Week 6 at the General Assembly
This has been another frenetic week and I am looking forward to sharing some information and insights with you. The Democrats in the House are attempting to force a rule change that would allow the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to come to the House floor for a vote. Right now, the Senate passed version of the ERA is languishing in the House Privileges and Elections Committee. It is incredibly undemocratic to allow something as important as a proposed constitutional amendment to be left in a committee and deny the people’s representatives the opportunity to vote. If the ERA is not brought to a vote on the floor of the House, we will hold lawmakers accountable in November!
This has been a big week for budget and tax issues. Many of you have asked about tax conformity. Both the House and the Senate have passed legislation that conforms Virginia tax law to the federal law ensuring that Virginians will be able to file their state taxes without complications for the 2018 tax year. Essentially, the legislation will provide $420 million to Virginia taxpayers this year in the form of tax rebates. Individual filers will receive $110 and married couples will receive $220. The legislation also raises the standard deduction by 50% beginning in tax year 2019, the first such change for individual filers since 1989. Additionally, the bill maintains the current rules for state and local taxes (SALT) and includes key provisions for job creating businesses. Going forward, the tax legislation will ensure that additional revenues from the permanent provisions of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are placed in the state’s cash reserve fund.
Lawmakers have been working diligently to provide the Governor with a budget that reflects our Democratic values and incorporates funding for issues that are important to minority communities in the Commonwealth. On the “going green” front, I am proud to say that $1M has already been earmarked in the Senate budget for small solar projects and we are making considerable progress in cleaning up coal ash. However, more needs to be done in these areas and in other important quality of life areas.
Additional Budget Highlights:
Education: I completely agree with Governor Northam that the values of education, opportunity, and equity should be driving the allocation of dollars. To that end, I am advocating for the restoration of funding for the at-risk add-on program that benefits schools with the highest proportion of children on free or reduced lunch. I am also asking the conferees to include funding for early childhood programs and need-based financial aid for higher education.
Affordable Housing & Stable Communities: Unfortunately, Virginia has five of the top ten cities with the highest eviction rates in the country. But, we have the opportunity to make a real difference by providing funding for attorneys to represent those at risk of eviction. I strongly believe that Virginia needs to develop the expertise at the state level to support eviction prevention efforts. Therefore, I am advising the conferees to allocate more dollars to the Housing Trust Fund.
Redistricting: Two bills to effect non-partisan redistricting continue their way through the House and Senate. I expect that both bills will pass and a conference committee will be necessary to resolve the significant differences between the two versions. I hope that transparency and non-partisan constructs will be a part of the conference committee’s eventual recommendations. I will keep you posted on the compromise bill. Once again, I have to give a shot out to OneVirginia2021 for the progress we have made to date.
Gun Violence Prevention: Thursday marked the one year anniversary of the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. This session, no gun safety reform bills passed out of any House or Senate Committees. Once again, the bills failed along party line votes. I spoke passionately from the floor that this must change. See the clip here: https://youtu.be/o8nJnBVYz4s
My Bills on Their Way to the Governor:
Child Day Care Homes: SB1094 allows localities to grant appropriate administrative approvals for child day care homes by allowing the zoning administrator to apply all relevant zoning ordinances. However, programmatic components such as child development curricula guidelines will continue to be reviewed by program experts at the local and state level. Child care advocates and local governments are excited about this bill because most of the opposition and misunderstanding associated with the permitting of child day care homes evolves around the zoning process.
Developmentally Disabled Foster Youth: SB1135 requires local Child Care Protective Service programs to inform Community Services Boards (CSBs) when a foster child has a developmental disability so that the child may secure a disability waiver slot in a timely fashion. The goal is to ensure a seamless transition from the foster care system to the appropriate care setting for the next chapter in a young person’s life. Arlington CSB advocates and others brought this transition issue to my attention. I am particularly proud that this bill passed.
Parental Communication Agreements when children are removed from the home: SB1139 provides an opportunity for birth parents to establish a communications agreement with their children when these children have been removed from the home and parental rights have been terminated. During the termination of parental rights, a JDR judge will now be expected to discuss the possibility of a communications agreement between the child and his/her natural parents. If the child is 14 years of age or older, the child would have to grant consent. Studies show that connections with birth family members can be a positive factor in the emotional development of a child. I worked with the Virginia Poverty Law Center on this bill and the Family Foundation lent its support to the effort.
Prevention of Human Trafficking: As chair of the Sexual Assault Advisory Committee, I learned about the need to discuss human trafficking in our public schools. In fact, Prince William Country has a model program that engages middle schoolers in identifying actions that could lead to abduction or human trafficking. SB1141 will require school systems that participate in the Family Life Education Program to offer human trafficking prevention strategies based on Department of Education recommended curriculum guidelines. The Virginia Education Association supported my bill, along with law enforcement officials, and child advocates.
Child Care Subsidies for Welfare Moms Attending School: SB1145 allows former welfare moms to continue to receive child care subsidies for up to 12 months if they are attending a workforce training program or taking classes at a college or university. Currently benefits are only provided if the former recipient enters the workforce. This is a transformational bill because it enables folks to achieve permanent self-sufficiency for themselves and their families. Thank you to Social Action Linking Together (SALT) for your tireless advocacy on this issue and many other anti-poverty issues.
Proffer Bill - Home Builders and Local Governments Renew their Partnership: SB1373 establishes a framework for the “give and take” associated with the approval of new development projects and the identification of appropriate proffers to ensure that communities achieve the infrastructure necessary to sustain growth. Senator Stanley from Franklin County teased me on the Senate floor by referring to the bill as “Barbara’s Law.”
Update on the Executive Branch:
Governor Northam is committing himself to an agenda of equity, opportunity, and hope. He is listening to a broad range of voices, including representatives from the Black community, Faith leaders, educators, and others. We all need to be part of this learning and healing process, and I am committed to doing my part.
I find the sexual assault allegations against Lt. Governor Fairfax to be very troubling and offensive and have joined with the Black Caucus in asking Mr. Fairfax to step down. However, the standard by which lawmakers can force a resignation from an elected official is very high and cannot be achieved through a purely political process. Consequently, the House of Delegates has decided not to an initiate an impeachment process against the Lt. Governor. But this week’s offer from Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins to lead an investigation into the accusations is an appropriate next step.
We have received fewer visitors in the Capitol this week. The halls become less crowded as committee work finishes and our daily sessions on the floor lengthen to ensure that sufficient time is allocated to floor deliberation on the many bills reported from the committees.
As always, thank you for your on-going support. It is pleasure and privilege to represent you in Richmond.