The 2017 session has reached its conclusion. Although there was bi-partisan support around budgetary issues, there was way too much hurtful rhetoric and Trump-like actions aimed at immigrants, our LGBT friends and neighbors and voters who are susceptible to disenfranchisement. Since Democrats are in the minority in both chambers, we will be relying upon Governor McAuliffe to veto some “North Carolina” like bills that passed the General Assembly and will hit his desk.
The silver lining in this session came on the budget front. We were able to fund a 3% pay increase for State employees; a 2% increase for teachers, with some flexibility in the funding language, and a considerable pay increase for State police. This move was intended to address problems with recruitment and retention. We made progress in funding more community-based services, specifically supportive housing, for those suffering from mental illness and steps were taken to help address the opioid crisis.
However, I, along with my fellow Democratic warriors had to fight a number of bills that do not represent our values as Virginians and Americans. Chief among these was HB 2000, a sanctuary cities bill that would codify that “no locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” I spoke against this bill in committee and on the Senate floor.
HB 2000 attempts to require local law enforcement officials to go beyond their usual best “community policing” practices to do the role of the Federal government in immigration enforcement. This bill will affect the ability of police to develop a trusting relationship with the immigrant populations they serve. As you know, this trust is critical if police are to gather information about criminals and underground behavior. Moreover, the impact of this bill is a heightened level of confusion between the role of local law enforcement and the Federal ICE Agency. Confusion that our local governments strongly argued would be detrimental to our safety.
Once again, a bill was passed that gave State sanction to religious leaders who wish to deny the sacrament of marriage to our gay brothers and sisters. Religious leaders already have the right to decide whom they will marry, this bill was not necessary and it sent a very hurtful message about who we are and what we stand for.
Additionally, there were a number of bills that Republicans passed in an attempt to suppress people's right to vote, bills that overarchingly affect people of color, students, and seniors. Republicans know that the demonizing rhetoric of President Trump is harming their chances at the polls--so voter suppression is their answer. It is easier for these folks to pass measures that protect their jobs rather than committing themselves to representing the will of the people, and that is simply un-American and unacceptable!
I am thankful that we have a Governor who stands as a brick wall against these offensive and divisive bills, but I am ashamed that they have even gotten this far. Please join me to continue the fight for our Democratic values.
Metro Safety Compact:
HB 2136 was passed this session, which authorizes Virginia to become a signatory to the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission Interstate Compact. The compact establishes a safety oversight authority for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). It does contain an emergency clause, which means it won’t go into effect until the State of Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Congress all approve the Compact. The bill includes measures necessary to better ensure the safety of riders and employees, including safety in the event of a homeland security emergency in the national capital area; and financial and operational improvements necessary to ensure that WMATA’s performance is at least as efficient as its closest comparable transit systems in the United States.
Workforce Development Initiatives:
Although my budget amendment to extend child care services and other services to welfare moms while they completed a 2-year educational program failed, the budget conferees did allocate $7.5 million from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant for community employment and training programs. Employment Services Organizations will receive $2.0 million of this allocation. This money will help struggling mothers and struggling communities get a second chance.
My other Legislative Initiatives:
Now that the session has concluded, I can say that nine of my bills have made it through both the House and the Senate, and are awaiting the Governor’s signature. I am particularly disappointed, however, that my medical marijuana bill did not pass. I promise to keep trying; we did make some headway with a few moderate Republicans.
Children's Safety: A proposal to require the investigation of alleged child abuse or neglect on children age 2 or younger. This early intervention could help reduce the number of infant fatalities in the Commonwealth. Last year children younger than two counted for nearly half of all child fatalities.
Trade and Certificate Programs: A bill to grant scholarships to foster kids taking trade or certificate programs through the Community College System will soon become law. This effort will help us reach our goal of 100,000 additional degrees or certificates by 2020 and our most vulnerable kids will be given an opportunity to achieve their dreams. This is hailed as an important anti-poverty measure.
Better Oversight of Community-Based Programs: My bill to create better reporting on incidents of serious injury from licensed community-based programs serving those with intellectual or developmental disabilities passed.
Sexual Assault: I worked with the Attorney General’s office on a bill to require that sexual assault survivors be informed if physical evidence submitted prior to July 1, 2016, contains DNA evidence.
My bar bystander bill finally made it through its last hurdle. This bill would encourage bartenders and others who serve or sell spirits in an ABC licensed or permitted establishment to undergo training to help prevent risky situations from culminating into sexual assaults. Preliminary evaluations of similar training programs have shown that these programs reduced reported sexual assaults in nearby college towns by 11 percent.
Aging Issues: A bill that directs the Council on Aging to educate consumers on malnutrition and provide strategies for defeating this issue also passed. Today, 13.9% of Virginia seniors are food insecure.