Send it to Finance?

In the process of lawmaking in Virginia, there is one tactic that is almost certain to kill a bill. Send it upstairs, Send it to Finance, Send it to Appropriations. When a committee hears a bill and decides to send it to one of the money committees — Finance or Appropriations — it is an almost certain death sentence.

Committees send proposed legislation to their money committees to review if it seems like there may be some cost associated with the bill. The money committees decide whether there actually is a cost and if so, how it will be paid for. With the Commonwealth’s notoriously tight budget practices, if there is a cost to a bill, the bill will be almost certainly defeated, no matter how worthy the cause.

That’s why advocates supporting the bill to reduce seclusion and restraint in public schools were so alarmed this morning. The Senate bill, which had been unanimously approved in subcommittee, was now before the full committee for consideration. The Chair said he’d been asked by some members of the committee to send the bill to Finance, to determine whether there will be any cost associated with the bill. “I mean no harm to the bill,” the chair insisted. He just thought that Finance ought to take a look at it.

The bill calls for the Department of Education to develop regulations that would govern if and when schools can restrain or isolate children with disabilities. The process of developing regulations is complex and slow. It often takes several years to develop the regulations, receive public comment, consider and respond to the comment, re-write the regulations, and then process them through layers of internal review, ultimately by the Governor. Any costs associated with the regulations would not come into play for years, well beyond any budget that the current legislature can affect.

Some school officials have argued that the training costs associated with the new requirements will be prohibitive. In fact, in places where schools have eliminated the use of restraints, their overall costs have gone down. They have had fewer staff injuries and fewer lost days of work. More importantly, they have fewer costs associated with injured children.

In the end, the Senate Committee was not fooled by the tactic. The committee defeated the motion to “send it to Finance,” and instead reported the bill directly to the full Senate. The committee chair chuckled at the end result. “In my 24 years,” he said, “I have never seen a motion to refer to Finance defeated like that.”

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