February 14, 2014
As we have just passed the mid-point of the 2014 General Assembly Session, I want to update you on activities in the House and highlight some of my responsibilities and legislation.
During last year’s election, Virginia voters showed great confidence in the Republican led House by electing 67 Republicans to the 100 member Chamber. We will work to retain this trust by focusing on legislative initiatives that will benefit all Virginians. We’re taking the lead on addressing issues like K-12 education reform, sexual violence and domestic abuse prevention, ethics reform, and ensuring our transportation dollars are spent wisely.
I am honored to have been appointed to three standing committees: Courts of Justice, Education, and Science and Technology. I am also humbled, as a “freshman” Delegate, to be one of eleven house members to serve on subcommittees tasked with shaping legislative reforms on mental health, K-12 Education, and Ethics.
- ETHICS - As a member of the Courts of Justice Ethics Reform sub-committee and co-patron to HB1211 ( Gilbert ), I played a key role in crafting the bi-partisan ethics reform package that will increase accountability, promote greater transparency, and preserve the integrity of state government.
- EDUCATION- In addition to ethics reform, I was appointed to the House Education sub-committee on Education Reform for K-12, where our Caucus members are carrying legislation to reduce the number of SOL tests, enhance blended learning opportunities, and create teacher career ladders that will encourage our best teachers to stay in the classroom. I was co-patron on much of the key legislation such as Delegate Greason’s HB1115 (Virtual Schools) and HJ1 (teacher Career Ladder program) effecting positive change to benefit our public education students in Chesapeake and throughout the Commonwealth.
- TRANSPORTATION- Our members are carrying more than a half-dozen transportation reform initiatives aimed at increasing the use of technology, prioritizing congestion-relief, and ensuring return on investment in transportation spending. I am carrying a budget amendment (Item 444#2h) to provide funds to begin the preliminary engineering for the replacement of the I-64 High Rise Bridge. This expansion is of major importance to the region and once completed will help alleviate the notorious traffic congestion problems that plague that stretch of highway. I am pleased language was included in the House budget providing carryover funding from 2013 for this purpose; I hope the Senate will concur when the budget conferees meet to negotiate a final budget bill.
- MENTAL HEALTH- Mental Health Reform was an important issue for our caucus as well. I am a member of the Courts of Justice Mental Health Reform sub-committee which was tasked with evaluating legislation to ensure that our friends, family members and fellow citizens receive the care and treatment they need when faced with a crisis. I helped craft and co-patroned legislation to address many of those issues faced by Chesapeake’s residents. HB1216 (R. Bell) directs the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to review requirements for qualifications, training, and oversight of clinicians. HB293 (R Bell ) directs state facilities to accept individuals held under a temporary detention order (TDO) in the event that a private facility cannot be found. This is the "bed of last resort" bill that will ensure that no one ordered into treatment will be released without receiving care. HB1172 (R Bell ) establishes a procedure for transferring custody of a person who is the subject of a temporary detention order from one facility to another facility. HB478 (Villanueva) Provides for a second two-hour extension of the time during which a person may be held pursuant to an emergency custody order.
- FIGHTING DRUGS- Much of the legislation I co-patroned dealt with topics I participated in shaping throughout the committee process. However, I took particular interest in a bill introduced by Delegate Garrett (HB1112) which I hope will allow law enforcement to stay ahead of criminals who avoid prosecution and endanger our children by constantly changing the chemical formulas of synthetic drugs. In co-patroning Delegate Garrett’s bill, I joined his effort to authorize the State Board of Pharmacy to add new chemical compounds to the list of illegal drugs as soon as they are discovered rather than waiting for the General Assembly to update the list during its Session each January/February. An example of why this is so important: In 2013, the General Assembly added several new compounds to the list of illegal drugs. Just after passage 88% of seized synthetic drugs fell within the new list of outlawed chemical compounds. By December of 2013, only 2% of seized synthetic drugs fell within the new list of illegal chemical compounds. You can see how important it is to quickly add these compounds to the statutory list of illegal substances so law enforcement can get them out of our city and prosecutors may obtain convictions.
- JOBS- I can assure you that we will continue to make jobs our top priority, work to improve our economy, and champion legislation that benefits all Virginians. We want to continue our successes over the last four years that ended in 2013 with Virginia ranked the best state for doing business and our unemployment rate at 5.4%, lowest in the Southeast and 1.8% lower than the average for our region. I am pleased to report we have been able to do a great deal in a fiscally responsible manner while growing our financial reserves from $295 million to an expected $1 billion by 2016.
- VETERANS- I continue to focus on legislation that supports our veterans, the military, and their families. Partnering with Tidewater Community College Chesapeake Campus, I have submitted a budget amendment (461 #1h) which provides funding for the staffing of a Veterans Benefit Office in Chesapeake to better meet the needs of more than 27,000 veterans residing in our city. In that regard, it was a pleasure to meet with many representatives of Veterans Services Organizations to include the American Legion, VFW, and MOAA who stopped by my office to exchange views.
- RESOLUTIONS- I believe it is important to recognize the achievements and the contributions of our fellow citizens who have had an impact in the 78th District. Thus far, I have submitted two Commending Resolutions. One Resolution (HJ250) commends Andolyn Medina on her selection as Miss Virginia Collegiate America 2014. The second resolution (HR108) recognizes the retirement from public service of the Honorable Harry Burns Blevins. My Memorial Resolution (HJ249) recognizes the passing and service of Cassell Basnight. And finally, I was chief co-patron of a memorial resolution memorializing the life of Bill Parker and his many years public service. I welcome your recommendations for citizens or organizations that should be recognized for making a difference.
While this has been very busy session with many long and productive meetings, I try to meet with as many constituents as possible. We handle a range of constituent requests for assistance. My Richmond office can be reached at (804) 698-1078 or through email at Deljleftwich@house.virginia.gov.
I appreciate your views on legislation that will help me do a better job for the people I represent. Please visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Delegatejayleftwich or www.facebook.com/Leftwichfordelegate . This page, along with my website at http://jayleftwich.nationbuilder.com has information on my activities for the 2014 Session, visitors’ photos and the Session. I encourage you to sign-up for my email Updates on my webpage home page.
James A. “Jay” Leftwich, Jr.