Update from the General Assembly | Week Seven
Greetings to the Constituents of Virginia’s 19th House District:
This week the House passed its budget. With only two weeks left remaining in session, the process will now transition to discussions between both chambers to craft Virginia’s biennial budget, which will then be presented to the Governor. Though I do not agree with everything in it, I would like to commend my colleagues in the House for working together to continue several initiatives championed by Republicans in previous years. In particular, the budget includes the Republican initiative to freeze tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities to help keep education affordable and accessible.
I am pleased to report that a number of my amendments were accepted. This includes funding to attract airline service in our region, create a regional health sciences program, ensure that two important health sciences courses are still offered in our college system, and restore online Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) funding.
My amendment to create an Airport Opportunity Fund will provide Virginia’s airports with a much-needed mechanism by which to attract flights, giving travelers the ability to fly out of Virginia, rather than having to travel out of state to do so. Providing more local choices will also make our region more attractive to new businesses looking to locate in Virginia. Senator John Edwards carried similar legislation and I look forward to working with him to establish this fund to increase flight options and attract business.
My request to fund the creation of a regional health sciences program is exciting news for our region. The Virginia Tech Carilion (VTC) partnership is already producing world-class research and this new initiative will provide our young men and women with the ability to participate in and benefit from the amazing opportunities being created. Botetourt County and Roanoke City will participate in the pilot program, which will eventually expand to other counties and cities in the region. Based off my experience at MD Anderson in Houston, I strongly believe that removing the regional barriers that currently exist in our education system will save lives and create jobs. This program has the potential to create positive benefits for our region in the decades to come, and I look forward to seeing it successfully implemented.
Supplementing our regionwide health sciences movement is my amendment that allows Virginia Western Community College to offer Physical Therapy Assistance and Surgical Technology programs. These courses were previously provided by Jefferson College of Health Sciences and Radford University, and were offloaded by these two institutions as a requirement of their recent merger. The upshot is a system where our various educational organizations coalesce to provide a more efficient and effective experience for people seeking to participate in health sciences.
Lastly, my amendment to restore online TAG funding was accepted. The Governor’s budget had removed this provision, and it would have adversely affected the very people we should be facilitating such as active military, veterans, first responders, working parents and students studying to be nurses or teachers. Restoring this language also acknowledges the opportunities enabled by increased access to broadband and we are all grateful that hard working men and women will be able to continue their studies in an accommodating fashion.
I enjoyed spending time with our Sheriffs of the 19th District. Kevin Hall of Alleghany, Matt Ward of Botetourt and Mike Miller of Bedford visited Richmond to advocate on behalf of their respective offices. Though unable to convince the majority to give our Sheriffs and Deputies a full raise, I will continue to advocate for them. We must do everything we can to create a public safety system that serves and protects Virginians to the fullest extent possible. I want to again thank these three gentlemen and their deputies for all they do to keep us safe. I would also like to thank the Girl Scouts for visiting my office. Conversations with these polite, caring and selfless young ladies is exactly what the General Assembly needs during session and I thank them for taking the time to remind us how important giving back is.
As always, please contact my office to let me know your position on current issues. I can be reached on the Richmond office phone number (804) 698-1019 or via email to email@example.com. The General Assembly Building continues to be renovated and my office is now located at Room E405 in the Pocahontas Building on 900 East Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219.
Delegate Terry L. Austin
19th House District