Week 4 at the General Assembly
It has been incredibly painful to learn about the offensive picture displayed on Governor Northam’s medical school yearbook page. It has evoked a great deal of hurt and shame. Although this picture does not represent the values by which Governor Northam has governed, that important bond of trust has been broken. I posted a statement on Twitter and Facebook on Friday evening, and I continue to stand by it.
The challenges of legislating in an election year cannot be overstated. Bills are often taken out of context and lawmakers go out of their way to unfairly demonize a proposal or the opposing political party to garner favor with their base voters. Unfortunately, bills designed to improve access to reproductive healthcare almost always fall victim to “political maneuvering.”
Access to Reproductive Healthcare & Family Planning:
Several legislative proposals were introduced that were intended to bring Virginia into line with the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision said that medically unnecessary barriers to accessing early abortion care were, in effect, instruments to deny care and unconstitutional. Moreover, it is important to note that 80% of Virginians believe that access to safe and legal abortions during a period of up to 20 weeks, as outlined in Roe v. Wade, should be upheld in the Commonwealth. Yet, legislative efforts to make this access a reality went down in defeat on party-line votes. This early access to abortion care is something I have always fought for and I will continue my efforts. However, I do not believe that the current ban on third trimester abortions should be removed.
As it turned out, my no-copay contraceptive care bill was heard the day after Delegate Tran’s bill was defeated in a House Committee. Needless to say, nerves were raw on both sides of the aisle and my common-sense bill was defeated. Of course, I made the point that easy access to birth control reduced abortions by nearly 46% and reminded lawmakers that family planning enables families to better care for their children, both financially and otherwise.
Essential Health Benefits Bill is Defeated:
I worked with the Medical Society of Virginia and the Virginia Society of Pediatricians to require that health insurance plans licensed in the Commonwealth offer certain primary and preventive care services, as defined in the Affordable Care Act. These services include childhood vaccines, certain disease screenings and other preventive services encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Guidelines. This bill was about staying healthy and reducing long-term costs. However, business groups promoting small employer plans spoke against the bill because they did not want any requirements placed on “streamlined” plans. These folks told lawmakers that the “marketplace should dictate what insurance plans cover” and the bill was defeated on a party-line vote.
Transportation Updates–Good News:
American Legion Bridge: I stood with Governor Northam to announce a 2.5 mile extension of the I-495 Express Lanes North. Four general purpose lanes and two express lanes will run in each direction of the Capital Beltway starting with the current terminus near the Dulles Toll Access Road and ending at the American Legion Bridge. This project will help address one of the worst bottlenecks in the region and reduce cut-through traffic in local McLean neighborhoods. I noted in a press statement that "(t)his improvement demonstrates Virginia's commitment to easing traffic throughout the region and provides further incentives for Maryland to help address congestion on the bridge." Let's hope Virginia's action initiates significant movement on the part of Maryland to expand capacity on the bridge.
Distance Tolling: This is a complicated issue but worthy of discussion. I was disappointed that my proposal directing VDOT to conduct a study, in consultation with the owners of the Greenway and Dulles Access Road, along with other stakeholders, to evaluate options for distance-based tolling.
Successes in the Public Education Realm:
School Calendar Bill: My school calendar bill was rolled into a compromise bill that will allow school systems, without a school start date waiver, to set a school start date no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day. Schools with a waiver will be grandfathered into the program and not have to submit any additional paperwork to continue with their current calendar. This bill was voted out of the Senate Education and Health Committee by members who had traditionally been opposed to allowing systems to change the school start date.
Independent Redistricting: I am proud to say that a redistricting bill passed the Senate that calls for a constitutional amendment to establish an Independent Redistricting Commission. This legislative proposal is already initiating a transformational conversation on how electoral districts are drawn. Moreover, language was added to the bill that strengthens transparency requirements. I enthusiastically voted for this addition. Unfortunately, an amendment to specifically state that gerrymandering shall be prohibited went down in defeat. Hopefully, the process governing the operations of the Commission will achieve this purpose. I have to give a shot out to OneVirginia2021 for an amazing advocacy effort.
Specifically, the redistricting bill establishes an independent commission that consists of eight legislative members and eight citizen members. The legislative members are comprised off four members of the Senate of Virginia and four members of the House of Delegates, with equal representation given to the political parties having the highest and next highest number of members in their respective houses. The citizen members are selected by a selection committee consisting of five retired judges of the circuit courts of Virginia.
The Commission is required to submit to the General Assembly plans of districts for the Senate and the House of Delegates of the General Assembly no later than 45 days following the receipt of census data and plans of districts for the United States House of Representatives no later than 60 days following the receipt of census data. In order to be submitted to the General Assembly for a vote, a plan must receive an affirmative vote of at least six of the eight legislative members and six of the eight citizen members. No amendments may be made to the plan by the General Assembly or the Governor. In other words, the redistricting plan submitted by the independent commission must receive an “up or down” vote.
This past week several groups visited my office. I met with the Fairfax Arts group, McLean Project for the Arts and other groups committed to making our neighborhoods and the Commonwealth beautiful. Additionally, representatives from the Virginia Equal Rights Coalition and OneVirginia 2021 stopped by to reiterate their support for key pieces of legislation or certain budget amendments. One of the highlights of my week was attending a Leadership Arlington forum where I discussed the positive difference women are making in the General Assembly.
This is a very trying time for those of us who are attempting to interject civility and healing as we work towards moving Virginia forward. Thanks for your continued support.