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One of the more promising bills I introduced for the 2016 Session is HB 1029, establishing the Critical National Security Language Grant Program. Grants would be awarded to school divisions that provide foreign language courses in languages that are determined to be critical by the National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholarship Program (NSLI-YSP). Schools will receive $2,000 per student who successfully completes a critical foreign language course.

Happy New Year!  I write just days before we are sworn in for the 2016-17 General Assembly Session.  Governor McAuliffe introduced his first (and only under our system) biennial budget on December 17th.  It is the first budget in the Commonwealth’s history to exceed $100 billion, continuing his efforts to create a “New Virginia Economy.”  About 62 percent of the total comes from what are called “non-general funds” or from user fees and federal funds dedicated to certain purposes, like the gas tax for roads.

Two months ago, I attended the inaugural meeting of the WMATA Riders’ Union and immediately signed up to become “a card-carrying member.” In addition to Metro being a critical resource to the people of the 43rd District, I have a strong personal interest as one of the few Virginia elected officials that use Metro many times a week. The Riders’ Union is offering a new way for users of WMATA’s bus, rail, and MetroAccess services to express their concerns and advocate for specific policy changes.

Last month, I visited an extraordinary family supporting a child with Cystic Fibrosis to discuss their experience with Virginia’s Developmental Disability waiver, or so-called DD waiver.  Medicaid “waivers” refer to community supports that are life-saving to families with disabled children and do not want to see their loved ones institutionalized.  At least that is the history of the “waiver” terminology—a waiver from costly institutional care.   

In the Supreme Court’s first ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, the Court said that States could not be forced to expand Medicaid to those not already eligible (Virginia’s Medicaid program does not cover single adults below the poverty line) at the expense of losing their current cost-shared programs.  Expansion became “optional.”  Almost all southern states, including Virginia, have opted not to accept the funds even though Virginia’s taxpayers are funding our rightful share.  In addition, the Federal Government pays 100 percent of the expansion over the first years declining gradua

Governor Terry McAuliffe recently established the Parole Review and Update Commission to evaluate Virginia’s abolishment of parole in 1995.  In the 1990s, the Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS) reform movement attempted to redefine the purpose of our penal system. It was based on the principle that sentencing should be proportional to the severity of the offense. Sentences were meant to serve simply as punishments, reducing the emphasis on rehabilitation.

The Washington Post recently printed an editorial I co-wrote about the possibility of using private at-risk funds to construct improvements to I-66, one of Northern Virginia’s worst traveling nightmares.  One year ago, Governor McAuliffe announced a bold and capital-intensive series of improvements to I-66 that will cost between $2 to $3 billion—that’s billion with a ‘b.’ How to finance a project of this magnitude is now being evaluated.

Last month, I had the opportunity to join my Appropriations Committee colleagues on a “capital outlay” tour of some of the Commonwealth’s major projects and facility needs. We visited several of Virginia’s universities, a state park, and behavioral health facilities.

The 2015 General Assembly session was a short but eventful six weeks.  With an improved economy, important spending amendments to the underlying two-year budget passed the House.  These amendments restored some cuts to higher education, repaid the rainy day fund early, provided care to the seriously mentally ill, and financed modest state employee and teacher raises.

Winter is finally over and I am excited about the warm weather and am anxious to get back on my bicycle. Unfortunately, the winter storms have left us with some severely damaged roads. I personally have been the victim of a manhole-sized pothole, and we have heard from many of you about the condition of the roads you travel as well.