Yesteday at noon, Loudoun’s own Delegate Tag Greason and Senator Mark Herring held a town hall meeting at the Ashburn Library. Given the weather yesterday, I was impressed that the event drew a couple of dozen people. I was a little late to the start owing to that weather and came in during the beginning of Tag Greason’s remarks. Tag spoke of some of the legislation he’s carrying making special mention of a couple of them I’d like to highlight.
HB753 deals with a matter I must admit I’d never even dreamt would exist. It appears that current law prohibits residents of an assisted living facility from having alcoholic beverages in any of the facility’s dining rooms. That means that a family gathering taking place there cannot feature an open bottle of wine or beer – at all – and that includes such things as religious observances like various Jewish celebrations or even Catholic Communion under both species. I was happy to hear from Tag that this bill has passed and we’re on the way to correcting this little bit of idiocy.
HB799 was a bill that would have authorized local school districts to make the decision to being their school year before labor day. What this would permit is having schools be able to have their last day at the end of May instead of going out into June. The bill was “laid on the table” in the subcommittee, which is apparently a nice way of saying “stuff it, Delegate Freshman.” The head-shaking thing about this is that of the 130-something school districts in the Commonwealth, somewhere around 75 or so already have a waiver that permits them to do exactly that, making a majority of the schools in Virginia already capable of doing what this bill would authorize. All this bill would have done was to codify for everyone what the majority is already doing “by exception” anyway. Tag jokingly said this was pretty much a freshman hazing incident and he may be right. Still, it’s petty jacking around on matters like this that tend to make the General Assembly look rather clueless.
One thing Tag is working on that he is quite serious about – and is turning out to be a more involved effort than it first appeared – is HB1364, “National Guard; eligibility for in-state tuition for members to allow for religious traning, etc.” Members of the Virginia National Guard can get tuition assistance for any of the fields of study required for their National Guard duties, except for theology, it seems. Theological studies are most certainly concerns for the National Guard. They have chaplains, just as our federal military does, and the presence of those chaplains are both accepted and approved of by the Commonwealth. All the VNG (and specifically the Chaplains’ Corp) are asking for is that Guardsman who want to pursue that role be granted the same tuition assistance that any other specialization candidates are.
Turns out this isn’t a matter of a simple law change. It appears that the prohibition against granting them tuition assistance is a matter of Virginia Constitutional law. This doesn’t faze Tag Greason – he’s even more willing to do the work necessary to get this passed than he was before – but he wanted to hear from the people in attendance what they thought. Should Virginia make this change?
My take on it is this: if it’s a specialization called for and required by the National Guard – meaning, if it’s a job that’s on their official roster – then the Commonwealth should offer the same tuition assistance for that field of study as any other. Let’s get it passed and do what’s necessary to change the Constitution to permit this.
Senator Mark Herring also spoke to the legislation he’s carrying. One of the big ones he’s trying to get through deals with crimes against senior citizens (SB556), specifically putting sharper teeth into the laws penalizing those who take financial advantage of seniors. I approve and I’m glad to see him working on this.
Another big one is SB431, the “State Government Spending Accountability Act.” In a nutshell, this is a law that would require all state agencies to (in Herring’s words) “put their checkbooks online.” All expenditures of all state agencies would be open to public review. Personally, I can’t find any reason why these agencies wouldn’t be capable of doing this already. None of them are keeping their accounts by hand in handwritten ledgers any more so putting the data on a server that can display them via the web just isn’t that big of a problem.
In thinking about this since yesterday, I would only have an issue with putting sufficient information online that someone could deduce certain security items or measures from them. For example, you sure wouldn’t want to force the State Police to divulge payments made to this-or-that landlord for rent on property located a 123 XYZ Street when that’s the location of a safe house for witness protection or the location of a long-term stakeout and surveillance post. Information about purchases from companies dealing with very specific security or law enforcement gear should also be treated carefully. That said, this is a good idea overall. My question to Senator Herring was whether or not this law applied to county and local agencies as well. He said it didn’t but not because they don’t want it to. Local governments tend to squawk loudly over unfunded mandates and this would be no exception. So the idea is to implement this at the state level to prove that it can be done in a fairly non-intrusive fashion (it won’t impair their operations) and without being a huge compliance expense. Once they’ve got that demonstrated, they’ll look into requiring it at the local level, assuming locals don’t do it on their own.
I was very pleased to see that our representatives in both houses of the GA are working together on a variety of issues and leaving any partisan activity out of those matters where they can. The LCI recalculation matter, where Loudoun will get stuck paying a much higher percentage of the education funding locally than they would if the same rules we’ve been living under for years were to continue to be applied this year, is something all the members of the northern Virginia caucus can agree on. From what I heard, they are all working together to see that Loudoun gets treated fairly in Richmond.
It was a good town hall meeting and I look forward to more of them in the future. And I might add that Delegate Tag Greason is digging right in to do the work he was elected to perform. He’s someone Loudoun can be proud of and I applaud his hitting the ground running. We need that more than ever. Great job, Tag!