Session Ends - but it's not over
March 12, 2018
I am proud to say that we worked in a bi-partisan fashion to craft workable solutions to many challenges facing the Commonwealth. Later in this newsletter, I will highlight those major legislative accomplishments. Of course, the one issue that we were not able to gain agreement on was Medicaid Expansion, but I am hopeful that lawmakers will hear from constituents now that we are back in our districts.
Most legislators believe that if the Senate had gone through a re-election in 2017, there would be more interest on the Republican side in finding a pathway forward for participating in Expansion. The Republican lawmakers who believe it is time to increase access to health care are working diligently to make Expansion a reality. However, achieving this goal is very complicated since some of their colleagues fear primary opponents if they vote for a new healthcare program, while others believe that new programs should not be funded by the Federal government because of the rising Federal debt.
We are studying the requirements that certain Republican states have implemented in their Medicaid Expansion plans to help guide the conversation. Governor Northam is expected to call the legislature back for a special session within the next 30 days with a directive that we address the Medicaid Expansion issue. The positive advocacy on this issue has been awesome. Thank You.
Big Issues Addressed:
Energy Grid Security Bill
The legislation, which I voted for and Governor Northam has signed, was supported by leading environmental groups as well as industry experts. It is not a perfect bill but it is a good bill. My interest in supporting the Energy Grid Security Bill evolved around achieving public policy objectives that I believe are in the best interest of my constituents and the Commonwealth, overall. These policy objectives are: improving grid reliability; providing a good value to the electric consumers of Virginia; enhancing grid security; and decreasing reliance on carbon-based fuels. Perhaps we could have achieved more in any one of the areas, but that would have been at the expense of compromising the advancement of another policy goal. It was also important to me that consumers be offered rebates now that the new legislation ends the base-rate freeze provision. To that end, Dominion will issue $200 million in rate credits to consumers who were overcharged during the “rate freeze” period.
Although earlier versions of the bill had some protections against “double dipping” or allowing Dominion to gain rate revenue twice because of the way the investment language was written, subsequent language provides more clarity and more protection against this. Moreover, SB966 evolved as a result of a detailed, rigorous, and widely vetted process. No one group achieved everything it wanted, but there were enough positive aspects to the bill that disparate groups such as the environmentalists and the energy providers all agreed to support the measure.
Finally, I believe that the oversight mechanisms and accountability requirements in the bill give us the tools to adequately monitor Dominion’s activities. The State Corporation Commission must report to the General Assembly, annually, regarding the appropriateness and competitiveness of Dominion Energy’s rate structure and Dominion’s adherence to the policy goals articulated in SB 966.
You may have read in Sunday’s Post (March 11, front page) an explanation of the METRO funding bill. Passing this bill was a huge victory for the Virginia General Assembly. Essentially, the bill raises $154 million through re-directing dollars available to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, the State Transportation Trust Fund and an increase in wholesale gasoline taxes in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. The outer NoVA jurisdictions are critical of the diversion of road dollars. However, it is likely that the Governor will reduce this diversion and probably recommend a slight increase in the grantor’s tax and transient occupancy tax, within the region, to make up the difference.
It is worth noting that Paul J. Wiedefeld, the General Manager of METRO, did an outstanding job of explaining and advocating for dedicated METRO funding. Moreover, the business interests, environmental groups and other NoVA players helped keep the METRO funding issue on the forefront and stayed united in their messaging. I also want to give a shout out to labor. Labor representatives were very professional and effective in demonstrating Labor’s contributions to making METRO work. In the end, we were able to change an anti-union provision which would have required a “right-to-work” clause to language that stated that “the hiring of union labor could neither be required nor prohibited.”
I worked on a bill, the Kinship Care Bill, for four years to make it possible for relatives to receive financial support if they provide a permanent home for kin in foster care; and I want to thank my Republican co-patron, Senator Dunnavant, for her help in getting this bill over the finish line. Relatives willing to participate in this program would have to agree to go through special training and also agree to the terms of a permanency arrangement, as directed by a Juvenile Court Judge. So many of the relatives volunteering to raise the next generation are grandparents living on social security or meager retirement income. The Kinship Care Bill requires Virginia to participate in a Federal program that will provide much of the financial support necessary to raise a child. The bi-partisan effort demonstrated to pass this bill and get it funded in both the House and Senate budgets was exemplary.
Governor Signs Bills to Protect Children
I am delighted to say that Governor Northam signed my two bills that close loopholes in the investigation and reporting of founded cases of child abuse when school employees are involved. Channel 4 was at the signing ceremony along with other advocates and representatives from a statewide group of Social Service Directors.
Teacher Shortage Issue
My bill enabling the Department of Education (DoE) to work with institutions of higher education to create and promote a four-year teacher preparation degree has passed both houses and is on the Governor’s desk. The Virginia Education Association (VEA) was very helpful in educating legislators about the value of this four-year option in encouraging more students to consider teaching as a career. I am delighted that this bill passed, but we still have more to do to address the teacher shortage.
Making Schools More Welcoming
My bill prohibiting lunch shaming was merged with Delegate Hope’s bill on the same topic and the final bill became even stronger than the two earlier proposals. We expect our schools to value every child and to provide every student with an equal opportunity to learn. Yet, when a child is singled out for a school lunch debt, this action sends a message that the child is different and less likely to succeed. The lunch shaming bill, soon to be signed by the Governor, prohibits the identification or shaming of any child with an outstanding lunch debt and requires that communication on this topic be directed to the parents.
Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline
One of my proudest accomplishments this session was passing reforms to our truancy laws. My bill, which passed both Houses, de-escalates the school to prison pipeline by requiring schools to prepare a plan that gets to the root cause of absenteeism and allows more time for this plan to work. The requirement in current law that states referrals to the Juvenile Court “shall be made” after certain steps are taken is now changed to “may be made.”
Overall, the session was more productive than expected and the better balance of Democrats to Republicans in the House of Delegates made a big difference in how bills were treated. I just want to note that steps taken to improve transparency and record committee votes have resulted in more serious Committee deliberations. This is an important element in the law-making process because many bills are defeated in committee and now constituents can better understand why.
Thank you for the opportunity to represent you in Richmond. I promise to keep you informed about deliberations in the upcoming special session. Looking forward to connecting soon!
March 2, 2018
The bills we debated this past week reflect stark philosophical differences between the Democrats and Republicans about the role of government in enforcing immigration law, promoting gun safety, and enhancing economic security. I attempt to capture the essence of these differences in the examples highlighted in this newsletter.
Making Communities Unsafe:
Unfortunately, a bill came forward that would prohibit a locality from adopting any “ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” Language already exists in the U.S. Constitution that addresses the supremacy of Federal law and ensures that State laws shall not take precedence over Federal policies. This bill is not solving a problem; it is a bill intended to send a very unwelcoming and hurtful message.
I passionately spoke against the bill and reminded the patron that immigration enforcement is a Federal responsibility, but keeping our neighborhoods safe is a local responsibility. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXaDVp1Vu_o ) Moreover, creating a safe community is not possible if our vulnerable neighbors fear the police because the police are attempting to do the job of ICE.
Unfriendly Labor Bills:
The Republican majority continues to promote legislation that undermines the ability of local governments to reflect community values when it comes to implementing business practices. HB 375 prohibits local governing bodies from requiring a wage floor or any other employee benefit or compensation above what is otherwise required by state or federal law to be provided by a contractor. The bill was aimed at jurisdictions that require certain contractors to pay staff a “living wage.” Myself and others reminded the body that contractors voluntarily apply for government jobs and all of the bidders must meet the same wage requirements, so nobody is disadvantaged. Unfortunately, the bill passed 21-19 on a party-line vote. I fully expect Governor Northam to veto this bill.
The Capitol is bustling with gun-safety activists who are educating lawmakers about sensible gun laws that could prevent mass shootings. We are hopeful that the Federal government will pass meaningful measures such as outlawing high-capacity magazines and raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21. But we are tired of waiting!
A Gun Violence Prevention Caucus has formed in the General Assembly. We are planning strategies to support the student led “Gun Safety Movement.” National advocacy groups with local chapters such as Everytown, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign, Moms Demand Action, and others are assisting the caucus in developing strategies to amplify the voices of the student advocates. I expect we will be looking for community partners in this timely and critical effort. Perhaps grassroots groups that were active in the 2017 election will be willing to engage on the gun safety issues. If you are interested, please sign-up here and I will help get folks connected.
Medicaid Expansion & Mental Health:
When the two bodies reach agreement on a budget, I fully expect Medicaid Expansion will be part of the agreement. Most studies estimate that approximately 77,000 Virginians suffering from mental health illness would gain access to needed health care services under Medicaid Expansion. Moreover, state dollars would be freed up to provide a more robust same-day access program, statewide, and on-going case management services for Virginians who are suffering with mental health issues. There are many reasons to support Medicaid Expansion, the availability of more mental health services is just one example, but a very important example.
Bills on the Governor’s Desk:
I am delighted to say that my education and child protection bills passed both Houses and are now on the Governor’s desk. I have discussed these bills in previous newsletters, so I will provide just a brief summary now. All of these bills enjoyed support from major stakeholder groups such as the Association of Superintendents, the Virginia Education Association, and Child Advocacy Groups.
--Reform of Truancy Law: This bill allows school systems more time to implement a corrective action plan that includes necessary community and support services to ensure that the child returns to school. The bill also makes referrals to Juvenile Court optional rather than mandatory. It goes a long way in breaking the school to prison pipeline and will create a cultural change within our school systems.
--Lunch Shaming Bill: This bill requires school boards to adopt policies to address any outstanding lunch debt with parents and to ensure that children are not shamed or identified, in any way, because of an outstanding debt. One school system in NoVA asked children to work in the cafeteria to “pay-off” a lunch debt. I am sure there were other such examples around the state.
--Four-Year Teacher Education Program: This bill directs the Department of Education to work with colleges and universities to create a four-year teacher education degree, rather than just offering a five-year teacher preparation program. This idea came from a workgroup that was tasked with finding ways to increase the teacher pipeline and presented to the Joint Commission on K-12 reform.
--Investigations of Alleged Child Abuse by School Employees: Two of my bills addressed issues related to the appeals process when there was a “founded” case of child abuse. Unfortunately, a teacher accused of sexual assault was hired by another school system while a two-year appeals process was underway. The Commission on Youth delved into this issue and recommended some legislative changes. These changes will go a long way in preventing the recycling of dangerous teachers or “passing the trash,” which is the nomenclature associated with similar reforms at the Federal level.
Bills Pending in the House:
--Increasing Fines for Criminal Violations of Zoning Code: I am hopeful that my bill to increase the cap from $1,000 to $2,000 for fines associated with criminal violations of a zoning ordinance, ultimately, passes the House. Criminal violations are violations that could affect an individual’s health or safety. It is also important to note that a cap for a much less serious, civil violation, is $2,500. Lastly, a criminal fine only applies if there is a conviction determined by a judge.
--Golf Course Bill: Some of you may be aware that Delegate Hugo introduced a bill that, essentially, directs Arlington County to adopt an open space ordinance for the purpose of assessing golf courses as open space. I argued on the floor of the Senate that this bill is unconstitutional since Article X, Section 2, of the Virginia Constitution specifically grants localities the authority to adopt or (not adopt) open space ordinances. Moreover, a court case is pending on the 2014 assessment related to the golf clubs (clubs). There may be legitimate concerns about the local assessment process. However, the resolution to these concerns needs to be informed by a judge's interpretation of the law and worked out between the clubs and the County, without interference from the State.
Next Week- Updates on the Budget:
I will keep you apprised of any changes in the “political winds” regarding movement on Medicaid Expansion or other budget issues, including funding for METRO.
It was great to hear from our friends and social justice advocates, Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE). VOICE members are always positive and very prepared when they speak with legislators. There was a rally on Capitol Square for Medicaid Expansion, VOICE and other groups participated in the rally. Governor Northam inspired the crowd with his unwavering commitment to expanding access to care for thousands of Virginians. Additionally, the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust reminded lawmakers about the importance of protecting our open spaces and vistas.
It is a pleasure and an honor to represent you. Rest assured, I will always fight for our Democratic values in Richmond.
February 23, 2018
On Thursday, the Senate passed a budget for the upcoming biennium that did not include Medicaid Expansion. The House budget does include this important program, and I am convinced that the seismic change in the House position is a result of the 2017 elections. Unfortunately, the Senators have not recently faced voters, so the Republican opposition to Expansion continues in spite of well-reasoned and passionate arguments. Due to a lack of Expansion funds, the Senate budget makes $420 million in cuts that the House budget directed toward improving access to healthcare for close to 400,000 individuals.
The reductions in the Senate budget cut across K-12 public education, higher education, public safety, mental health, and other important programs. In addition to the continued life and death consequences of denying thousands of Virginians greater access to healthcare, there was significant collateral damage associated with the Senate’s decision. I pleaded with Senators to do the right thing (https://youtu.be/NaMY9Ffdph4) but at the end of the budget floor debate, no Medicaid Expansion amendment passed and I voted against the budget bill. It is my hope that the budget conferees can find a pathway forward. I will do my best to assist with this task in any way possible.
Women’s Health—Hyde Amendment:
The Senate defeated an amendment offered by Senator Dick Black (R) that would have prohibited Virginia from participating in a program to provide low income women the same choices that other women have when they face the heart-wrenching decision of whether to carry a grossly deformed fetus to term. The amendment offered by Senator Black is commonly referred to as the Hyde amendment. Regardless of your views on abortion, I have always believed that low-income women should not be denied access to certain health care services simple because they cannot afford to pay for them. I spoke against the Black amendment.
Women’s Health - Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs):
I am delighted that language exists in both budgets to substantially fund a pilot program on LARCs. The program would be implemented with a strong educational component and careful medical monitoring. Studies show that when women can plan their families, both the mothers and the children are healthier. Family planning also enables women to more actively participate in the economy, another positive element that contributes to the health of families. A Colorado study showed significant saving in Medicaid costs after implementing a LARCS program, and Virginia lawmakers are hoping for the same result. The LARCs program is funded with federal TANF money and is a high-priority of Governor Northam.
Children & Families:
I am pleased to say that my Kinship Assistance program that will support relatives who agree to offer kin who are in foster care a permanent home is funded in both the House and Senate budgets. The State of Virginia can pay 75% of the costs associated with this program by drawing down federal funds, and studies show that children are better adjusted and perform better in school when they are being raised by relatives rather than in foster care.
As budget deliberations continue, I will keep you posted on other initiatives I requested funding for that are still in play. These initiatives focused on workforce training and the continuation of child care services for low-income mothers participating in a two-year certificate or educational program.
You may have read in the papers that the respective budget documents do not include funding mechanisms for METRO. I can assure you that an agreement will be reached on how to sustain and adequately fund METRO. The House and Senate proposals each have a spattering of funding ideas that address capital needs as well as operational needs. The idea to tax riders using Transportation Network Service providers such as Uber, Lift, and other similar providers has been removed from the bills.
Moreover, the realization that METRO is an economic engine that the Commonwealth should nurture and appreciate has finally hit home for some lawmakers. I do expect there will be some changes to the composition of the METRO Board, but hopefully we will look to “best practices” that have been implemented by other mass transit systems. Stay tuned.
Dominion Energy Bill:
It appears that language has been agreed to by all of the stakeholders, including our progressive friends and major environmental groups, addressing the “double dipping” provision. It is critical that Dominion be able to direct funds to important infrastructure projects, especially those that invest in alternative energy, but we do not want rate payers billed twice for these projects. Although earlier versions of the bill had some protections against “double dipping,” subsequent language provides even more clarity.
The oversight mechanisms and accountability requirements in the Dominion bill should give lawmakers and others the tools to adequately monitor Dominion’s progress towards important public policy goals. The State Corporation Commission must report to the General Assembly annually regarding the appropriateness and competiveness of Dominion Energy’s rate structure and Dominion’s adherence to the policy goals articulated in SB 966.
Net Metering Bill Goes to House:
Fortunately, my bills have been successfully moving through the House. Next week, I expect to present my net metering bill. This initiative would allow buildings to implement a solar generating energy component that can generate up to 125% of the previous 12 months’ usage. Current law keeps solar generators at the same capacity as the previous 12 months’ usage. The bill includes a provision for new structures that is not in current law. My bill also states that the owner of the solar systems can sell back excess energy to Dominion at wholesale prices. As with any successful piece of legislation, my bill is a tight compromise among the Sierra Club, Dominion Energy, and other stakeholders.
This week our office welcomed the senior government class from Langley High School, along with their teacher Allison Herzig, Assistant Principal Mary Landes, and several parents. Langley is one of the highest performing high schools in the state, and they recently won third place in the Virginia Science Bowl. We were pleased to also welcome visitors from the ARC of NoVa, the Arlington Free Clinic, Moms Demand Action, and the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
It is an honor and privilege to represent you in Richmond. I will always fight for our Democratic values.
February 16, 2018
A few times this session, I smiled warmly when Democratic lawmakers were able to shift the proverbial tide towards a fairer and more just Commonwealth. Some progress on Medicaid Expansion and the inclusion of better consumer protection elements in the Dominion Energy bill were two such examples. More details on these topics follow.
However, the shooting at a Florida high school this week demonstrated how backward the country is on addressing gun safety issues and the need for states to take more of a role in keeping us safe. Nikolas Cruz, the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had links on his Facebook page to a white supremacist group and he reportedly commented on YouTube that he would be a professional “school shooter.”
How did Nikolas get access to a firearm when school administrators, his fellow students, and the FBI all had reason to believe he was dangerous? Democrats reminded the Senate that bills to implement a true universal background check and ban bump stocks, among other bills, had been universally defeated by the Republican majority and called for a bi-partisan approach to coming up with a solution. Unfortunately, I am not hopeful that Virginia will make any progress on this issue this session. To get better policies, we have to change the decision-makers. I think we can agree that 2019 cannot come soon enough!
Regarding my education bills, I am particularly pleased that my bills to create an option for a shorter teacher preparation program, to provide more flexibility in addressing truancy issues, and to specify policies to prohibit “shaming children” when lunch fees are unpaid, seem to be surviving the deliberation process in the House.
A bill raising $150 million for the Metropolitan Washington Transit System (METRO) passed the Senate this past week. The bill enables Virginia to honor its share of the regional commitment necessary to draw down Federal funding and, most importantly, to provide an ongoing, dedicated source of revenue to METRO. Some state dollars are part of the $150M, along with slight increases in specific taxes associated with the Transient Occupancy Tax, Grantors Tax, and Real-Estate recordation tax. Fortunately, a gasoline floor proposal is part of the METRO funding and local leaders will be asked to dedicate some NVTC dollars to METRO. A House bill passed that falls short of the $150M, some experts expect the House version to raise only $100M. There will be more to discuss on this topic as the proposal grinds through the legislative process.
Unfortunately, my bill that would have allowed Fairfax County to issue permits to residents who are now prohibited from turning into their neighborhood streets during certain times failed on a 20-20 vote in the Senate. However, Delegate Murphy had a companion bill (HB295) in the House and it passed that body overwhelmingly. With help from Supervisor Foust and constituents in Great Falls and McLean, I am hopeful that Delegate Murphy’s bill will pass the Senate.
The Senate adopted an aspirational bill with bi-partisan support, although no funding mechanism was included, which moves us closer to agreement on an outline for a Medicaid Expansion proposal.
The bill (SB915) increases the income eligibility from 100 to 138 percent of the federal poverty level for uninsured Virginians. It extends program eligibility to individuals with a diagnosis of mental illness, substance use disorder, or a life-threatening or complex chronic medical condition. The benefit package would include inpatient hospital and emergency room services and requires that enrollees participate in the Commonwealth Coordinated Care Plus pilot program. Although not perfect, I voted for this bill in the Senate.
I did mention on the floor that SB915 was a step in the right direction, but we also need to provide on-going primary and preventive health services. We know that individuals and families have a much better chance of staying healthy if they have medical homes.
Short-Term Health Plans:
I am proud to say that the Senate passed a bill, commonly called the Gap Insurance Plan, that will enable individuals to purchase catastrophic health insurance for a period not to exceed 364 consecutive days. The Federal Affordable Care Act permits states to adopt such an option and data suggests that younger, healthier individuals might be inclined to select this plan. The deductible will be no more than $7,200 dollars and expensive, acute care services would be covered. We expect premiums for such a plan to be more reasonable than other insurance plans on the market. Any progress we can make to get more folks to purchase health insurance is a good thing!
Supporting our Hospitals & the Uninsured:
We must not limit access to care by causing harm to hospitals. The Senate debated reversing some Certificate of Public Need Requirements (COPN) to enable low cost profit-making services, now provided by hospitals, to enjoy stand-alone status with little or no obligation to provide charity care. Imaging services, colonoscopy procedures and other services were debated within the COPN context, but it became clear that low overhead procedures bring in revenue and allow hospitals to off-set some of the costs associated with serving those who need care but are uninsured. Although a small COPN repeal bill passed the Senate, the House has not viewed this topic favorably. I expect the topic to take more twists and turns as the General Assembly moves to a broader discussion about access to health care.
Reinvestment in our Power Grid–Energy Security:
A bill passed the Senate (SB 966) that repeals Dominion Energy’s 2015 rate freeze review and restores full regulatory oversight over Dominion (Hurray)! The bill also empowers the SCC to consider reducing rates in 2021 with no possibility of a rate increase for consumers. Additionally, Dominion is required to issue $200M in rate credits to consumers who were overcharged during the rate freeze period and to reduce power rates by an additional $125M. Another big benefit to the bill is the requirement that Dominion make $1.45B in investments in energy efficiency projects and low-income energy assistance over the next 10 years.
The Energy Security bill got even better in the House. The Democrats added a provision to prohibit the utility company from charging ratepayers twice for expensive projects to upgrade the grid and for investments in renewable energy. There will be more back and forth on this issue as the legislative session continues.
Once again, many groups visited the Capitol during the past week. I met with the Virginian Realtors Association, the Auto Dealers Association, local government leaders, advocates for local control over the school start date, the Dominion Equine Welfare group, the Virginia League of Women Voters, and the Girl Scouts, to name just a few of the organizations that made their voices heard in Richmond.
It is always an honor and privilege to represent you in Richmond. Rest assured, I will always fight for our Democratic values.
February 9, 2018
This session continues to be productive around certain “bread and butter” issues and narrow topics of fairness related to giving Virginians a second chance. However, there are seismic differences between the two parties when it comes to ensuring that women, our LGBTQ friends, individuals of color, or new immigrants equally enjoy the protections that the State confers on others.
A joint resolution asking Virginia to endorse the ERA amendment came before the Senate Rules Committee this morning, February 9. Many men and women were in the audience to speak to the resolution but realized that the Committee was not going to take a recorded vote. It was only through an organized and continued demonstration of displeasure over this decision that the Rules Committee decided to take a vote with a showing of hands. (see clip:https://youtu.be/4hrhaj7oOpU )
Drivers' Licenses and Court Fines
A Kinder and Gentler Law - On a positive note, I am delighted to say that a bill passed the Senate that will prohibit the courts from suspending an individual’s driver’s license for nonpayment of fines or costs. I had worked on this effort in the past and Governor McAuliffe had tried several times to get this proposal passed.
This time, a Republican from Franklin County, Senator Stanley, served as the chief patron of the bill and Democrats such as myself and others signed onto the bill as co-sponsors. The Washington Post wrote several articles on this topic and noted that one out of six Virginia drivers had lost a driver’s license because of their inability to pay court fines. These individuals were then forced to choose between driving without a license or acquiring more debt because they could not get to work to support their families. I argued on the floor of the Senate that, “It is time to give these folks a second chance. We should be passing public policies that enable individuals to make the right decisions.” The vote in the Senate was 33-6.
State Realizes our Economic Value - I am expecting a bill to pass out of the Senate that raises the $150M necessary to honor Virginia’s share of the regional commitment to draw down Federal funding and, most importantly, to provide an ongoing, dedicated source of revenue to the Metropolitan Washington Transit System (METRO). Some state dollars are part of the $150M, along with slight increases in specific taxes associated with the Transient Occupancy Tax and real estate recordation tax. Fortunately, a gasoline floor proposal is part of the METRO funding, and local leaders will be asked to dedicate some NVTC dollars to METRO. There is more to come on this topic as the proposal grinds through the legislative process. I am pleased that we have gotten this far!
Modernizing Virginia’s Sexting Laws - I advocated for a bill that establishes a misdemeanor category for sexting offenses involving minors sexting to minors within a consensual context. The current law only provides for a felony offense for such crimes. Moreover, a felony charge is very serious and can have long-lasting consequences on an individual’s life. As you know, most teens are unaware that sending partially nude or nude photos of themselves to a boyfriend or girlfriend is illegal. On the Senate floor, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-XLZ_oeHT8) I reminded lawmakers that a child’s ability to control impulses, in many cases, is not fully developed until a youth is 25 years old. In today’s world, 70 percent of teenagers over the age of 14 have texting devices, and approximately one-third of these teenagers have participated in some form of sexting. Next year, I will submit a bill to ensure that the topic of sexting is covered in our Family Life Education Programs.
Sexual Abuse in our Schools - I introduced bills recommended by the Commission on Youth (COY) to ensure that the reporting of founded cases of sexual abuse by teachers or school employees are handled in an expeditious and fair manner, with appropriate personnel informed, as necessary. These bills were the result of an in-depth study conducted by the Commission as a result of a situation where Child Protective Services investigated an allegation against an Arlington teacher and determined that the allegation was “founded,” but the teacher was hired by the Prince George’s County Public Schools before such information was available to those who needed to know. The bills were created with all stakeholders at the table, including the Virginia Education Association. My legislative proposals and House companion bills are successfully working their way through the process.
Educational Opportunities for Low-Income Folks - My budget amendment to provide $4M, over a two-year budget period, to the Virginia Community College system (VCCS) for scholarships to those receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and other low-income individuals is alive and well.
Cyber Security Certificate - This certificate is a much-needed credential for the many unfilled jobs in Northern Virginia related to cyber security. The NoVA Chamber, the VCCS, and other regional leaders, are lobbying aggressively for this appropriation, and I am helping as much as I can.
Credit Freeze Requests - My bill to eliminate fees associated with “freezing” a credit report was amended to reduce the fee from $10 per request to $5. This amendment made it possible for lawmakers to vote the bill out of Committee, so I consider the action a win. :)
Incentivizing Solar Energy - My bill allowing individuals and corporations to install solar generators at a larger capacity than current law will be heard on the Senate floor next week. My bill also allows excess energy to be sold back to the grid at wholesale prices.
Next Week - I will give an overview of the Dominion Energy Bill and why I think the Commonwealth gained enough public benefits to vote for the bill.
Visitors - As usual, my office was extraordinarily busy greeting visitors from Equality Virginia, Moms Demand Action, Indivisible Arlington, and local officials from Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun. This year more than ever, Virginians are involved with the legislative process and excited about having their voices heard.
It is a pleasure to represent you in Richmond and to fight for our Democratic values. Keep sending us your thoughts (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let us know how we can address issues important to you.
February 2, 2018
The General Assembly Committees are busy meeting in an attempt to dispose of more than 3,000 bills. Unfortunately, many bills are defeated in Committee meetings along party-line votes, but the Committee votes are now electronically recorded and the meetings are live-streamed. I often remind myself that these new transparency measures will be an invaluable tool in holding lawmakers accountable in our 2019 elections!
When bills do emerge from Committee meetings, they usually pass overwhelmingly in the House and Senate. I am proud to say that several of my bills are advancing along, and I fully expect they will be adopted by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor.
Voter Suppression - Unfortunately, there continues to be tension and policy disagreements between the two parties on topics related to voting. I passionately spoke against a “Voter Suppression” bill on the floor of the Senate that would have required electronic poll books to contain photos of voters from DMV records.
Many citizens, particularly older Virginians, do not have DMV issued picture licenses, so they would be disenfranchised under this bill The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that the incident rate of voter fraud is between 0.0003 and 0.0025. Clearly, voter fraud is not a problem. However, the low level of voter participation in our elections should be a concern. In past years, I have sponsored no-excuse absentee voting bills, but they have always died somewhere in the legislative process. Perhaps this session will be different. We can only hope.
Bump Stocks - Before I give you a summary of my recent successes, I want to advise you that my bump stock bill, ultimately, died in the Finance Committee. My bill prohibiting the manufacturing, sale, or use of bump stocks (devices used to increase the rate of fire of a semi-automatic weapon) was rolled into Senator Ebbin’s bill and referred to Finance. For a fleeting moment, I was hopeful that this common-sense bill would be reported out of Committee. However, the Finance Committee defeated the bill this week. Here is a sample of the presentations during the Committee’s deliberations:
In support of the ban: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7ZiP_GlO0w&t=28s
In opposition to the ban: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYvw3KcAGrU
Highlights of My Legislative Agenda:
Education & Youth Bills Reach the Senate Floor
Preventing Truancy: My bill to give parents, school systems, and students additional time to implement a corrective action plan addressing truancy before the schools must refer students to the JDR court has passed out of Committee. This proposal requires the school systems to work with families, and where appropriate, to make other community resources available to empower the student to attend school.
Lunch Shaming Bill: At the request of a church-based social justice advocacy group called Social Action Linking Together (SALT), I submitted a proposal that would prohibit school personnel from discussing an outstanding lunch debt with a student. The proposal further prohibits identifying the student or shaming the student in any way or requiring the student to “work–off” the debt. Under this bill, school systems must develop policies to address lunch debt that require communication be addressed to parents.
More Recess Time: I co-sponsored a bill with Senator Petersen that grants school systems the flexibility to expand recess time. Information presented to the Commission on Youth (COY) and the Education and Health Committee emphasized the importance of physical activity to the healthy development of children. This bill has just passed out of the Senate and is on its way to the House.
Kinship Care Bill - This is the fourth year I have submitted a bill to financially help relatives who come forward to take care of kin who have been placed in foster care. My bill would enable the State to draw down Federal money to assist these extended families, once a permanency arrangement is agreed to and sanctioned by a JDR court. Foster children have fewer emotional problems and perform better in school when they are placed in the homes of relatives. Although the bill is likely to pass the Senate, a small fiscal impact may prevent the proposal from being funded in the budget. The statewide association of social service directors and the faith community is helping to advocate for this bill. The Family Foundation is also working the Republican side of the aisle on behalf of this bill. I am very hopeful that my Kinship care proposal gets funded this year.
Agreement Reached on Net Metering Bill - I am excited to say that the Sierra Club and Dominion Energy have reached a compromise on my net metering bill. This proposal would allow residential solar users to capture solar energy up to 125% of their previous 12-month usage pattern and sell back any excess energy to Dominion at wholesale prices. Hopefully, the bill will pass out of Labor and Commerce on Monday.
Local Authority Bills Defeated Along Party Lines - My bill giving local governments, including cities, towns, and counties, the authority to rename highways within their jurisdictions died in the Transportation Committee. Other bills sponsored by Democratic Senators, giving localities authority to move statues to museums or other public places where more extensive markers and contextual information could be provided, were defeated as well.
I plan on advocating for a bi-partisan bill that allows prosecutors to apply a misdemeanor charge rather than a felony charge for sexting among adolescents, as long as the sexting is consensual and not meant to demean, harass, or embarrass an individual. Many young folks are being charged with felonies and face the possibility of being placed on a “Sex Offender Registry” for an action that they did not understand was a serious violation of the law and could result in life-altering consequences.
I greeted many visitors to the State Capitol this week. Among the many I met with were staff from Wolf Trap for the Performing Arts and Arlington’s own Signature Theater. This was Celebration of the Arts Week and it was fun to see so many advocates engaged with their lawmakers.
Additionally, I visited with the “Decoding Dyslexia” group and discussed the challenges associated with training teachers to identify dyslexia. Friends from the Jewish Community Relations Council talked to me about sensible gun safety measures and the expansion of Medicaid. We strategized about how to make Medicaid Expansion a reality in the Commonwealth.
I was delighted to see advocates from the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia. I discussed some budget amendments that I submitted to help those with developmental disabilities access more community-based services.
Thank you for reading this newsletter. It is an honor and a privilege to represent you in Richmond. Contact my office for updates on issues of interest to you or send us an email (email@example.com) if you have an opinion you would like to share.
January 26, 2018
Once again, this was a busy week in the General Assembly. Medicaid expansion bills were referred to the Finance Committee without much debate. However, Governor Northam’s budget claims more than $400 million in savings as a result of expanding Medicaid. It is my hope that the Finance Committee makes it clear that education and other health care programs will suffer if Virginia does not access the Federal money available to ensure more working Virginians. Here is one of my floor speeches on this topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ywz8QYmD0g
Several bills are coming up that are aimed at voter suppression. I will be working with advocacy groups to defeat these bills. The Democrats in the Senate are backing bills to make voting easier and to ensure that the voting process on election day runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
Kings Dominion Law: Unfortunately, my bill granting local school boards the authority to set their own calendars died in committee. This was an effort to reverse the “Kings Dominion” law which requires school systems to start after Labor Day. The hearing was very interesting. I informed the Committee that over 60% of school districts have currently been granted a waiver from the Kings Dominion Law. Moreover, I noted that my bill would require school systems to close school for the Thursday before Labor Day through the Tuesday after Labor Day to address concerns from the amusement park owners. Finally, I argued that Advanced Placement tests are administered based on a Federal schedule and students attending school before Labor Day have more time to prepare for these tests. Even though my bill received a lot of support from the education committee, lawmakers had already decided how they were going to vote before the case was presented.
Best Practices to Prevent Truancy: My bill to grant school systems more flexibility in working with parents and other professionals to address the causes of truancy and ultimately keep children in school, passed out of subcommittee. This was an initiative of the Fairfax Public Schools.
Keeping Children and Youth Safe
Child Protective Services: Two of my bills passed the Senate that make the investigation and reporting of child abuse allegations against a school employee more seamless. One bill requires Child Protective Services to inform the Superintendent of Education, without delay, if a teacher is the subject of a “founded” allegation of child abuse. The second bill requires that Child Protective Services inform the School Board if the subject of a “founded” allegation of child abuse was a school employee at the time the incident took place. This bill fixed a gap in current law that did not require reporting to the school board of past employees with “founded” allegations of child abuse. Both of these proposals were recommended by the Commission on Youth and supported by the Virginia Education Association.
Unfortunately, my bill to add “medically accurate” language as a qualifier in the preparation of Family Life lessons addressing human sexuality and reproduction failed. But the phrase “evidence-based” was emphasized in other parts of the code. This is a partial win.
Substance Abuse on College Campuses: My bill directing the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board to establish an Advisory Committee on how to best promote educational, prevention, and intervention strategies related to illegal substance abuse on campuses overwhelming passed the Senate. This initiative came about through my work on the COY and the recognition that college students are dying because of lack of information on the damaging effects of even one-time use of illegal recreational drugs. Peer counseling strategies were specifically mentioned as a best practice approach in my bill.
Renewable Energy and the Environment
Solar Energy: I am working with the Sierra Club and Dominion Energy to pass a bill that will enable homeowners to capture solar energy and sell back excess energy at wholesale prices to Dominion. We are very close to agreement on this initiative and I am hopeful the bill will pass next week.
Pedestrian Safety: Unfortunately, my bill to protect pedestrians in crosswalks failed on a party-line vote. I narrowed this bill considerably, requiring that cars only stop when the pedestrian was crossing in front of the car’s lane. Nonetheless, this bill seemed to be too much government for some lawmakers.
Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants: It was heartbreaking to see hard-working immigrant individuals stand before the Transportation Committee and simply ask for a license so they could care for their families and go to work each day. The DMV said that a provisional license could be prepared that specifically stated, on its face, that such a license could only be used for driving purposes and not for any other identification purposes. Senator Surovell worked hard on this bill and I will double my efforts next year to get such a bill passed.
The Urban League visited my office and the organization was well represented by a group of NOVA Young Professionals. Additionally, I enjoyed meeting representatives of the Humane Society and One Virginia 2021, an organization advocating for non-partisan redistricting.
Finally, the week ended with advocates from across the state rallying in Richmond for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. It is always a pleasure to meet with folks who are passionate about an issue and are motivated by the arguments of fairness and justice.
It is an honor to represent you and our Democratic values in Richmond. Please contact my office at (804)698-7531 on issues important to you or to lend your voice to the battles ahead.
January 19, 2018
The week began with a very contentious debate on the Senate floor, but we made some progress on non-controversial bills.
Senator Stanley from Franklin County, which includes several counties and localities, mid-state, along the North Carolina border, asked for a retroactive license for a shuttered hospital in Patrick County, a hospital also in his district. The hospital was closed last summer due to “quality of care” violations enforced under Medicare regulations. Moreover, there is a high percentage of uninsured individuals in the area. Yet, their elected representatives, including Senator Stanley, have consistently voted along party lines and refused to expand Medicaid. This hospital situation has brought Medicaid expansion to the forefront of our legislative work. I pray we can make progress on insuring our hard-working fellow Virginians.
The Women’s Health Care Caucus, which I chair in the Senate, submitted a number of bills to protect a woman’s access to first trimester abortions and primary and preventive care. All of these bills were defeated by the Republican majority in Committee. Two of the proposals presented are noted below.
My bill to repeal the law that could make clinics subject to many of the physical regulations that hospitals must meet was defeated, even after I cited the Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman versus Hellerstedt! This decision stated that Targeted Regulations Against Abortion Providers (TRAP) requirements emanating from this law placed medically unnecessary and unconstitutional burdens on women attempting to access first trimester abortions.
Additionally, a bill was put forth by Senator McClellan to enable low-income women to access state funded abortions resulting from rape or incest which is current law but McClellan’s bill removed the requirement that the survivor had to report these crimes to police.
Next week, members of the caucus will be advocating for paid family leave and other bills to enhance economic fairness for women. I continually remain hopeful. :)
Set Back on DACA:
A Republican-led Senate committee on Thursday defeated a bill that would have given in-state tuition rates to beneficiaries of an Obama-era program that shields the children of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Progress on Education:
My bill to enable prospective educators to achieve a teaching degree in four years, rather than five years, passed out of the Senate unanimously and will proceed to the House of Delegates. This bill is a result of weeks of investigation and study into how we can make teaching a more desirable profession. It was a recommendation from the subcommittee I chair on School Leadership and Academic Outcomes.
Extreme Positions on Gun Safety Prevail:
The Senate Courts of Justice committee defeated or sent to the Finance Committee a slew of Democrat-sponsored bills this week, including bills I introduced requiring owners to report lost or stolen firearms; enabling local jurisdictions to ban the “open carry of firearms” in permitted peaceful demonstrations, and banning the sale and use of “bump stocks,” devices that enable firearms to fire like semi-automatic weapons,
Many people spoke in support of these legislative proposals, including two members of the Charlottesville City Council, Councilors Kathleen M. Galvin and Dr. Wesley Bellamy. Additionally, the President of the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice and representatives of Moms Demanding Action also spoke to the committee in support of these bills. Lastly, the Committee was advised that 80% of Virginians supported the common sense measures put forth. Surprisingly, these arguments were not embraced.
Women Continue to be at Risk:
Additionally, a bill was put forth by Senator McClellan to enable low-income women to access state funded abortions resulting from rape or incest which is current law but McClellan’s bill removed the requirement that the survivor had to report these crimes to police.
Progress on Education:
My bill to enable prospective educators to achieve a teaching degree in four years, rather than five years, passed out of the Senate unanimously and will proceed to the House of Delegates. This bill is the result of weeks of investigation and study into how we can make teaching a more desirable profession. It was a recommendation from the subcommittee I chair on School Leadership and Academic Outcomes.
Extreme Positions on Gun Safety Prevail:
The Senate Courts of Justice committee defeated or sent to the Finance Committee a slew of Democrat-sponsored bills this week, including bills I introduced requiring owners to report lost or stolen firearms; enabling local jurisdictions to ban the “open carry of firearms” in permitted peaceful demonstrations and banning the sale and use of “bump stocks,” devices that enable firearms to fire like semi-automatic weapons,
Many people spoke in support of these legislative proposals, including two members of the Charlottesville City Council, Councilors Kathleen M. Galvin and Dr. Wesley Bellamy, Additionally, the President of the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice and representatives of Moms Demanding Action also spoke to the committee in support of these bills. Lastly, the Committee was advised that 80% of Virginians supported the common sense measures put forth. Surprisingly, these arguments were not embraced.
Women Continue to be at Risk:
Senate Bill 732, which was also on the docket for the Senate Courts of Justice Committee this week, would require a perpetrator convicted of two misdemeanors for sexual assault of a household member or two misdemeanors of stalking offenses to give up possession of firearms for two years before petitioning the Court for firearm restoration rights. I introduced the legislation in a previous General Assembly session and continue to advocate for policies that prevent the escalation of domestic violence.
About 4,000 women die each year due to domestic violence and studies have indicated that a woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increases 500% if the abuser has access to a firearm but the Republican controlled committee defeated SB732.
Votes Against Inclusiveness:
Republican committee members also voted to defeat my legislation intended to expand the hate crimes statute to include those with disabilities (SB45) and other categories of individuals who could be victims of crimes as the result of their gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity (SB112).
It’s always a pleasure to welcome friends, neighbors and advocates to Capitol Square. This week we saw friends from the Virginia Family Law Coalition, the New Virginia Majority (an advocacy group dedicated to democracy, justice and progressive policies), the Arlington County Community Services Board and representatives of the Northern Virginia Builders Association. It was also a treat to visit with Alex Campbell, a young man who was the poster child for a bill I passed a few years ago to prohibit seclusion and restraint in our public schools. A crew from Dateline taped my interview with Alex.
I hope you’ll consider a visit to Capitol Square during this legislative session. Please call my office at (804) 668-7531 to schedule a meeting.
It is always a pleasure and an honor to represent you in the General Assembly. I look forward to continuing to fight for our Democratic values in Richmond!
January 12, 2018
It is always exhilarating and humbling to sit in the Chamber as the President of the Senate gavels an unruly body of 40 Senators into order. On January 10th, Lieutenant Governor (LG) Ralph Northam did just that. The next day, LG Northam presided over the Senate for the last time. We wished him well and sent him off to be inaugurated as the 72nd Governor of Virginia. The Inauguration will take place on Saturday, January 13th.
Highlights of My Week
Transparency: Committee votes will now be recorded and live-streamed, so Virginians can hear the substantive debates on bills as they work their way through the process. Most bills, especially controversial ones, face their defeat in Committee meetings. This long overdue bit of sunshine will enable Virginians to see for themselves how seriously lawmakers are tacking issues important to them. The link to view meetings can be found under the “Members and Session” tab of the virginiageneralassembly.gov website.
Education: Option for Four-Year Teaching Degree - I am proud to say that my bill SB76 to enable prospective teachers potentially to gain a teaching degree in four years, rather than five, passed out of the Senate Health & Education Committee unanimously. This will reduce the opportunity cost of becoming a teacher, a factor that weighs heavily on prospective teachers who have incurred a large school debt, yet they have the desire to enter an important but low-paying profession.
Children & Families: Kinship Care Bill - My bill (SB44) provides support payments to relatives who are willing to offer kin in foster care a permanent home. It passed out of the Rehab and Social Services Committee but was referred to Finance. More than 75% of the cost of this kinship program, called “Fostering Futures,” is born by the Federal Government. I really hope the money committees can find the $45,000 to start this program.
On a lighter note, my bill to help small business that bake alcohol infused confectionery products obtain an ABC license, so they may continue to grow their businesses, passed out of committee as well.
Next week my gun safety bills go before the Courts of Justice Committee. I am hoping that the November election will make some lawmakers more open to common-sense approaches, but we will see.
Your emails and support are crucial to the legislative process. It is an honor to represent you and to fight for our values.