Debra Dispatch: April Update
Happy spring and welcome to the April update of the Debra Dispatch! Thanks for your patience as we waited for Reconvened Session to finish up before we sent out this newsletter
As many of you may know, I am campaigning for the Democratic nomination for state Senate District 12, which is currently held by Republican Senator Siobhan Dunnavant. While I will not be running for my current 73rd House district seat, I am still your Delegate until 2020, when all new, incoming legislators will be sworn in. This means that I am still working on your behalf at the state level. Please continue to contact me if I can be of service to you. This means connecting to a state agency to look into an issue on your behalf, obtaining a state or US flag, or helping you make reservations to tour the Governor’s Mansion or State Capitol Building.
My new website has plenty of information on ways to contact me and how I can help you. While much of the information on the site is geared toward my campaign for state senate, it is continuously being updated and resources are being added.
The legislature reconvened in Richmond on Wednesday, April 3rd to consider the Governor’s recommendations to legislation, amendments to the budget bill, and vetoes. I heard from several Henrico County constituents who were mainly concerned about the funding for I-81 improvements, the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, the hands-free driving bill, funding to replace Central State Hospital, and ending the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid court fines and costs. I supported all of these measures, and all passed except for the hands-free driving bill. In addition to improvements for I-81, the funding package will also generate about $27 million for I-64 projects. We have made great strides in our Commonwealth for our citizens, and I am excited that we have completed this work. The Daily Press has a comprehensive write-up of a few of the hot topics from reconvened Session which you can find here.
I have gone back to teaching full time at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland. When I am not teaching, I am out in the community meeting with constituents, touring local schools and businesses, and attending events. You can request a meeting or invite me to your event at debrarodman.com/schedule.
I was honored to receive the ‘Legislative Champion’ awardfrom the VEA! Currently in Virginia, teacher evaluations are outdated and too closely tied to SOLs and standardized tests. This year, alongside the VEA, I was proud to get big results prompting the VA Dept. of Education to update how we evaluate teacher and student success.
On Feb. 28th I attended the Slave Trail Commission’s Truth and Reconciliation Exhibit at the Main Street Station Gallery. It is a four-part, year-long exhibit, and I encourage you to make a trip downtown to learn more about this history.
I joined constituent and RACC veterinarian, Dr. Alice Ulrichs, in visiting the grave of Tommie, the dog that was cruelly set on fire in North Richmond. He is buried at the Westhampton Memorial Park.
I hosted several student artists at my office downtown for an art reception with Delegates John McGuire and Schuyler VanValkenburg. These students graciously lent us their art for Session to decorate our wall space in the General Assembly Building. I was truly blown away by the amazing artists we have in Henrico!
I attended the “Taste of India” Festival at the Cultural Center of India. I participated in the dandya raas, a traditional folk dance. You can view a short clip of me dancing here!
Genworth Financial, located in the 73rd district, hosted a women's empowerment panel as part of their guest lecture series. I was honored to be on the panel with Supervisor Pat O’Bannon (Tuckahoe Magesterial) and Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor. Amy Lacey from PBS was our moderator and we had a robust discussion about the barriers women face in the workplace, and we spoke about our own experiences growing up and how we came to be in our elected positions.
The Virginia Fosters campaign officially launched on March 27th. This program encourages both grassroots and grasstops levels to come together to provide support for Virginia’s foster youth, workers, and families. Several bipartisan pieces of legislation were introduced this Session aimed at reforming Virginia’s foster care system and supporting the youth. I attended the event and ceremonial bill signing which was held at U-Turn Sports in the 73rd District.
Later that same day, I attended the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School robotics open house. Josie, who brought me the idea behind HB 2593, is the President of the Mech Tech Dragons Robotics Club. I learned a lot about the world of competitive robotics, and got to drive their robot, Melvin! I was stunned by these students and their incredible talent!
Community Highlights and Resources
Virginia Inter-agency Coordinating Council
I am a member of the Virginia Interagency Coordinating Council which is a group of stakeholders who meet once a quarter to discuss ways to help families with toddlers and babies with disabilities access intervention services. If you have a child with disabilities and need help getting in contact with a state agency such as DMAS please contact me and I will help you.
Restoration of Rights
The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office is continuing to restore the rights of eligible citizens. These rights include the right to serve on a jury, vote, become a notary public, and run for public office. This does not restore the right to possess a firearm. Firearm possession rights are able to be restored by your local circuit court after your civil rights are restored. To qualify for civil rights restoration, you must have served your time and be free from any term of incarceration and/or supervision resulting from the conviction. If you think you or someone you know may be eligible, please visit www.restore.virginia.gov or call 804-692-0104 to check your status and begin the application process.
Board and Commission Appointments
There are hundreds of board appointments waiting to be filled. If you or someone you know is qualified to fill a seat, please consider applying. You can find a comprehensive list and a step by step application process guide on the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website. Specifically, there are 3 seats that need to be filled by a qualified, 7th Congressional district resident. Residents are needed for the Virginia Commission for the Arts (page 96), Board of Medicine (page 154), and the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, Board of Trustees (page 177).
VDOT has released a map of current and scheduled paving projects. Largely, Henrico county takes care of its own roads. VDOT maintains state roads (roads that have a number). You can view the map here to see the status of projects.
On March 6th there was another pedestrian fatality on Staples Mill Road. In light of the recent accidents and given that Staples Mill is a state maintained road, I wrote to the VDOT Commissioner to ask him to evaluate the section of Staples Mill between Dumbarton and Glenside Drive to see if there are mechanisms to be implemented to prevent any more pedestrian deaths in our county. VDOT replied they are performing a study to evaluate innovative configurations that will improve pedestrian and all road users safety on this section of Staples Mill. This will include recommendations for pedestrian crossings at signalized intersections, consolidate and/or relocate transit stop locations at or near where pedestrian crossings will be provided, and recommend bus shelter locations.
For Our Students
As our high school seniors prepare to graduate, our high school rising juniors are preparing for their SAT and ACT exams and preparing applications for college. VCU has an SAT Summer Institute class available which you can check out here.
GRASP (GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program) advisors are available through the high school guidance office to meet with students and their parents. Advisors help first-time students navigate the admissions, financial aid, and FAFSA process. Advisors also do talks and seminars at libraries in the community. Keep an eye on their public calendar!
NOVA Aquatics recently announced plans to build a pool at Regency Mall in the former Macy’s building. The operation will be a 50,000 square foot facility with a 50 meter pool and two 25 yard pools. The primary purpose for this facility will be to provide swimming lessons, expand the youth teams, and host high school swim meets. The Gayton location will remain in operation. You can read more about the plans here.
I am looking forward to continuing my work as your Delegate this year. It is an honor to serve you in the Virginia House of Delegates, and please let me know if I can ever be of service to you in the future.