General Assembly making progress

Published 10:49 pm Thursday, January 31, 2019

The General Assembly is moving full steam ahead! We are close to Crossover, which is the time when all the bills passed by the House head to the Senate and all of the Senate bills come to the House. The House has already passed several major pieces of legislation and we look forward to that work continuing.

Last Tuesday, The Virginia House of Delegates passed five pieces of legislation that were the direct results of the 24 priority recommendations from the House Select Committee on School Safety, formed by Speaker Kirk Cox during the 2018 Session.

I am proud of my colleagues for taking the issue of school safety serious. With the passage of these five pieces of legislation, we are showing our students, teachers, and parents that we will do everything necessary to protect our schools.

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HB1729 requires each public school counselor to spend at least 80 percent of his or her staff time during normal school hours in the direct counseling of individual students or groups of students. Currently, school counselors are overburdened with administrative tasks that limit the amount of time they can spend providing direct student services.

HB1733 requires the school board in each school division in which the local law-enforcement agency employs school resource officers to enter into a memorandum of understanding with such local law-enforcement agency that sets forth the powers and duties of the school resource officers.

HB1738 requires a licensed architect who is trained and experienced in crime prevention through environmental design to approve plans and specifications for new or remodeled public school building construction.

HB1725 requires each school board, in consultation with the local building official and local fire marshal, to develop a procurement plan to ensure that all security enhancements to public school buildings are in compliance with the Uniform Statewide Building Code and Statewide Fire Prevention Code.

HB1732 requires each public elementary and secondary school to conduct at least one general safety/emergency training or drill for students per year.

I would encourage my colleagues on the Senate side to pass these pieces of legislation, so they can head to the governor for his signature.

There are roughly a half-dozen other school safety priority recommendations still making their way through the committee process in the House. I look forward to supporting them when they make it to the House floor.

The Virginia House of Delegates Committee on Commerce and Labor unanimously voted on Tuesday to pass HB2577, which lifts the age cap on autism health coverage. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Appropriations, where it is supported by Chairman Chris Jones.

This is a great first step to ensuring 10,000 Virginians on the autism spectrum get access to needed health care. Studies show that many children are not diagnosed until they are already 6 or 7 years old. I believe these children deserve to have access to needed care for longer than just three or four years.

Currently, state law only says that health insurers must offer such coverage for individuals from age 2 through age 10. According to a January 2013 report from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Autism Center of Excellence, the average age of diagnosis in Virginia is between 6 and 7 years of age. This means for many diagnosed, they could only have three years of covered treatment before coverage could be limited.

This is a great piece of legislation and has my full support.

Last Tuesday my colleague, Republican Delegate Margaret Ransone, gave a heartfelt speech on the House floor following what she felt was a very disheartening situation earlier that morning in the subcommittee she is chairwoman of. She does not support the so-called “Equal Rights Amendment.” During her subcommittee she tried to speak directly to the young girls who were in attendance to share a few words of encouragement and to empower them that they could do anything they set their mind to. Can you believe mothers in the room who were angry Margaret did not support the ERA covered their daughters’ ears! Margaret spoke about it on the House floor and used that opportunity to empower young women everywhere. If you haven’t seen her speech yet, you can watch it on my Facebook page. I would encourage you to share it with your friends and family. Margaret is a strong woman, and I am honored to serve with here in the House of Delegates.

Recently, a bipartisan coalition of General Assembly leaders announced their support of legislation to raise the minimum age required to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Legislation to increase the eligibility age, which would apply to both vapor-based and traditional tobacco products, has been filed in both the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia.

I fully support this legislation and I plan to vote for it when it makes it to the House floor.

With the surgeon general characterizing teenage vaping as an ‘epidemic,’ and with one-out-of-five high school seniors using these products, raising the minimum age for purchase is the most expeditious way to address this rising health care problem.

The rapid growth of the number of teenagers vaping, at a time when the use of traditional tobacco is at an all-time low, should set off alarms for every parent. This legislation will help to reverse that trend. The overwhelming majority of high school seniors turn 18 before they graduate, increasing the prevalence of tobacco products in our schools. Obtaining vaping products from friends and classmates who are already 18 years old is just too easy for the younger kids. Raising the age will have a positive effect on our schools.

Del. C. Matthew Fariss represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is