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Bill will put kids back in schools

The 2021 General Assembly session concluded its work on March 1, and I wanted to update you on how the final week, and overall session, progressed.

Last week we cast what was likely the most consequential vote of this entire session, Senate Bill 1303, known as the “Open the Schools” bill. This legislation gives parents a real choice in education for their children. If parents are not ready to send their children back to the classroom, they can keep them in virtual school. But if they are ready, schools must give parents an option to have their children back in the classroom five days per week.

This isn’t a partisan issue. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing for months as desperate parents seek help getting their children back into the classroom after nearly a year of navigating virtual and hybrid learning.

Republicans tried to get an emergency clause added to this bill, making it effective immediately, but Democrats voted along party lines to defeat the measure. I am hopeful that Gov. Ralph Northam will send the bill back with an emergency clause.

The biggest thing any General Assembly does is pass a budget or series of budget amendments each year, and this session was no different.

This year’s spending plan does include some good things. We’re giving our state police and other law enforcement officers much-deserved raises, and we’re giving our teachers a significant raise as well. That being said, there were far too many negative things in this budget that I could not support.

The budget bill removes a significant pro-life safeguard that Republicans have included in past budgets, an amendment that blocks the use of our tax dollars for abortion. It also funded bills that I voted against, such as Senate Bill 1261, which packs the Court of Appeals with six new, Democrat-appointed judges. The budget puts millions towards tuition assistance for illegal immigrants. It also funds House Bill 2113, spending $13 million to automatically hide the records of some criminals after they are released from jail.

I’m also deeply concerned about how this budget grows the government in Richmond at the cost of taxpayers. I simply could not support a budget that does these things, so I voted against it.

We are still receiving calls almost daily from constituents who cannot resolve issues with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). I am sorry to report that the Democrat majority declined to take any real action to improve the situation at the Virginia Employment Commission. Since this pandemic began a year ago, hundreds of thousands of our neighbors have lost their jobs.

Unemployment insurance is there just for situations like this, but VEC has been so poorly run that people are still waiting for their first check some six months or more after applying. That is unconscionable, and despite the thousands of calls to our offices, Democrats refused to put any pressure on the governor to fix the problem.

I am hopeful that in a few months, the shutdowns that have made this VEC fiasco possible will be gone, and we can all get back to work. But legislators have an obligation to ensure this never happens again. I will not stop working on this issue until it is fixed.

In the coming week I will outline the good and bad bills that passed this year so you can know what to expect in the way of new laws coming to Virginia as a result of the 2021 General Assembly sessions.

DEL. TOMMY WRIGHT can be reached via email at DelTWright@house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.