2016 Session Update - Week 7 - The Homestretch
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2016 General Assembly Session is drawing to a close, but there is still more work to be done before we adjourn Sine Die on Saturday, March 12th.
Last week we addressed a variety of issues including overturning the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice and allowing back-door censorship in Virginia schools.
You can read more below about these important issues as well as find information about how to Free File your federal and state income taxes. You can also learn more about how to apply for the the Hispanic College Institute program for high school students.
Next week, I'll be back home in the 49th District. Please do note hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance or if you or your community group would like a legislative update on the 2016 General Assembly Session. I look forward to hearing from you.
Alfonso H. Lopez
Member, 49th District
Virginia House of Delegates
EDUCATIONAL CENSORSHIP BILL
Last week, I spoke out against House Bill 516, which would require notification to parents of any instructional materials that could be deemed “sexually explicit” as well as an option for alternative curriculum and assignments for any student whose parents objected to these materials.
The bill does not define what type of material would qualify as “sexually explicit,” but tasks the State Board of Education with developing a definition. It would also apply to all academic subjects, including history, science/biology, art history, civics, as well as English and literature.
When the government establishes laws to label literature in terms of a single factor, regardless of that factor's significance to the larger world of literary merit or meaning, it edges closer to censorship. It means we are labeling content for the sole purpose of suppressing it.
The decision about what is appropriate in a given classroom belongs between parents, teachers, school administrators, and local school boards. This bill creates a one-size-fits-all approach throughout the Commonwealth that does not account for the age of the students, regional or cultural considerations, the subject matter, or the context in which the material is being taught.
Diminishing and reducing Romeo and Juliet to a play that is just about "teen sex" and suicide does a disservice to the student, our school systems, and the Commonwealth.
The unintended consequences of this bill are to require teachers to redefine whatever they're teaching solely in terms of how much "sexually explicit" content it may contain. In far too many cases, a teacher will not be able to do two entire lesson plans for the same class (sometimes on very quick turnaround after an objection from just one parent). This makes it much less likely that they'd be willing to even attempt to use anything that might be considered objectionable in their lessons. Without intending to do it, this will have a dampening effect encouraging teachers to avoid any content that might be found objectionable by any single parent.
Unfortunately, this legislation was passed by the House of Delegates and State Senate. It will now go to Governor McAuliffe for his signature. I am hopeful that Governor McAuliffe will veto or make recommendations to change this legislation in order to address these concerns.
You can watch the full video of my speech online at https://youtu.be/lo2UiqPduHI
VIRGINIA SUPREME COURT
Last week, Republicans in the House of Delegates refused to confirm Governor McAuliffe’s recess appointment to the Virginia Supreme Court – Justice Jane Marum Roush. Justice Roush has had a distinguished career, is highly qualified, and has received bipartisan support from legislators in the General Assembly.
Unfortunately, Republican leaders in the House of Delegates would rather turn her nomination into a political battle, remove an eminently qualified jurist, and violate long standing custom and practice in the General Assembly. To make matters worse, after rejecting her nomination Republican leaders violated the rules of the House of Delegates to introduce a new special and joint order to appoint the next justice to the Supreme Court.
Despite clearly stating in the rules adopted by the House of Delegates that any special order would require a two-thirds vote, Republican leaders pushed this special order through with a simple majority. The citizens of the Commonwealth deserve better from their elected officials. I will keep you updated as this nomination process moves forward.
HISPANIC COLLEGE INSTITUTE
The Virginia Leaders Higher Education Network (VALHEN) is now accepting applications for the Hispanic College Institute (HCI). This is a highly successful residential program that prepares Hispanic students in the Commonwealth of Virginia to enter and succeed in higher education.
The program provides clear and practical college application and financial aid information. It also allows students to have the opportunity to engage with successful Hispanic leaders and role models who will help inform them about career and educational opportunities.
Eligibility: In order to be eligible, students must have a minimum 2.5 GPA or above, be a current high school sophomore or junior, and be enrolled full-time in a Virginia high school.
When: August 1st – 4th 2016
Where: Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg Campus
Deadline: April 1st, 2016
Click here to apply now -https://virginiatech.qualtrics.com/
IRS FREE FILE
With the deadline to file your federal income taxes quickly approaching (April 15th), I hope you find this information about the IRS Free File program helpful in preparing your return. Free File is available to all taxpayers who made $62,000 or less in 2015. You can visit www.IRS.gov/freefile to prepare and e-file your federal tax returns at no cost.
About 100 million Americans – or 70 percent of taxpayers – are eligible. In addition, Free File offers a basic e-filing service for everyone, regardless of income. Taxpayers can also use Free File to e-file an extension.
Free File is made possible through a public-private partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a non-profit coalition of leading tax software companies. To learn more about the program, visit www.freefilealliance.org
Virginia income taxes are due May 1st. You can also review your options to see if you qualify to Free File your Virginia income taxes online athttp://www.tax.virginia.gov
If you have any questions about filing your Virginia income taxes, please visit the Department of Taxation’s website for frequently asked questions at http://www.tax.virginia.gov
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have having any difficulty in dealing with the Virginia Department of Taxation. I look forward to hearing from you.