The regular session of the 2014 Virginia General Assembly has ended, but we remain in special session to complete work on a budget and decide whether to offer health care coverage to 400,000 working Virginians who cannot afford insurance. While that discussion continues, I want to update you on what has been my most successful legislative session, with many major bills signed into law.
For six years I have worked to reduce the number of SOL’s in the third grade. Eliminating history and science and retaining reading and math will help ensure our students are reading at grade level. My SB 270 does just that and has been signed into law by the governor.
This year I was named chairman of the Public Education Subcommittee which hears all bills dealing with K-12 education policy. As chairman, I helped shape the reform legislation that reduces the number of SOL tests in elementary and middle schools by 23%. Reducing the number of SOL tests, especially in the third and fourth grades, will allow students to concentrate on reading and math - subjects they need to be successful during their academic career and in life. The SOL reform legislation also moves us away from tests that require memorization to tests that emphasize critical thinking skills.
I have also been appointed to the SOL Innovation Committee. Between now and next January, this group will work to reduce the number of SOL tests in high school and make recommendations to improve the overall education of our students.
I was also successful in passing legislation to delay the controversial A-F grading system for individual schools that was passed last year. The original bill only took into account test scores. My bill includes many other important factors to consider when assigning a grade to a school including student mobility, the experience and qualifications of faculty, total cost and funding per pupil and school safety. It will delay implementation of the grading system for two years, so we can ensure we have the right criteria to judge how well our schools are performing.
Another successful bill I proposed eliminates the monthly maintenance fee on EZ Passes. This will save Virginians millions of dollars and ensure the money you spend on an EZ Pass will be exclusively used to pay tolls. The maintenance fee will end on July 1st.
I also offered legislation to eliminate the annual tax on hybrid vehicles. My bill was rolled into Sen. Newman’s legislation and has been signed by the governor.
Two of my bills were incorporated into other legislation and will become law on July 1st. One bans the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and the second requires youth and rec leagues that play on public property to follow the concussion policies of the local school board.
Also passed was my legislation calling for a study of a tiered system of reimbursement for child care providers. Virginia developed a quality rating system for child care providers so parents can evaluate the care offered. Currently, we reimburse providers the same amount regardless of their rating. My study will determine if there are benefits to increasing reimbursement based on the quality rating.
I passed legislation requiring at least six members of the Christopher Newport University Board of Visitors be alumni of the school. Currently, only two universities in the Commonwealth do not have a similar requirement for their boards.
Two of my bills passed the Senate by wide bi-partisan margins but were killed in House of Delegates subcommittees on party line votes. My legislation allowing registered voters 65 years old and older to request an absentee ballot without giving an excuse and legislation calling for a non-binding advisory referendum asking if voters wanted to establish a bi-partisan redistricting commission were not allowed to be debated on the House floor. These are important bills that will go a long way to improve voting and representation in Virginia and I will continue to fight to see they are enacted into law.
Two other bills I offered were defeated, including requiring 20 minutes of daily physical activity for grades K-5 and my ongoing efforts to cap payday loans at 36%. I will continue to work to pass these important bills.
I was given new committee assignments this session. In addition to serving on the Education and Health; Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and Local Government Committees, I now also serve on both the Transportation and the General Laws Committees. These are important assignments that give me a voice in major policy areas.
Finally, this past week I was honored by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce for my “A” rating on pro-business legislation during this past session. Keeping Virginia a business-friendly state is important in our efforts to create jobs and economic opportunity.
I am confident we will produce a budget in the coming weeks. Please continue to keep in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
. It is an honor representing you in the Senate.
Senator John Miller