Week 2 at the General Assembly
We finished our second week in the General Assembly, and the pace was frenetic. The good news is that Virginia took a step forward toward creating a more equal society. The State Senate passed the ERA resolution, SJ 284, by a vote of 26-14. The measure enjoyed bipartisan support after we overcame arguments based on fear and misinformation regarding privacy concerns.
Two major pieces of legislation Pass the Senate:
Removing the Death Penalty: My bill, SB 1137, removes the death penalty as a sentencing option for those with severe mental illness at the time the crime was committed. The burden of proof would rest with the defendant and expert witnesses (identified by both sides) would be part of the process. An individual could still be convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 23 to 17. Although the number of individuals on Virginia’s death row has been steadily decreasing, the time has come to acknowledge that the most serious punishment the state can administer should not be administered to those who did not understand the nature or consequences of their actions.
Proffer Reform: My bill, SB 1373, reforms legislation that passed two years ago restricting the ability of localities to discuss the need for development projects to address certain community impact and infrastructure needs. The bill was negotiated among a broad coalition including high-growth communities, the Virginia Home Builders Association, and environmental interests. It is my expectation that SB 1373 will restore avenues for honest communication and the ability for home builders to more fully participate in a community’s vision for how to grow.
Bills that passed out of Committee:
My bill requiring that human trafficking prevention programs be taught in K-12 Family Life programs passed the full committee on Education and Health and is on its way to the Senate floor. Moreover, my efforts to establish a Health Advisory Committee as part of the Board of Education also passed out of Education and Health. Fortunately, the organizations representing school systems and superintendents are very supportive of this this bill. Both of these legislative proposals are on the Senate consent agenda.
Bills I am Most Hopeful About:
Telemedicine: I am working with Senator Ben Chafin, a Republican from southwest Virginia, along with medical groups and advocacy associations to tackle “quality of care issues” associated with telemedicine. Our goal is to expand access to health care by creating a more seamless and cost efficient way of providing care. Reducing wait times and encouraging patients to seek care when they are first sick or when they initially recognize troubling symptoms can only make Virginians healthier. In addition to groups that you would expect to be allies on this topic, I am also working with Americans for Prosperity. Sometimes we find ourselves with strange “bedfellows.”
Reproductive Healthcare Access: All of the bills submitted by the Democratic Caucus members that would have codified Roe vs. Wade were defeated on party-line votes. My bill to ensure no copay contraceptive coverage and protections against employer interference with your contraceptive care insurance will likely be heard next week. I am keeping my fingers crossed in the hopes that this will pass. Planned Parenthood and groups that care about women’s health are talking to lawmakers about my contraceptive bill and its value in helping to promote healthy families.
As Senate Chair of the Women’s Healthcare Caucus, I asked my colleagues and partners to participate in a press conference on the importance of protecting women’s access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion care. In light of the new composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, women across the Commonwealth and the country should be concerned about the protection of their right to privacy when it comes to making decisions about their own bodies. I am proud to say that Governor Northam, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring joined the press conference and lent their support to the cause.
School Divisions of Innovation (SDI) Bill: My bill would have allowed schools that qualify as SDIs, according to already established criteria, to develop performance assessment measures outside of the SOL system in civics and economics, to gain a broad picture of a student’s knowledge and skill set. I submitted this bill at the request of Loudoun County Public Schools, but other eligible school systems could have applied for the SDI waiver, as well. It is important to note that my bill required performance assessments to be as rigorous as the SOLs and to be approved by the Department of Education. Although the General Assembly passed authorizing legislation to enable SDIs in the 2017 session, some lawmakers have been reluctant to enable school systems to move forward with the opportunity. Given this reluctance, my bill died in subcommittee on a party-line vote. However, I believe we will achieve the ability to move forward in the not too distant future.
My office was pleased to welcome many visitors this past week. Representatives from the Arlington Free Clinic, Fairfax County Firefighters, Indivisible Arlington, the American Academy of Pediatrics, VOICE, the Virginia Dental Association, and others stopped by to show their support for my legislative agenda and to share their views on other topics of interest.
It is a privilege and pleasure to represent you in Richmond. Together, we will move Virginia forward and make a positive difference in the lives of our neighbors and fellow Virginians!