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Republicans announce teacher pay raises

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By Delegate Terry L. Austin
19th House District

    The fourth week of session has concluded, and the work of the House of Delegates will soon transition to voting on bills from the Senate. Tuesday, February 5th marks “crossover”, which is when each chamber considers the other’s bills, and there is much to consider as we work with our colleagues down the hall to submit a budget and send bills to the governor’s office. This past week Republicans announced teacher pay raises, continued to fight to have money returned to taxpayers and expressed strong disappointment towards a bill seeking to ease restrictions on third trimester abortions.
    On Monday, my Republican colleague Delegate Landes announced that a 5% teacher pay raise will be included in the budget. As of 2018, the General Assembly has funded four pay raises in the last six years, equating to a $138 million investment in our teachers since 2013. This budget includes $98 million more than the governor’s original proposal for K-12 education and specifically targets the money to the classroom. This well-deserved raise will be implemented in a responsible manner that gives local leaders flexibility and does not raise taxes.
    The tax debate continues with our colleagues across the aisle. While Governor Northam prefers to use the Commonwealth’s windfall from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Republicans intend to return your money to you. Our plan is two-fold: to conform Virginia’s tax code to the federal tax code, and to allow taxpayers to itemize your state taxes regardless of how you file your federal return, increase the state standard deduction across the board, and maintain the important state and local tax (SALT) deduction as it exists today. Conforming will allow you to file your taxes today, without interruption. The other fixes will allow a middle-class family up to $805 in tax relief. This plan ensures $950 million in tax relief and sets aside all new revenue in a Taxpayer Relief Fund, rather than spending. Unfortunately, our colleagues across the aisle think it best to redistribute your money rather than giving it back to you. We will continue to fight for your bottom line.
    On Tuesday, a bill titled “The Repeal Act” was presented in subcommittee by its Democratic sponsor, Delegate Kathy Tran. This piece of legislation would have allowed for a woman to seek an abortion in the third trimester, including up to the moment of birth and even when a mother is already showing physical signs of labor. It was extremely disappointing to hear Governor Northam’s explicit support of this bill. His comments, and this policy, are reprehensible and outside of the mainstream, even among pro-choice voters. Unfortunately, they appear to represent the honest position of Democrats speaking in favor of this legislation; 21 have co-sponsored it. Thankfully, this bill did not make it out of committee. Unfortunately, Democrats have made it abundantly clear that this bill, which allows abortion up to the moment of birth, would become law if they take control of the General Assembly.
    In regard to my bills, on Wednesday HB2183 passed the House 99-0 and has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee. This bill addresses the current backlog in Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) testing. By allowing third-party testers to operate within Virginia, this bill will reduce wait times for people looking to acquire the proper training and qualifications necessary to obtain gainful employment in an industry that is the backbone of our economy.
    I am also happy to report that my bill HB2182 reported from Appropriations 21-0 and will be taken up for a vote next week before crossover. This bill will allow a locality to purchase surplus property held by the state so that it may have the opportunity to obtain an underutilized asset and develop it to into its full potential. This bill will provide localities across the Commonwealth with another tool to maximize economic development potential through business and job creation.
    On Thursday, the House voted 99-0 in favor of my notification of kin bill. This bill seeks to address one of the recommendations provided by the Joint Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) in its study of Virginia’s foster care system. It helps to ensure that if a child is to be removed from her home, she should be placed with relatives if at all possible. Unfortunately, another bill that dealt with the foster care system, and of which I was chief co-patron, did not make it out of subcommittee due to a difference in opinion relating to the system’s current performance. This bill would have created an Office of the Children’s Ombudsman and done much to address the many problems and inefficiencies within the system. Fortunately, Senator Bryce Reeve’s omnibus bill SB1339 passed out of the Senate unanimously and addresses many of the 34 JLARC recommendations.
    As always, I enjoyed meeting with my constituents in our Capital. Brandy Smith and Angie Anderson with the Virginia Counselor Association; Shawn Hildebrand and James Huffman of Craig-Botetourt Electric Co-op; Nancy Moga and all of the educators from the 19th District; Forest Wagner, and his son, Anderson of Daleville to voice their support for a piece of legislation important to them. Thank you for taking the time to travel to Richmond and inform me of the issues important to you.
    I look forward to keeping you updated on progress of these bills and others as the General Assembly continues legislating during session. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (804) 698-1019 or deltaustin@house.virginia.gov.