McAuliffe sets the stage

Published 8:29 pm Thursday, January 15, 2015

By Cort Olsen and Michael Melkonian

Capital News Service


Gov. Terry McAuliffe called on Virginia legislators Wednesday to address the problem of sexual assaults on college campuses and to make it easier for some undocumented immigrants to attend public colleges and universities.

McAuliffe laid out those goals in his State of the Commonwealth speech to a joint session of the General Assembly, which kicked off its 2015 session earlier in the day.

McAuliffe, who is beginning his second year as Virginia’s chief executive, wants the assembly to pass several measures concerning education. One would address how institutions of higher education handle sexual violence.

“I am proposing that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia develop a unified sexual misconduct policy for all of Virginia’s public colleges and universities by July 31 of this year,” McAuliffe said.

“I am also proposing that Virginia public colleges and universities place a notation on academic transcripts where a student is dismissed from that institution for violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy, student code of conduct or the university’s honor code.”

In addition, McAuliffe asked the assembly to pass a Virginia version of the so-called DREAM Act, which would help young adults who are illegal immigrants and were brought to the United States as children. The proposed law would allow such individuals to pay in-state tuition to attend college in Virginia.

“Let Virginia lead the way and pass the Virginia DREAM Act, and I will sign it into law,” he said.

Moreover, McAuliffe wants to expand free breakfast and lunch programs for low-income students in kindergarten through high school. “I am proud to say that already 89 Virginia public schools have already enrolled in a brand new school nutrition initiative which enables qualified schools to serve every student breakfast and lunch at no cost to the school.”

Education wasn’t the only topic on McAuliffe’s agenda. In his hourlong speech, he also discussed ethical standards for government officials. The governor proposed capping the amount of money public officials can receive as gifts.

“I am confident by the time we adjourn, we will have made a $100 cap on all gifts the standard for all Virginia public officials,” said McAuliffe, whose predecessor, Bob McDonnell, was sentenced to two years in prison last week for corruption committed while in office.

McAuliffe also said public officials should not vote on issues if they have a conflict of interest. “This session is our opportunity to adopt a common-sense position — that people who are on boards and commissions should be prohibited from voting on matters that benefit their family members, themselves or their business partners.”

Also during his speech, McAuliffe called for a 2-percent pay raise for state employees, provided that it does not require cuts in education, health care or other essential services.

And he listed what he sees as his administration’s accomplishments, such as sealing 267 economic development deals, negotiating with 20 foreign ambassadors, including Cuba’s, regarding trade with Virginia and boosting exports of the state’s agricultural and forestry products.

Following the address by the Democratic governor, two Republican legislators — Delegate Margaret Ransone of Westmoreland County and Sen Jeff McWaters of Virginia Beach — gave their party’s response.

Ransone said McAuliffe’s first year as governor was “characterized by partisanship and stalemate” and that the tone in the Virginia Capitol was “indistinguishable from the tone in Washington.”

She said McAuliffe continues to promote “divisive issues,” including the expansion of the Affordable Care Act in Virginia. Ransone said Republicans would use the legislative session to promote issues they believe enjoy “broad agreement,” including improving schools, providing affordable higher education and ensuring support for veterans.

McWaters promised that Republicans, who make up a majority of both the House and the Senate, would approve a state budget on time and without increasing taxes.