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Comstock's Bill on King's Dominion Law Moves Forward

House and Senate both consider bills to let Virginia schools open before Labor Day.

By Kristen Smith, Capital News Service

The House and Senate are headed in different directions when it comes to repealing Virginia’s “King’s Dominion law,” which generally prevents public schools from opening before Labor Day.

On Monday, the House will consider approving a bill — a combination of a bill first introduced by Vienna-area Del. Barbara Comstock — that would make local school boards responsible for setting the school calendar and authorize them to start classes before Labor Day.

However, a Senate committee last week defeated a Senate bill to eliminate the King’s Dominion law.

The Senate Education and Health Committee voted 4-11 Thursday against Senate Bill 1099, which was sponsored by two senators from Roanoke – Republican Ralph Smith and Democrat John Edwards.

Last year, the General Assembly considered 13 bills to empower school divisions to choose their own opening dates – an idea backed by Gov. Bob McDonnell. However, none of the bills passed.

In 2011, it was the same story. That year, Fairfax County Public Schools conducted a survey to gauge the county's support on moving the school start date; a majority of respondents said they'd like to start school before the holiday.

This year's House Bill 1467, sponsored by Dels. Thomas “Tag” Greason (D-Lansdowne) and Gregory Habeeb (R-Salem) would rescind the so-called King’s Dominion law, which prevents local schools from opening before Labor Day unless they have permission in the form of a state waiver. The law was meant to help the tourism industry, by allowing tourist attractions like the King’s Dominion theme park to keep their school-aged summer staffs longer.

HB 1467 has a bipartisan group of co-sponsors. It incorporates several other House bills with the same goal. They include HB 1310, proposed by Habeeb; HB 1309, by Comstock; HB 1491, by Del. Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church) and HB 1880, by Del. Joseph Morrissey (D-Highland Springs).

After folding those bills into HB 1467, the House Education Committee on Wednesday approved the legislation, 15-6.

The full House of Delegates on Monday will consider giving HB 1467 final approval. The House also will consider passing HB 1319, which would let the school boards in Danville, Martinsville, Henry County and Pittsylvania County start classes before Labor Day.

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate Education and Health Committee voted Thursday on “SB 1099 School calendar; makes local school boards responsible for setting opening of school year, etc.”

The committee was voting on a motion to report, or approve, the bill. The motion failed, 4-11.

YEAS – Howell, Locke, Smith, Garrett – 4.

NAYS – Martin, Saslaw, Lucas, Newman, Blevins, Barker, Northam, Miller, McWaters, Black, Carrico – 11.

Here is how the House Education Committee voted Wednesday on “HB 1467 School calendar; makes local school boards responsible for setting opening of school year, etc.”

The committee was voting on a motion to report, or approve, the bill. The motion passed, 15-6.

YEAS – Tata, Rust, Massie, Greason, Bell, Richard P., Stolle, LeMunyon, Robinson, Yost, Ware, O., McClellan, Bulova, Morrissey, Keam, Hester – 15.

NAYS – Landes, Lingamfelter, Cole, Pogge, Yancey, Tyler – 6.

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