It’s been an exhausting week in the General Assembly as they reach the halfway point. By the middle of next week, all bills must pass out of the House and go over to the Senate and vice versa. Any bills not making the crossover are dead for the year.
Here’s how things are playing out between the Senate Democratic majority and the House GOP majority:
Battles over the future of education:
In-person learning and mask mandates:
SB739 (Dunnavant-SD12) requires schools provide in-person learning to all students, regardless of COVID rates.
It was amended on the Senate floor (Petersen-SD34) to also allow any parent to opt their child out of wearing a mask with no excuse. This effectively gives Governor Youngkin the end of mask mandates in schools that his executive order attempted to enact.
As it passed the Senate, it would take effect July 1, 2022, when schools are already out for the summer. However, it is being fast-tracked through the House to give Governor Youngkin time to send it back with an emergency clause amendment.
Most likely, this will pass with the emergency clause in the next two weeks, and take effect immediately.
Charter schools and lab schools:
Senate Democrats have shown no interest in passing any bills creating regional charter schools that would take away local authority and weaken the public school system. They killed SB125 (Obenshain-SD26, SB608 (Suetterlein-SD19), SB635 (Chase-SD11), and will likely do the same to HB344 (Davis-HD84), HB356 (Tata-HD82) should they cross over from the House.
On the other hand, legislation broadening the use of “lab schools” in underserved communities may pass both houses. A lab school currently is a public school created by a university to educate teachers. The House version, HB346 (Davis-HD84) would allow private companies to create these schools for purposes well beyond educating teachers, essentially using taxpayer dollars to fund private job training. The Senate version, SB598 (Pillion-SD40) places additional restrictions such as working with local school boards and the State Council of Higher Education.
Censorship and Control:
Lastly, Senate Democrats smacked down an attempt to legislate curriculum, including banning so-called divisive concepts in SB570 (Kiggans-SD7), and to censure children’s reading material in SB275 (DeSteph-SD8). Expect them to do the same to the similar bills that come over from the House.
Other battles taking place:
Senate Democrats blocked Governor Youngkin’s appointment of Trump’s EPA Chief to be Secretary of Natural Resources this week. This led to a temper tantrum whereby the House GOP threatened to block hundreds of appointments that Governor Northam made last summer. Senate Democrats were ready to play hardball and responded that they could easily refuse to vote on any of the Governor’s board and commission appointments for the next two years. Finally the House GOP removed just a handful of names–mostly on Air and Water Control Boards (presumably so Governor Youngkin can put his own corporate crony polluters in place) and the Board of Education.
Although the House passed a string of draconian voting restrictions including requiring a photo ID (HB1090, Webert-HD18), repealing the permanent absentee voter list, (HB196, Webert-HD18), making failure to have a witness signature a material omission (HB177, Bloxom-HD100), repealing same-day voter registration (HB185, Ransone-HD99), and shortening the absentee voting period to only 14 days (HB39, Scott-HD88), most of these had similar bills with Senate patrons that have already been killed in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.
So we don’t need to teach systemic racism?
Governor Youngkin texted Senator Louise Lucas this week, congratulating her on her excellent speech on Black History Month. Isn’t that nice? Too bad it was actually Senator Mamie Locke who gave the speech. Guess all Black women look the same to him?
House GOP in HB1300 (Freitas-HD30) want to change the name of the new (and landmark) Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to remove the “equity” and replace it with “opportunity.” And instead of addressing inequities, it would “increase opportunities for all.” Oh, and also…the office would now “be an ambassador for unborn children.”
If any of the above bills are important to you, now is the time to contact your legislators and tell them how this bill affects you and your family. Contact information for Delegates and Senators can be found HERE; if you aren’t sure who represents you, put your address in HERE to find out.
Virginia Progressive Legislative Alert Network
PO Box 2612, Merrifield Virginia 22116-2612 United States
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