Now that the 2017 Virginia General Assembly Session is over, lawmakers are assessing the level of success or failure in creating laws impacting the lives of their constituents.
Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) sponsored a series of bills and devoted their support to legislation sponsored by the Democratic Caucus, in general, and Republicans, when it benefitted their constituents.
Del. Roslyn Tyler (Dist. 75) experienced her first session as chair of the VLBC and she gives the Democrats and the Caucus a B-plus for the quantity and quality of the legislation the group supported which passed this session.
The grade reflects the VLBC and the Democrats’ ability to defeat and beat back some of the most conservative legislation sponsored by GOP members.
Democratic lawmakers were aided in beating back right-wing and regressive legislation by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe’s use of his veto pen during and after the recent session.
Tyler said the passage of the state’s multi-billion dollar operating budget was the highlight of the legislative session especially with $34 million extra dollars for education which included the 2 percent raise for state teachers.
Tyler said the 5-5-5 initiative would give extra funding to mostly small rural school districts that have lost five percent of their student enrollment and funding over the past five years.
School divisions of Franklin, Surry and Brunswick County benefitted from this piece of legislation.
To balance the budget, due to project revenue shortfalls, the Governor had proposed a 5 percent cut in the funding for state colleges and universities.
A member of the Black caucus was among the House and Senate conferees and was able to deter cuts of operating budgets of Norfolk State and Virginia State Universities, the two HBCUs supported by the state.
A bill sponsored by Delegate Marcia S. Price of Newport News, was passed to do a study on the increasing level of student debt, which has attributed to the shrinking of poor and minority students enrolling in state institutions.
Tyler said the governor will veto a bill Conservative Republicans pushed through on school choice. It would allow parents to create tuition saving accounts to pay for tuitions to enroll their children in private and church-run schools.
The Chairman said the money for these accounts would be siphoned from the coffers of public schools divisions, already enduring fiscal stress in recent years.
Tyler said that Virginia leads the nation in the number of students suspended from its public schools. She said the majority of the students are poor and African-Americans.
She said a bill was killed which would limit the number of days to 10 that a child can be suspended from the state classrooms.
“We wanted to set up some guidelines to stop the school to prison pipeline,” said Tyler. “School divisions thought we were seeking to take away their authority to suspend students from them. The numbers of suspensions is high not only for high schools, but for Kindergarten to third graders too.”
She said supporters of the measure hope to reintroduce the bill next session.
Also individuals can now set up an installment plans to pay their fines to avoid revocation of their driver’s license. Tyler said that many people jeopardize their employment when they are unable to pay their fines when their driver’s licenses are revoked and have no reliable means of transportation if public transport is not available.
Democratic State Delegate Delores L. McQuinn of Richmond sponsored a bill which passed and will provide $34,875 to restore and up keep historic African-American cemeteries around the state.
The state already spends thousands of dollars to maintain confederate cemeteries around the state.
Mae Breckenridge-Haywood, the Chairperson of the Portsmouth African-American Historical Society which has worked to preserve and up keep several old Black graveyards, applauds the bill.
“This is a good start,” said Breckenridge. “It’s a small amount of money. And I am hoping we can access some of it to help with our efforts. I am hoping we can secure some funding for what we are doing. We are looking into it.”
By Leonard E. Colvin