As the General Assembly session adjourns, I want to update you on what we have done in Richmond, highlight my own legislative accomplishments, and provide you with information on how to follow new laws coming into effect this year.
I am proud of my work for you in Richmond. Working across the aisle, I was able to help make the Commonwealth a safer and fairer place.
Here is an overview of each major area we worked on this session to make Prince William and the Commonwealth the best place to live, work, and raise a family.
Medicaid Expansion. I am proud to report that in a bipartisan effort the House of Delegates passed Medicaid expansion. This would expand access to quality healthcare for 400,000 Virginians. Negotiations are in progress with the Senate to reconcile any discrepancies for the budget, and we are optimistic that we will find a bipartisan agreement. Closing the Medicaid gap is both the fiscally and morally responsible thing to do to help Virginians. By accepting the federal funding for Medicaid expansion, we will be able to increase state funding for necessary Virginia programs, and for our schools.
Opioid Epidemic. The opioid epidemic is continuing to take a major toll on our Virginia communities. It is essential to address the disease of addiction and expand access to lifesaving treatment. HB 313, SB 226, and SB 399 were passed to address this epidemic.
Patient Access. This year Virginia passed HB 793. The bill lifts the requirement for nurse practitioners to enter into practice agreements with their physician team. The exemption, which received bipartisan support, is contingent upon the completion of five years full-time practice and extensive education from accredited institutions. At the heart of the bill, HB 793 will expand patient access to medical care without compromising patient safety.
CREATING OUR FUTURE
Teacher Pay Increase. By expanding Medicaid, we were able to reallocate state funds to our schools. Part of the money will be used to give our teachers a much needed 2% raise.
Community Schools. Education is not one size fits all. HB 443, which I introduced with Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, HB 443, which I introduced with Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, will allow students coding course credit for any foreign language course credit required to graduate with a standard or advanced diploma for children with disabilities and permit any English language learner who previously earned a sufficient score on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate foreign language examination to substitute computer coding course credit for any foreign language course credit required to graduate. This bill will help prepare students for the 21st century economy and incentivize tech-related careers and empowers students to prepare to enter the workforce.
Our teachers, our classrooms: Empowering our educators also empowers our children! HB 624 I introduced legislation that would have established a tax credit, for taxable years 2019 through 2023, of up to $250 who paid for classroom materials used in teaching students in kindergarten or an elementary or secondary school.
Student Loan Relief and Wage Transparency: HB 200 Establishes an individual income tax subtraction, beginning in taxable year 2018, for an unincorporated employer's contribution to the repayment of an employee's education loan. HB 626 Prohibits an employer from requiring, as a condition of employment, that an employee refrain from inquiring about, discussing, or disclosing information about the employee's own wages or about any other employee's wages. Though these bills were killed in committee by party-line votes, I will continue to push for similar legislation to help Virginians in the 2019 session.
Education Lottery Funding. In a bipartisan effort, the House of Delegates increased funding for our schools. Under this new budget amendment, our schools will receive an additional $91 million. The budget is still in conference, but I am confident the General Assembly will ensure these funds are included.
Safeguarding Minors in Temporary Detention Facilities. HB 625 establishes the same procedure for transferring custody of a minor who is the subject of a temporary detention order (TDO) from one facility to another facility that already exists for transferring custody of adults. Currently, there is no procedure set in place to transfer minors between temporary detention facilities. In modifying the law, treatment that takes place in instances of emergency detainment is more likely to be successful.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Too many people continue to suffer for a mistake they made early in life. Our families, businesses, and workforce are kept from actively participating in our communities because of Virginia’s severe and unforgiving justice system. We should focus instead on creating a better path forward for those who are working to rejoin the community once more.
Larceny Threshold. As products have increased in price exponentially since the 1980s, Virginia’s grand larceny threshold has remained the same. This year’s bipartisan effort to increase the felony larceny threshold was incredibly necessary. HB 1550 passed the Senate and House with bipartisan support to increase the threshold from $200 to $500.
Business Investment. In an effort to bring economic prosperity to distressed localities, I supported HB 222. This bipartisan bill will establish a seven-year income tax modification for companies that invest new capital in certain localities and create new good paying jobs.
Net Neutrality. Although unsuccessful, this year we pushed for numerous net neutrality bills to ensure our internet remains affordable and easily accessible to everyone. In the future, we will continue to work towards legislation that protects net neutrality.
Women’s Rights. The Equal Rights Amendment is a long-standing fight that brings together a diverse group of empowered women and allies to demand for women's equality. This year I called for HJ 2 (the Equal Rights Amendment) to be docketed, fairly heard, and for Virginia to become the next state to ratify. Virginia must continue to fight for Equal Rights for Women.
Women’s Correctional Centers. This year we were able to pass HB 83. This bill will guarantee that female prisoners and inmates in Virginia correctional facilities have access to free feminine hygiene products, such as pads and tampons.
Protections for National Guard Members. I supported HB 146 because the brave men and women in the Virginia National Guard and Virginia Defense Force should not have to worry about discrimination in the workforce or worry if their service will bar them from returning to the workforce. This bill has gone to the Governor’s desk for signature. In addition, I was a co-patron to HB 541 & HB 737. HB 541 which provides alternative treatment options for veterans that are not part of the standard medical care, such as therapeutic services. HB 737 which requires DMV to display an indicator signifying the holder of a driver’s licenses, permits and identification card holder is a veteran. As a daughter of veteran, I am proud to have supported our service men and women who sacrifice so much to serve and protect our country.
Historic Metro Bill: Both chambers voted to pass SB 856, which would allocate $154 million a year in permanent funding for the Metro, allowing for new equipment and long-needed repairs. The permanent, new funding, on the condition that Maryland and the District make somewhat larger contributions to provide the transit system with a total of up to $500 million more annually. I am proud to vote in support both bills and to be a co-patron of SB 856.
Electric Utility Regulations. This year I pushed to ensure that the regulated do not become the regulators. I sponsored HB 96 to repeal SB 1349, a bill passed in 2015. The repeal of this bill would have restored the regulation over Electric Utility Monopolies and returned overcharges affecting you. While we were unable to pass this bill, we were able to fight for amendments to prevent further overcharging of ratepayers.
Moving Virginia Forward. Each year, the vote on the budget is the most critical vote legislators cast because it demonstrates the spending priorities for our Commonwealth. The House budget bill is dramatically different than the Senate’s budget, largely because the House included a provision to expand healthcare coverage to thousands of Virginians by accepting federal Medicaid dollars. The Senate budget also differs from the House in the following ways: it does not include raises for State employees or teachers, it eliminates funding to ensure that every elementary school has a full-time principal beginning in 2020, and it lacks robust funding for many mental health initiatives so critical to our neighbors and our communities. Since the budgets are $600 million apart, the House and the Senate were unable to agree on a finalized budget before the end of session. As a result, the legislature will meet for a Special Session later next month. The spending bill will then be sent to the Governor, who will review it and offer any amendments. Though the budget is still in conference, I remain optimistic that we will reach an agreement that includes the House’s now bipartisan commitment to expand Medicaid.
Legislation Wrap-Up. While it was very exciting to introduce my own pieces of legislation this year, I also voted on hundreds of bills put forward by my colleagues. As in every session at the General Assembly, there are some bills that draw more attention than others. After hearing from so many you, I wanted to address how I voted on some of these bills. Perhaps the most publicized bill this session was HB 1558, which would repeal the Dominion rate freeze. Though the bill included provisions that would strengthen regulatory oversight by the State Corporation Commission and increase refunds to ratepayers, there were enormous caveats. Ultimately, I voted against HB 1558 because I believe that we can do better. The bill passed both the House and the Senate, but I still believe we need to continue the conversation on this important issue, and I will continue to push for even greater consumer protections next session. I will always do everything I can to protect our Virginia constituents.
HB 1258 and SB 405 dealt with wireless communications infrastructure and aimed to establish parameters regarding applications for zoning approvals for certain wireless support structures. As introduced, these bills initially appeared to remove authority from localities in determining the location of these structures. This bill does not remove authority from the localities and it gives localities the ability to disapprove any of the structures after the review of an application. After the bills were amended to ensure that citizens’ voices were not removed from the decision-making process, I voted in support of both bills.
The legislature saw several bills aimed at specifying when an animal can be tethered outside. I heard from many of you on this issue and, as a fellow animal-lover, I was proud to co-patron HB 646 to ensure proper shelter and space for animals. I voted against HB 889 because it would have authorized localities to adopt ordinances to restrict tethering, rather than implement a statewide standard. Although HB 872 was later amended to remove this provision, the final bill never received a House vote. I will continue to fight for legislation that ensures animals are protected. You can access more information about these bills and a full accounting of new laws coming into effect online at https://lis.virginia.gov
The votes I cast on these bills were not always easy, but the countless calls, emails, and letters I received from constituents, like you, throughout the session were greatly appreciated. I encourage you to continue reaching out to me about the issues you are passionate about, especially the issues you would like to see put forward as legislation in the future.
It is my great honor and privilege to represent you in the General Assembly. I look forward to coming home and working with you to make Prince William County a better place to live. If you ever need anything, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office; I am here to serve you! My office number is 703-232-7248 or you may reach me via email at DelHAyala@house.virginia.gov
My very best,
Hala S. Ayala
Member, Virginia House of Delegates
Fifty First District