The Virginia Senate proved Monday that it’s easier to find consensus on multimillion-dollar legislation to suspend the state’s largest electricity supplier from State Corporation Commission oversight than to exempt public schools from federal rules prohibiting junk food fundraisers.
Over the course of nearly half an hour, which at times seemed even longer, 11 senators rose to debate the merits of House Bill 2114.
Sponsored by Del. Richard P. “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, at the request of House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, the bill would let schools hold up to 12 school-sponsored food fundraisers of five days duration each year to help raise money for school activities.
During a spirited debate involving discussions about Ho Hos — not to mention the Key lime pie and oatmeal raisin cookies that were part of their catered lunch in a Senate anteroom — senators went so far as to poll their pages on what they thought, before voting 20-17-1 to pass the bill, which now heads to Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Under federal law, unless a State Board of Education adopts rules governing their sale, schools are prohibited from selling so-called “competitive” foods such as doughnuts, pizza or cookies during school hours because they do not comply with the federal school lunch and breakfast programs.
The Board of Education has yet to adopt such rules; the bill would require them to do so in order to sanction food fundraisers that raise money for clubs, sports teams and other activities.
The bid to carve out a five-year exemption for Dominion Virginia Power from SCC financial reviews was not nearly as debated or contested. It won easy passage in the chamber Feb. 6 on a vote of 32-6. That bill — Senate Bill 1349 — sailed through the House on Friday and awaits action by McAuliffe.
Opponents of the fundraiser bill said introducing items such as pizza and cookies for purchase during school hours would encourage bad diet choices.
Some of the detractors were not well-suited to making the case, including Sen. John S. Edwards, D-Roanoke, whose wife annually deposits a goodie basket of fattening confections with every senator for Valentine’s Day.
As he spoke against the bill, members held up their baskets.
“It’s only one day!” Edwards said before he gave up. “You got me on this one.”
The school fundraiser bill might not be a cakewalk to law with the administration, either.
First lady Dorothy McAuliffe has championed childhood nutrition and thrown her support behind an “after-the-bell” expansion of the state’s school breakfast program. The initiative has been endorsed by way of a budget appropriation from both chambers of the legislature.
Howell, the delegate behind the school fundraiser bill, was instrumental in gaining House budget approval for the first lady’s program.
After effectively saying yes to McAuliffe’s nutrition initiative, can the governor say no to Howell’s bake sale bill?