
I’m extremely proud of the progress we made in 2019, and look forward to the opportunity to continue representing you in Richmond. It is my greatest honor, and I will continue to give it my absolute best effort. As always, I am here to serve you. I would love to hear from you, whether it be to help with an issue with state government, to hear your idea for new legislation, or to get to know you if we have not yet met. Please feel free to reach out to my office by emailing DelCHurst@house.virginia.gov, calling 540-739-2553, or mailing a letter to PO Box 11389, Blacksburg, VA 24062.