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Week 3 at the General Assembly

Dear Friend,

We just completed our third week in the General Assembly. Nestled between time on the Senate floor and committee meetings, I was able to briefly visit with the Arlington Young Dems, Virginia Interfaith Center, representatives from Temple Rodef Shalom, and the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards. My staff met with many other groups and interested parties. Time really flies in a short session.

My resolve to get the ERA passed in Virginia remains unchanged, but the campaign to achieve ratification suffered a significant setback this week. After passing out of the Senate, a House subcommittee of Privileges and Elections defeated the ERA on a party-line vote of 4-2. The full Committee then voted to defeat the amendment, preventing the measure from reaching the House floor by another party-line vote of 12-10. These votes, decided by 12 Republicans, thwart the will of 81% of Virginians. There is still a chance that Speaker Cox could bring the measure before the full House and advocates are encouraging him to do so. But he is getting push back from conservative groups that are opposed to the ERA. The U.S. Congress and 37 other states have already passed the ERA. Virginia’s leaders should at least afford the amendment a floor vote, as was done in the Senate. Ratification of the ERA should be given the benefit of a full deliberative process, with input from all of our elected representatives.

News from the Courts on Redistricting: I support transparent, non-partisan redistricting. A Federal Court has selected a redistricting option that was drawn by court-appointed, non-partisan experts for the 2019 House of Delegate elections. This new map impacts 26 House districts and addresses the court’s concern that 11 of the current districts are racially gerrymandered, thereby diluting the votes of African Americans. The Republicans are appealing this decision. Unless the Supreme Court chooses to hear the case or determines that the process should be halted, 26 delegates will have altered districts for the 2019 election. None of the redrawn districts are located in Northern Virginia. You can see the new map here: https://www.vpap.org/general-assembly/redistricting-2018/

Independent Redistricting Going Forward: On a more transformational note, I am delighted that the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee passed constitutional amendment language that would establish an independent redistricting commission to draw district lines in 2021. This new commission would be structured to avoid partisan gerrymandering schemes and increase transparency to the process. I had several meetings with members of One Virginia 2021 to discuss tweaks to this bill.

Other significant happenings:

Several of my bills have already passed the Senate and are on their way to the House. I will give you an update once I know their status in the other body. Fortunately, my bill that encourages post adoption communication agreements between an adoptee and his or her natural parents passed out of the Senate yesterday. 

Amazon: One of the Governor’s top priorities, diversifying the economy and strengthening Virginia’s workforce, won widespread support when the Senate voted for the Amazon deal. It should be noted that this deal is contingent upon Amazon’s creation of 25,000 new full-time jobs that pay an average annual salary of $150K over a 10 to 20-year period. This requirement ensures that the incentives are drawn from increased tax revenues received from Amazon, not revenue that the state would otherwise spend on key priorities. Virginia is expected to gain $3 billion over the life of the 20-year agreement. Several speakers, myself included, emphasized that this deal will result in significant new revenue that can be dedicated to education, transit, and affordable housing. I am committed to working with our local leaders to ensure that infrastructure investments and affordable housing options are put in place before and during the Amazon transition.

Economic Security for Virginia’s Families:

Minimum Wage: A bill to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour by July 1, 2024, died on a party-line vote this week. We made arguments about the value of paying a living wage and the economic boost such a policy would produce for employees across the Commonwealth. I vigorously advocated for this bill from the floor: https://youtu.be/vl4wzwkxAwU Given the fact that 69% of all public assistance benefits received by non-elderly individuals go to those who work, it is clear that the government is subsidizing businesses who do not pay workers a living wage. In fact, the majority of minimum wage and low-income workers are women and most of these women are the chief breadwinners for their families. This bill would have strengthened the economic health of working families across the Commonwealth. 

Paid Family Leave:I have been working with the Governor’s office to refine my paid family leave bill. This bill would establish a pilot program in the form of a tax credit for small business employers to offer up to 8 weeks of leave to parents who are caring for a newborn or an adopted child. In recent polls, over 80% of Virginians support this measure and would appreciate the ability to nurture their families without having to give up much needed income. I am certain that paid family leave will one day be commonplace in Virginia and this pilot program would be a good first step toward that end. 

Improved Access to Healthcare:

Telemedicine: My telemedicine bill has been rolled into Senator Chafin’s SB1221 and has gained widespread support. Our bi-partisan bill represents a good step forward in making this low-cost delivery system more available to Virginians. However, it is absolutely critical that the state undertake a study to address some of the liability issues and quality of care issues inherent in the growth of telemedicine. This bill is an important piece in the implementation of Medicaid expansion and will create new avenues of access for these recipients and others. Surprisingly enough, Americans for Property supports the passage of this bill. Other supporters include the Virginia Health and Hospital Association as well as other provider groups.

Contraceptive Coverage: I am sponsoring a bill, in collaboration with Planned Parenthood and other groups, that would require insurance plans to cover any FDA approved contraceptive care therapeutic drug or device with no co-pay. This bill should be heard before the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee next week. Although many folks want my proposal to pass, I expect it will be defeated, given the treatment that other women’s access bills have received. 

Biggest Surprise of the Week:

Anti-Tethering Bill: A bill I co-sponsored with Senator Spruill that establishes an anti-tethering standard for companion animals during severe weather conditions passed the Senate. This bill also includes a provision that enables local governments to define “adequate care” for companion animals as long as the definitions meet or exceed state standards. I have to give a shot out to the Fairfax Humane Society and some dedicated activities in Fairfax County for this legislative success. 

Biggest Disappointment of the Week

Gun Safety: I support common-sense gun safety laws. Once again, the Democrats submitted bills that would bring common-sense gun safety measures to the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, these bills were all defeated on party-line votes. I was particularly surprised that a bill which would have enabled a judge to remove a firearm if an individual was a danger to himself or others, was defeated. The bill is popularly known as red flag legislation and such a bill passed in Florida and was signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott. Moreover, similar bills passed in other Republican leaning states. I guess Virginia is still beholden to the NRA. Monday, January 21st was Gun Lobby day. I listened to groups that desperately want more safety measures associated with the ownership of firearms as well as to folks who are adamantly opposed to any checks on gun ownership. I understand there are complexities to the issue, but the status quo cannot continue. Gun safety laws can contemplate complexities while making our Commonwealth safer for all.

Looking Forward:

It will be interesting to hear Committee discussions on a proposed Equity Pay Act and other legislation to promote economic fairness. Additionally, the budget process continues: my budget proposals for debt free high-need workforce tracks at our community colleges should be heard next week.

It is a privilege and pleasure to represent you in Richmond. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for more frequent updates from Session. Together, we will move Virginia forward.