Delegate Mark Cole
It is my honor to represent the citizens of the 88th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. The House of Delegates is one half of the Virginia General Assembly, the other half being the Virginia Senate. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns about legislation or issues before the General Assembly. If you would like to visit the Capitol in Richmond, please call my office so that we may set-up a tour and assist with your visit. I look forward to hearing from you!
I would like to invite you, your family and neighbors to spend the day with us at the General Assembly for our Richmond Open House on Monday, February 20 (President’s Day). There will be coffee and doughnuts in the morning along with an explanation of what we do here and afterwards, depending on your schedule, you are welcome to sit in on committee meetings, and attend Session.
We will be gathering from 9:30 am to 11:00 am in 8th Floor West Conference Room of the General Assembly Building which is located at the corner of 9th and Broad Streets in Richmond.
If you will be able to attend, please email me so that we will know how many to prepare for. If you are not able to attend on February 20, but would like to visit on another day, let me know and I will make arrangements.
February 14, 2017
Last week was the halfway point of the 2017 session, known as “crossover”. This is when the House must complete work on all House Bills and the Senate does the same for Senate legislation. We then send the bills over to the other body for their consideration. I believe we are making good progress on important issues. Whether it is the need to strengthen our education system to maintain our global competitiveness or continue to enact conservative reforms that make government smaller and more efficient.
In December of last year, Governor McAuliffe announced his introduced budget. The driving force behind adjustments to the 2016-2018 biennial budget is the over $1 Billion shortfall that was announced last fall. Since the Governor’s presentation, the House Appropriations Committee conducted 5 public hearings across the state to receive input from people on the priorities they would like to see addressed.
Last week, the House voted on its budget proposal. The budget reflects the tough choices and priority setting necessary to present a balanced budget. All discretionary spending was reviewed and we held fast to conservative budgeting while investing in the core functions of government. The House budget proposal not only cuts spending and unnecessary programs, but reduces debt by $ 70 million while eliminating several fee increases.
State Employees and State Troopers
: Our budget invests resources to make a compensation package for state employees and law enforcement a reality. All told, the cost of the raise for state employees and college faculty, and restoring the pay raise for state supported employees was $ 88.7 million. Funding is also included to provide our Deputy Sheriffs with compression pay adjustments. Finally, an additional $ 15 million is included to address the starting salaries and compression of our State Troopers and Capitol Police Officers.
: Last year the House re-established the policy of sending back a portion of the Lottery proceeds to our school divisions on a per-pupil basis without a required local match. This year the House budget would send $ 218.7 million, in Lottery Profits directly back to our school divisions. The schools get much needed flexibility in allocating these dollars where they think it is best served, be it a pay raise for their teachers or funding their share of the required VRS contribution.
: Access and affordability in higher education has been a top priority of the House for years. Last session we made a significant additional investment in higher education. However, because of the shortfall cuts of nearly $ 80 million were announced by the Governor. The House budget restores $ 21.0 million to Higher Education.
Health and Human Resources
: The House, working collaboratively with the Senate and the Governor, have made significant investments in the area of mental health. The House will provide a $ 28.5 million increase in mental health services, to include expanding the GAP program to cover more individuals living in poverty. Our budget recommendations will add an additional 144 disability waiver slots to meet the needs of Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens.
Our economy has been struggling in recent years. The lack well paying, full time jobs was a contributor to our budget shortfall. The House defeated efforts to increase fees and other burdens on businesses, which would have made economic growth even more difficult. Additionally, legislation was passed to prohibit local governments from imposing additional wage requirements on employers as well as legislation to prevent small business owners from being forced to unionize.
Virginia is fortunate to have one of the best education systems in the world – thanks in large part to our great teachers and local leaders who have made it their life’s work to educate our children. The House of Delegates has sought to provide these educators with the tools, resources and flexibility they need to provide our children with a world-class education. That includes reducing burdensome licensure and continuing education requirements. As such, the House passed legislation to waive certain licensure requirements for a teacher with an endorsement in career and technical education.
We are also taking action to control college costs. Making college more affordable not just with more money, but with specific actions to keep costs down. The House has passed legislation to set standard acceptance of dual enrollment credits taken in high school, allowing students to earn college credits at a lower cost.
February 4, 2017
As we approach the halfway point of session, the Capital has seen record numbers of visitors. Daily attendance by the public has consistently been over 4,500 people a day. I have been visited by many friends and neighbors from back home as well as organizations such as the American Legion, 4-H students, disAbility Resource Center, and others who had their annual day on the hill.
Education is a foundation for a strong, competitive workforce. Our caucus has several education initiatives that address all levels of learning in Virginia.
The House is committed to maintaining Virginia’s strong K-12 system and working to give all children the opportunities in education they deserve by enacting reforms in public education, promoting choice and flexibility, and encouraging early childhood education.
Students in the Commonwealth deserve a quality education, regardless of their circumstances or neighborhood. That’s why I am co-sponsoring HB1400
which establishes Virginia Virtual schools so students aren’t bound to brick and mortar buildings for their education. Instead of being limited to classes offered at the local school, they will be able take classes offered all over Virginia.
I am also co-sponsoring HB1605
that creates Education Savings Accounts. ESAs will empower parents to choose what is right for their child’s education by allowing families with special needs students to receive direct access to the state funding for that student. That funding is deposited into an Education Savings Account, where it can be used for private school tuition, homeschool, online classes, course materials, or other educational purposes.
While the House of Delegates does not believe a statewide mandated pre-school program is the best approach, we are exploring better ways to encourage early childhood education. Our focus is on improving access to private providers. Delegate Jimmie Massie is helping on this front with HB1963
that makes families with at-risk 4 year old’s unserved by Head Start eligible for tax credits to enroll in a pre-k program.
Every day we hear from the Commonwealth’s citizens that higher education access and affordability is a real problem. Our caucus has several other ideas that ease the costs associated with postsecondary schools.
Dual enrollment credits provide a great opportunity for students to begin working on their degree credits while still in high school. Tag Greason is carrying HB1662
to establish a uniform policy for granting undergraduate course credit to entering freshman students so students can properly prepare their course schedules to maximize their benefits.
Virginia has a 40-year-old financial aid model. It is time to modernize that model by incentivizing students to complete their degrees on time. Kirk Cox is carrying HB2427
that will motivate and reward students to successfully finish their degree on time by increasing aid money as they progress through their academic career. He is also carrying HB2262
that creates the Online Virginia Network aimed at providing a new pathway for students to complete a college degree by establishing an online consortium of classes from various state universities. It will be a one-stop shop for scheduling, registering, and taking online classes. Higher education institutions in Virginia have focused primarily on enhancing enrollment, retention, and graduation rates in pursuit of preparing a highly skilled workforce for the Virginia economy. The same emphasis needs to be directed toward identifying those individuals with some college credit, but who have not attained a degree.
We are required to redraw district lines every 10 years, after the national census, in order to balance the populations of each district. The next redistricting will occur in 2021.
Redistricting has been in the news recently, primarily because of a special interest group that has been pushing for redistricting reform. Their goal is to form an “independent” commission to draw district lines in order to take the politics out of the process. Though I am not sure how a commission made up of political appointees, appointed by politicians is supposed to take the politics out of the process. All it really does is elevate the politics to a less transparent and less accountable level.
Drawing district boundaries has become quite complex over the years due to numerous court rulings which add to what must be considered. Currently, there are court cases pending that may again change what has to be considered during redistricting. Since the next redistricting will not occur until 2021, there is no need to adopt legislation or changes to the process now; we have time to await court rulings and continue to consider new proposals. I will certainly support any process that is transparent and fair.
January 24, 2017
I wanted to share with you information about some of the legislation being considered by the General Assembly. Since I am Chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, I am sponsoring several bills dealing with elections.
My House Bill (HB) 1537
is similar to the Federal Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, to allow service members who are transferred or deployed to cancel some service contracts, which they can no longer use.
would change how we allocate Electoral Votes in Presidential elections. Currently, we have a winner take all allocation; what this bill would do is change it to be awarded based on the results of each Congressional District, with the overall winner of the state receiving the 2 statewide Electors. I have heard from many rural voters who feel their vote for President does not matter because more populated areas like Northern Virginia overwhelm their votes. I believe this change would increase voter turnout and interest from candidates in Virginia.
would prevent third-party voter registration groups from paying people on a per application basis. This legislation was requested by Voter Registrars in order to reduce the financial incentive to submit fraudulent voter registration forms. Last year there were several cases of fake voter registrations being submitted, most by employees of third-party registration groups who paid on a per application basis.
would require new voters to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote. This legislation is in response to many non-citizens being found on the voter rolls in the Commonwealth. I believe many are being registered inadvertently when they apply for a driver’s license. This would keep that from happening.
would authorize local School Boards to allow School Security Officers, who were former law enforcement officers, to carry a firearm while on duty at school. Currently, only active law enforcement officers are legally allowed to carry a gun on school property. This bill would give local School Boards another option to improve school security and protect children.
I did want to mention a couple of other bills that have received a lot of negative publicity by those who oppose them: HB 1473
the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would restrict abortions after the child has matured enough to feel pain, which is 20 weeks; and HB 1612
Physical Privacy Act, which would require state government and public school facilities, including restrooms, dressing rooms and showers that are designated for use by MEN or WOMEN to be used only by those who are physically men or women. It would not affect facilities that are unisex or undesignated. The opponents of those bills were successful in marginalizing them and characterizing them as extremist. Roanoke College recently conducted a statewide poll on these two bills and found that more Virginians support them than oppose them. 53 percent favors a state law that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and 43 percent supporting requiring individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth gender while 39 percent oppose.
At the start of session, Governor McAuliffe stated that one of his goals for this session was to repeal Virginia’s voter photo ID law. I am pleased to report that we defeated that legislation last week.
Our photo ID law was adopted several years ago, and was recently upheld in Federal court. The law is a reasonable provision to reduce voter fraud and enjoys overwhelming public support. If a voter does not have a photo ID, they can receive one free of charge from their Voter Registrar. Also, if someone forgets their ID on Election Day, they may still cast a provisional ballot and show their ID later.
January 12, 2017
GENERAL ASSEMBLY SESSION BEGINS
The 2017 General Assembly session has officially begun! This year will be a short session (46 days) as our primary responsibility is to make adjustments to our biennial budget. However, we are still putting forth a breadth of legislative proposals aimed at creating jobs, improving healthcare costs, transportation, and creating more educational opportunities. There is a lot before us this year, but we will be focused on doing the work of the people!
The House was officially gaveled into session on Wednesday, January 11th at 12 noon. A new transparency measure was announced on the first day: the video archiving of each day’s session. The new archive, available from the Virginia General Assembly website (http://virginia-house.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3 ) , will allow the public to view the floor proceedings of the House during the 2017 session on demand. The House also has created a search feature that will allow viewers to search by bill or by member.
The House is committed to building on our previous advances in improved transparency (i.e 2 day waiting period before voting on budget and prohibiting committee meetings held at member desks on the chamber floor). We take public access to the legislative proceedings seriously.
STATE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
Later that evening, Governor McAuliffe delivered the annual State of the Commonwealth Address. As this is McAuliffe’s final year in office, a great deal of his speech was a review of his time as Governor.
Republican Delegate Ron Villanueva (Virginia Beach) and Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (Henrico) delivered the Republican perspective on the State of the Commonwealth (http://us3.campaign-archive2.com/?u=a8970db37d2569f1a2b65e59d&id=279757dd63&e=21141571ad ). They reminded us that with last November’s elections, there are big changes coming to our nation’s Capitol. Some of these changes, like rebuilding our national defense and including coal in a comprehensive approach to energy independence, will greatly benefit Virginia.
In August of last year, Governor McAuliffe announced over a $1 billion shortfall. The shortfall is a result of a lagging economy that generated less tax revenue than expected. Unfortunately, the “New Virginia” economy Governor McAuliffe is always championing has been steadily replacing high paying full time jobs with lower paying part time jobs. Virginia’s economy has lost more than 4,000 jobs, weekly wages are down, and part-time employees are up by more than 20,000 since 2015.
However, unlike Washington, Virginia’s constitution requires a balanced budget. Last month Governor McAuliffe unveiled his proposed budget to the General Assembly. The Governor’s budget proposal is just the first step in a long process. It is now time for the House to develop our budget. Our goal is to craft a responsible, conservative budget that strategically invests in the core functions of government while protecting precious taxpayer resources. We will invest in key priorities, but we must do so in a fiscally prudent manner.
Transportation continues to be a high priority, especially for our area. In recent years the General Assembly, spearheaded by the House of Delegates, had significantly increased transportation funding to try to address traffic issues. Here is a brief summary of some of our efforts to improve transportation.
In 2005, we increased transportation funding by more than $ 1.4 Billion, the largest increase in nearly 20 years, including $ 850 million in funding to reduce congestion on major thoroughfares like I-95. The following year, in 2006, an additional $ 568 million was directed to transportation.
During the 2007 session, the General Assembly financed largest transportation investment in two decades by providing nearly $ 500 million in ongoing, new transportation funding and authorizing $ 3 Billion in transportation bonds. In 2008 we restored $180 million in transportation funding that former Governor Kaine had diverted to other programs.
Soon after coming into office in 2010, Governor McDonnell ordered a performance audit of VDOT that revealed $1.4 billion in previously authorized funds that were not being spent on needed highway maintenance and new construction. These dollars were collected and redirected to long overdue transportation projects.
In 2011, we passed legislation to authorize nearly $4 billion in bond funding for transportation that jumpstarted over 900 projects around Virginia.
In 2013, the General Assembly passed a variety of fee and tax increases to raise over $ 1.3 Billion additional funds annually for transportation. Also, other fees and tax increases were imposed on Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise funds for critical regional projects.
Last year we increased transportation funding by nearly $ 1 Billion. Total funding for transportation is $13.4 Billion over the biennium. We also passed my House Bill 97
which directs the Department of Transportation to conduct an evaluation with the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to address traffic congestion on the Interstate 95 in our area, with a goal towards reducing congestion on I95.
Our transportation problems are not just due to a lack of funding. A big part of the problem is all the bureaucratic hurdles that must be cleared before a road project can start. Not only do road projects have to go through VDOT in Richmond for approval, but Washington also gets involved in most projects. Major projects must be reviewed and approved by several Federal agencies such as the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Highway Department. It can take years or even decades for a project to get all the approvals needed to proceed.