Greetings to the Constituents of Virginia’s 19th House District:
This past Thursday, March 12th the General Assembly completed its 2020 Session by voting on and passing the state budget. While the final product was not one that a Republican majority would have crafted, I voted to support it for a couple important reasons. The budget continues the Republican initiative to freeze tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities. This tuition freeze will help keep education affordable and accessible across the Commonwealth. The budget also provides much needed pay raises to public school teachers. More generally, the budget sets aside $1.4 billion in new funding for education.
I am pleased to report that my budget amendments to create a regional health sciences program, ensure that two important health sciences courses are still offered in our college system, and finance the newly created Airline Service Incentive Fund all made it into the budget. These budget amendments address important issues facing our region and the Commonwealth.
The regional health sciences program has great potential for our region. The Roanoke Valley is fast becoming a nexus for health sciences research and development, with the Virginia Tech Carilion (VTC) and Radford University Carilion (RUC) partnerships being the anchors. In order to fill the present and future needs of this industry, we need to ensure that our school systems are not teaching in silos, but instead are providing a consistent regionwide curriculum from which students can better prepare themselves for the job market. Botetourt County and Roanoke City will participate in the pilot program, which will eventually expand to other localities 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.
My amendment to underwrite the newly created Airline Service Incentive Fund was accepted into the budget. When coupled with my bill to create this Fund, Virginia’s airports will have the resources to attract new service destinations. This will greatly benefit local flyers as well as localities looking to attract new business. A prime example of why this Fund is needed is Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, which loses sixty percent of its potential customers to other airports.
Unfortunately, my amendment to maintain the online portion of the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) was removed from the budget. Even though both chambers retained this provision, the conference report presented to the General Assembly did not. A large portion of students who take online courses are active military, veterans, first responders, working parents and students studying to be nurses or teachers. They should not be placed at a disadvantage simply because an online option is more amenable to their schedules. It is my sincere hope that the Governor amends the language and restores the online VTAG provision.
Now that Session has concluded, General Assembly members have returned to their respective districts to await the Governor’s actions on our legislation. We return to Richmond on April 22nd to consider his actions and decide if the General Assembly accepts or rejects his changes.
As always, please contact my office to let me know your position on current issues. I can be reached on the District Office phone number (540) 254-1500 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. My District mailing address is PO Box 400, Buchanan, VA 24066.
Delegate Terry L. Austin
19th House District