This Week in Richmond – 10 March 2017


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Thank you.[♪♪♪] – Welcome to
This Week in Richmond,
and a welcome to a duo
that we’ve had on before several times over the years when both of you
were members of the House. But today, we welcome
Senator Jennifer McClellan, Delegate Chris Peace. Thank you for being on. We’re having the conversation just as the legislative session
is wrapping up. Folks are now seeing it
in this time between now and reconvene day in April, and we’re really interested
in having you tell us about issues that passed
or maybe they didn’t and will be coming back,
or issues that you think that could be before
the reconvene session. So, we’ll start with
the Senator first. – Okay. Well, obviously, the biggest piece of legislation
we dealt with was the budget, and I think having to close
the budget shortfall, but both the House
and the Senate had priorities
of providing raises for public employees,
teachers, state police, Capitol police, and also making sure
we held K-12 harmless and making sure that we provided
necessary investments in the mental health system. I think the one area
where most would agree we didn’t go far enough
was mental health. We went as far as we could, given the current
budget shortfall, but I think
if the next budget cycle is a little bit better, we still have a little more work
to do on that front. – We’ve obviously seen
the economy improving year over year. That’s a good sign for the things that Jennifer
is talking about in terms of future investments
in mental health and others. I know there’s been some concern
about how we’re addressing investigations in local jails…
DAVID: Right. – How we’re supporting our
local community services boards, and for example like
Riker Mental Health which does a lot of work
in our region, or the Hanover CSB. We did take some very positive
steps this session in terms of recognizing
the importance of access for the greater population
when there’s a crisis to support the efforts that really were led by
Chesterfield’s CSB to create same-day access where you would get a screening
and referral for services. People had been waiting
way too long to try to access services. We also in the House
expanded the GAP program which provides
a lot of mental health and substance use
support services for our less fortunate
adult population that can’t otherwise
access healthcare. I think, generally speaking,
as Jennifer mentioned, the priorities started
with the House budget, Senate budgets
to address pay, to deal with
the compression problems that we’re seeing
where people are coming in at a starting salary
that’s at or near what someone who’s been working there
for many years is making, particularly our state police. We also worked on
local law enforcement as well and Capitol police,
but moving that needle on the starting salary
for state police from about $36,000 a year
to over $43,000 per year, I think makes a great deal
of difference. We’ve had a tough, you know,
couple years nationally, when it comes to
law enforcement and justice and to remember the principles
of community policing and community engagement. Not many people
want to sign up to be in law enforcement right now, and that’s a real problem
for our society. So, we need to recognize
these individuals, especially state employees
as well, that we don’t want to see
the type of attrition in the vacancies
that we may see as people age
in our state workforce and we don’t have anyone
to replace them. So, we’re trying to be good
stewards of the tax dollars and make important investments
in our number one capital which is human capital. It’s our people
that matter the most. – A little reminder of yours is
that you’re somewhat handicapped in not knowing what
the final decision will be between the budget conferees, whether it’s on the pay issue
or others, and so, there are
some differences between the two chambers. Those will be worked out by the time our viewers
are seeing it and then it will be
in the governor’s hands to see what he chooses
to send back to you. SEN. McCLELLAN:
That’s right. – So, what else,
Senator McClellan? – Well, this year was
an election year in the House, and not surprisingly there were
a number of controversial bills that were voted
on a straight party line vote. Things we’ve seen before, things the governor
has detailed before. Everything from– well, I don’t know if
the governor’s had this one yet, but a lot of sort of
anti-sanctuary city bills, bills dealing with immigration and how far our state
and local officials will go to enforce
federal immigration law. There’s always a bill to defund
Planned Parenthood in some way. There are always disputes
over guns, and I think the one
really interesting disagreement we’ve had over the past
couple of years is what to do with victims
of domestic violence who may feel threatened. There was a bill
last year and this year to say that you could get
a concealed carry permit for 45 days without having to
go through the normal process which would include training. Folks on my side were
a little uncomfortable with that because when you insert a gun into an already very volatile
situation without training, sometimes bad things happen. There was another bill
that would say once someone gets
a protective order, the court will provide
information on where to get
gun safety training which, on my side, we felt
there you’re sort of setting up that the most important service
a domestic violence victim needs is a gun safety program. We amended that
on the Senate side to now say you also provide
other information about services they may need
whether it’s housing, you know, lawyer, medical services. So, we’ll see
if the House accepts that and what the governor does, but not surprisingly we do get
a few controversial bills, but for the most part,
most of what we dealt with was not partisan. It either fell out
on regional lines– urban, suburban, rural– or a lot of things that we did,
we passed unanimously, so, you know,
being an election year, you always get that 5% to 10%
of partisan politics. – Jennifer and I
have had the opportunity to work on the domestic violence
issues over the years, and Jennifer served on
the Courts of Justice Committee in the House
for a long time, and as a lawyer brings
a lot of experience to that, and I’m on the Appropriations
Budget Committee and together,
we were able to work on certain policy initiatives as well as trying to find
additional funding. And at one point
a few years ago, we had about an $18 million
shortfall or gap in funding, and shelters
were being closed, call centers
were not being manned. You know, court accompaniment
was not happening for victims of
domestic violence, and you know, we took
a real lead in that effort and got a lot of new money
in the budget for those purposes
in this year, and then the Senate budget
did not include it, but we’re very optimistic
that the conference report will include
another $1.5 million for sexual assault
and domestic violence victims that will be matched 4:1
by federal funds through the Victimless
Crimes Act or DCJS, and those monies
will continue the progress that Jennifer and I and others
have made in that regard to make sure we don’t see
a Danville close again or that we can keep open
the center that’s new on the Eastern Shore. These crimes are silent crimes
most of the time. In our communities,
rural and suburban communities, people don’t talk about it. Another area that I find
is very similar in that regard is adult financial exploitation. We both care about that. We’ve got an aging citizenry. I put in a bill last year
that asked DARS, the Aging Services Department, to conduct a study similar
to one that was done in Utah, and they found
that there’s tremendous negative financial impact
to the entire state, not just to individuals, from adult financial
exploitation. They made several
recommendations on how to expand the number
of financial institutions that are covered when
Adult Protective Services does investigations,
what they can look at as well as expand the definition
of what an adult is and what exploitation may be. I’m hopeful that that’s a small
step in the right direction to make sure
that our seniors who are aging– I know we’ll be there some day,
I hope– that they’re not being
taken advantage of in many cases by loved ones
and no one knows about it, and that’s an area that I think
we need to focus on as well as child welfare and so many other important
issues that, you know, all of our families care about. – Another area
we have been grappling with, but I think we’ll see
a lot more work on is when we’re dealing
with the new economy, the new gig economy. Last year, we had bills
dealing with Airbnb that went to
the Housing Commission. This year we had a bill,
a pretty narrow bill, that just allows localities
to pass an ordinance to require anyone
who does rent their property to register
because at a minimum, we’re finding
that a lot of people who do rent their houses
for short-term periods of time aren’t paying taxes
that go along with that income, and so, at a minimum,
this gives those localities the ability to do that. We spent a lot of time
the last couple of years dealing with TNCs like
Uber and Lyft. I had a bill that now recognizes
a new type of business, a broker for Uber or Lyft that allows you
to make reservations with that company for a driver, but our laws didn’t
recognize that or allow it. So now we’ve passed
the legal framework for that. Dealing with property carriers now that Uber and Lyft
are branching out and are not just driving people
but driving property– how to deal with that. And then we had
an interesting bill that I call
the Robot Cooler bill where now, using robots
to deliver property, and what should be
the legal framework for that. I think we’ve started now
just trying to make sure we have a legal framework
in place that protects consumers
and business interests, but I think going forward,
we’re going to really grapple with what happens
with these employees and the social contract
that we’ve had. Most people get insurance through their employer
and benefits and will that translate into
this new sharing economy. That’s something I know
on the federal level they’re grappling with, but you know,
there are types of businesses that two, three, five years ago
we never could have imagined, but now we’re
having to make sure our laws catch up
to this new economy and not stifle it. – Just as bank tellers
when the ATMs came out. You know, I think it was
a labor secretary nominee who was in the news
when there were statements that he had made– I think he was the head
of Carl’s Jr/Hardee’s– and saying that, you know, it’s a lot easier when you have
a robot as employee. There’s no slip and fall, there’s no sexual harassment
claim, there’s no… there are a lot of things. They never get an order wrong,
those kinds of things, but I think
it fails to recognize what Jennifer pointed out,
is that we have human beings. You know, people who have
a responsibility to their families
that may get put out of work based on some of this innovation
and where’s the balance. I think asking that question, can Virginia be
a digital dominion again, as Governor Gilmore named us
so aptly maybe 20 years ago, and can we get in the vanguard
of trying to establish templates for all of these
different technologies within our state code. I think Uber and Lyft were
a little bit easier to deal with a couple years ago. You’re only dealing
really with insurance and you’re dealing with the DMV
that licenses drivers and provides for the safety
of our motoring public. With Airbnb,
it was a lot more challenging because we’re dealing
with over 100 localities that care very much
about their land use and what types of activities
can be conducted in certain areas
of their jurisdiction and then you have rural
and suburban and urban differences of opinion
about that. I think we know that when
there’s a big bike race in the city of Richmond,
the Airbnb usage would go up. It’s not necessarily happening
in Hanover, New Canaan, or King William
in our district. I had some disagreements with
some other of our colleagues about how to achieve that goal. I think the bill
that may pass this year is probably a positive
first step but doesn’t do a whole lot
in terms of changing what existing law is. I think we still need a central point of
tax collection for that. The Housing Commission
recommended a statewide policy, and I’m hopeful we can avoid
the madras effect of having, you know, over 100 different
laws dealing with that. It doesn’t make Virginia
very open for business. There was another bill
Delegate Farrell had. I’m not sure of its progress, but it was trying to address
these lending apps and whether these are banks for purposes of
state regulation. You know, because
you can go on an app and lend someone money
around the world, $10,000, and there’s no credit check
or there’s, you know, very little consumer protection
that’s involved, and at the same time,
there are people who may never qualify for a loan
that maybe would benefit from having access
to these platforms, and you know,
it’s a catch-22. I know we’ve both cared about
regulating the car title lending and the payday lending
over the years which tends to–
may exploit certain folks in our communities. Certainly, very high interest
rates of return, and you know, concern
that a lending app like that would do the same,
but balancing against the fact that there are people
who may not have access to cash and to services
that they may well need. So, it’s always that balance, where can you find that
in public policy. – Now committees, you’ve stayed
with your committees and Appropriations a key one, Vice Chair on general laws
and KEYS there as well as HWI
that you’re on. You’ve swapped
some committees… – All new. Yes. – All new areas
that you’re working in, and are there issues that
you’re still working on that… – Yeah. I mean, when you’re
one of 40 instead of one of 100, you sort of get involved
in things whether you’re on a committee
or not, and so I was
on the Education Committee my entire time in the House. It’s been a number one
priority for me. I’m still focused
on those bills, either bills that I’ve sponsored
or bills that I’ve co-patroned. Still heavily involved in bills dealing with
the school-to-prison pipeline. There were two sets of bills dealing with long-term
suspension and expulsion which disproportionately
impacts students of color and students with disabilities. House and Senate versions
are very, very different. So, yet to be seen
what comes out of that, but that’s still
a conversation I’m part of. I had a couple of other
education bills this year. One adding–
Last year, we added to the Family Life Education
Curriculum information on how to avoid sexual assault
and domestic violence. I took that to the next step to say that you have to
also teach the consent that’s required
for sexual activity. Also, focused on the importance
of family relationships other than just marriage
because, you know, the family is broader
than just husband and wife. And then, worked with
Delegate Greason to deal with
how to create capacity to train teachers
for computer science. Last year,
we passed legislation to sort of make computer science
a core competency in K-12 and yet, we haven’t put
a structure in place to train the teachers, and so, we had legislation
this year to do that. And so, you know,
I’m on Transportation, Local Government,
and Agriculture, Natural Resources
and Conservation. Still very heavily involved
in education issues and probably will be
for a long time. – I think Richmond
would be very proud of the CodeRVA project
regarding computer technology. I think it can help
the whole region. I’m glad Jennifer mentioned
the school-to-prison pipeline. I was chairman of the Commission
on Youth for about six years and took a look
at those issues. The bills
that are currently pending regarding
long-term suspension have had interesting debate. I’m not sure if the debate
has always been about what the bill says…
SEN. McCLELLAN: Right. – As to what
people think it says because there are provisions
at least in the House version that would allow flexibility
for the local school district to continue to extend
the suspensions up to 364 days which was the current law. You know, serving as
guardian ad litem and working in family law
in the juvenile courts, you can see how difficult it is
for certain school districts to handle children who have
significant disabilities who may be on a trend
or trajectory towards a residential program to
support their emotional needs, their emotional health
and behavioral health needs, but the law calls for the school
to seek out and find all of the lesser-restrictive
alternatives so that child can remain
in school and the Constitution
can be honored where it says a child must have
a free and public education. You know, so it’s this again,
I go back to balance. How does the school district
balance those needs, provide a solid education, honor the child and family
and do its job, but also maintain
a safe environment and provide the proper structure
that is so often needed. You know, a lot of people
in the community don’t want that child
who’s a real menace potentially to be out, you know,
for a whole year roaming the neighborhoods,
or getting into more trouble, and so having the SROs
properly trained in the schools, the teachers
aware of the situation, the funding available
for the residential programs plus the educational component,
all of this is so important. We actually have language
in the House budget to look at also the prevalence
of increase in ADHD medications. There’s a lot of concern that we’re way over-medicating
our children. So, we’re trying to look
at all of these issues in a comprehensive way
and sort of, first, do no harm. That’s the Hippocratic Oath
of governing. SEN. McCLELLAN: Uh-hm.
– The school funding, just to ask you
to touch on that, whether it’s city of Richmond or whether it’s part of
your jurisdictions or whether it’s Southside,
Southwest, and other areas. Stories come up about
the inequities every session, and yet the difficulty in trying
to readjust any formula… DEL. PEACE: Mm-hmm. – As you look
beyond this session and on toward 2018 and beyond,
are you of the perspective there needs to be
some reorientation, or are you satisfied
with what’s there now as far as the state funding? – Well, there’s never
enough money, you know. And I think
that’s the bottom line. How much can you do
with what you’ve got, and the House position that you’ll see what happens
in the budget conference adopted a new strategy
called 10-10-10. It’s not a very original
concept, but it looks at dealing with
the localities that have seen a decline
in headcount in population over the last 10 years, and who are under
10,000 students enrolled. So, that is going to be
your Southside, Southwest, your rural localities
primarily. And they’re going to see
an extra support from a funding perspective to
hold them harmless essentially because that headcount
drives that index that leads to the state funding
for the locality. We’re also trying to increase
the flexibility with the monies that are sent
down to local governments with the lottery. That was not designed to be
a supplanting device. It was designed to money on top,
icing on the cake. And so, I think
we’re trying gradually to get back
to that original concept that the lottery
is extra money for schools, that they can have flexibility
with how they use it, and hopefully, that will
provide a bit of support. In House Budget,
I know that Hanover received a little bit more money
for public education as well as New Canaan
and King William. Is it enough? I think you’ll know the answer when you talk to some of
the local governments. DAVID: Right. – What’s frustrating is,
what we need to do, we don’t have
the political will to do, and that is to just start over with the local composite
index formula. And I’ve put and others have put
in legislation probably for the past 10 years
to study how we fund education, look at what other states do,
see if we could do it better because the problem
with the formula, it calculates each locality’s
ability to pay based on indicators of wealth
40 years ago. It doesn’t look at what else does that government
have to pay for. So here in the city of Richmond, we have 100-year-old
infrastructure that in some places
is crumbling. It doesn’t account for that. We’ve got one of the highest
concentrations of poverty and associated needs with that
in the school system and out. It doesn’t account for that. It doesn’t account for
areas like Goochland that are very land rich,
so their ability to pay is skewed by some very, very,
very high-priced properties, and yet, the problem
with any formula is no one is willing to open it up because you create
winners and losers. DAVID: Right.
– And so, today’s winners are afraid they’ll be
tomorrow’s losers. – Right. For our areas,
you know, northern Virginia
is the cash cow, if you will. I mean, they probably send
more dollars to Richmond than they get back,
and we’re all benefited by that. So, you open it up, and then you put
your own jurisdictions at risk if you’re not
in northern Virginia, and that’s a scary proposition
for a lot of people who serve. You know, Jennifer
also has the additional issues here in the city of it being
the seat of state government. SEN. McCLELLAN: Right. – How much space is occupied
by state government that is not paying taxes
to the city. And the size of the city. With a moratorium on annexation,
with other issues with the inability
to grow and expand, there’s only but so much
elbow room in the city to see economic development. I think that’s a challenge that the new mayor,
Levar Stoney, faces, and we look forward to
partnering with him as a region to address those issues. Intractable pockets of poverty, both in the city
and rural communities, are also issues, we’re trying to work
with the mayor on community wealth building
as well. – And I’m getting the signal that we’re going to
leave it there, but that’s a good place we’ll
start another conversation in the future.
Thank you both very much for being on
This Week in Richmond
. – Thank you, David.
– Thank you. [♪♪♪] – This Week in Richmond
is made possible in part by
Dignity Memorial,
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and throughout North America.
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