Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2018 Session - Crossover

I had a dream so big and loud
I jumped so high I touched the clouds
Wo-o-o-o-o-oh, wo-o-o-o-o-oh...

I'm never gonna look back
Woah, never gonna give it up
No, please don't wake me now

~American Authors, "Best Day of My Life"

We are officially halfway through the 2018 Session.

I knew coming in to the session that it would be different than any of my previous four. After all, we have a new Governor, a new Speaker, and 19 new members, including 16 new members of my caucus, bringing the balance of power from 66-34 to 51-49.

With several races not decided until just before session, we got off to a slow start in early January. We spent more time than usual getting committees organized, causing bills to be heard a little bit later than normal.

That said, the last two weeks more than made up for that slow start.

I presented bills to subcommittees that had as many as 60 bills on their docket for a single meeting. One evening, I had the last 3 bills on the docket and didn't present until 9:30pm. The good news is, one of them even passed.

Early mornings and later nights are not a new thing for session, nor is having multiple bills in different committees at the same time. We also had a few intense floor debates. When I speak on the House floor, I try to get video clips and then post them on my YouTube Channel or Facebook page.

Crossover, the deadline for when all House and Senate bills must be acted on in their house of origin in order to "crossover" to the other house, is this week. It was another long day on the House floor as we reviewed hundreds of bills before voting to send them to the Senate.

Big Issues Update

Rate Freeze | Dominion Bill

This bill passed - I voted yes after the double-dip was successfully removed from the bill. This is a good article discussing what happened on the House floor yesterday.

Felony Larceny Threshold

Bills to raise the felony larceny threshold to $500 passed both houses. While not as big an increase as I would have liked, any increase would have been impossible under the old balance of power.

Metro Funding

Very different solutions to providing a dedicated source of funding came out of the House and the Senate. I voted NO on Delegate Tim Hugo’s bill which contained unnecessary anti-union provisions that misplace the blame for Metro’s woes. I expect to be able to vote for a bill that emerges from the Senate or a conference committee before session is over.

Student Loan Debt

For those that have followed my legislative agenda or my social media pages over the years, you know that I've been working on tackling the student loan debt crisis. On Tuesday, I participated in a tele-town hall with Delegate Marcia Price and Anna Scholl of Progress Virginia, discussing student loan debt legislation as well as taking questions from the audience. The State Innovation Exchange (SiX) hosted the town hall.

Personal Use of Campaign Funds

Later in the week, I was pleased to work with my fellow members of the House Courts Committee and Delegate Mark Cole on HB 122, which addresses personal use of campaign finance. This is another issue that I've been working on since my first session and I'm pleased that the legislation is moving forward.

My Legislative Update

At the halfway point of Session (also known as Crossover), I am happy to report that I have 6(!) bills that have passed the House and will move to the Senate for consideration:

HB 287 | This bill will create a specialty license place with the legend "Stop Gun Violence." It took a few years, but we collected the required 450 pre-paid applications and now the bill will be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee later this week.

HB 311 | I carried this bill for the Virginia Realtors Association which handles unlawful detainers in the case of a foreclosure.

HB 339 | This bill requires universities and colleges to work with student loan borrowers to establish a payment schedule once an account is 60 days past due. Previously, higher education institutions would refer the account to a debt collection agency when it became past due.

HB 690 | This bill removes the residency requirements for registrars in localities with a population less than 15,000.

HB 911 | This bill requires companies offering a recurring contract or automatic renewal to clearly state the terms and conditions of the contract while also requiring the company to acquire the consumer's consent before entering this type of contract.

HB 1424 | This bill clarifies the Code of Virginia when it comes to how many recounts a candidate is afforded.

You can view all the bills I introduced this year online.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2018 Session - Week 3

It's gettin' it's gettin' it's gettin' kinda hectic
It's gettin' it's gettin' it's gettin' kinda hectic

~Snap, "The Power" 

Things are getting so busy around here, I’m finally sending out my weekly Monday e-mail on Wednesday night!

After our initially slow start, last week made up for lost time as committees and subcommittees began their regular schedule.

Midweek, Appropriations staff briefed my colleagues and I on the Governor's budget. We won't have a floor debate on the new state budget for a few more weeks. We also won't know what member requested budget amendments will be included until that gets closer. However, you can view the full budget and the proposed amendments online now.

Legislative Update

Here's an update on some of my legislation that was heard last week:

HB 287 - The House Transportation Committee reviewed HB 287, which would create a specialty license place with the legend "Stop Gun Violence." I'm pleased to say that the Committee passed the bill and it will be in front of the full House this week. This bill has taken nearly two years to come to fruition, primarily due to all the hard work of local gun violence prevention advocates who collected over 500 prepaid applications.

HB 76 - This bill would create a Virginia Honest Ads Act, making the process of purchasing political advertisements more transparent and simply hold online ads to the same disclosure requirements to which print media, television, and radio advertisements are already subject. Members of the House Privileges & Elections subcommittee saw the merits of this bill, but wanted to make a few tweaks to the language. So, they voted to pass the bill by for the week until the subcommittee meets again, giving me the opportunity to address their concerns. HB 1424 - This bill clarifies the Code of Virginia when it comes to how many recounts a candidate is afforded. I'm happy to to report that the House Privileges & Elections Committee voted unanimously to pass the bill and that it will now go to the full House.

HB 498 - This bill would have repealed the blanket agreement for concealed handgun permit reciprocity that was passed during the 2016 Session.

Monday, January 22, 2018

2018 Session - Week 2

A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view
No one to tell us no
Or where to go
Or say we're only dreaming
A whole new world
A dazzling place I never knew
But when I'm way up here
It's crystal clear
That now I'm in a whole new world with you

Now I'm in a whole new world with you

~A Whole New World, "Disney’s Aladdin"

During the first full week of the 2018 General Assembly Session, I had 3 bills up in subcommittee and 2 of them passed to the next step in the process unanimously.

Last year, all my bills died in subcommittee on unrecorded voice votes.

I had a third bill - to repeal a law that allows the Virginia Department of Corrections to obtain death penalty drugs in secrecy without revealing the drug maker, the ingredients or any other pertinent details about the lethal injection drug protocol they are using - die on a party line vote, but without the new administration speaking out against it.

With 16 New Democratic Delegates, a 51-49 partisan split in the House of Delegates and a new Governor and Cabinet, things in Richmond feel much different than they have in previous sessions.

A Whole New Administration

Things got off to a bit of a rocky start last week, when we heard from our new Governor as he addressed a joint assembly of the House and Senate last Monday night. While the Governor laid out a policy agenda for the coming year that wasn’t all that different from the platform he campaigned on, Republicans complained Tuesday morning that his tone was too partisan.

While they held a press conference to complain about the new Governor’s tone, I was happy to kick off a press conference for the House Democratic Caucus that focused on non-partisan issues designed to improve life for hard working Virginia families. It featured my bill to raise the Minimum Wage in Virginia over the next several years to $15 an hour along with a bill to make sure women receive equal pay for equal work, to ease the burden of student loan debt, and to provide paid family and medical leave to all Virginians.

Later in the week, I gave a floor speech acknowledging the Majority leader’s call for all of us to embrace bi-partisan initiatives by reminding him that my bill to ban the personal use of campaign funds had bi-partisan support during the recently concluded Gubernatorial campaign, and that legislators from both parties had introduced bills to accomplish this during the 2018 session.

By the end of the week, Governor Northam had met with members of the Republican leadership and bills were beginning to move through subcommittees to be considered on their merits, without regard to the party of the patron. I hope that we can continue to work together for the remaining weeks of the session to get things done - particularly to find a way to provide health care coverage for over 400,000 Virginian’s through some form of Medicaid Expansion.

Legislative Update

In the meantime, here’s an update on the bills I’ve filed that have been heard do far:

HB 311 - I'm carrying this bill on behalf of the Virginia Association of Realtors. The bill passed the Courts subcommittee unanimously and will be heard by the full Courts Committee sometime this week.

HB 1056 - This bill the personal needs allowance for individuals in nursing homes who are on Medicaid. The current allowance is $40/mo. in Virginia and this bill will raise it to $150/mo. to bring the amount more in line with other states. The subcommittee of Health, Welfare, & Institutions voted to refer the bill to the Appropriations Committee for further review.

HB 100 - As I mentioned earlier in the email, this bill would have ended the secrecy surrounding the procurement and usage of the drugs used in lethal injections. It was defeated in a Courts subcommittee last Friday.

You can also view my legislative agenda for this year.

Monday, January 15, 2018

2018 Session - Week 1

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

~The Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"

We gaveled in the 2018 General Assembly Session at noon on Wednesday, January 10th. Since this is a long session, we'll meet for 60 days.

Many of us have been watching since Election Day to see what the final make up of the House of Delegates would be. I was really hopeful we’d wind up 50-50 with real power sharing until we picked up a 51st seat in the 28th House District.

As it turns out, Shelley Simonds conceded her race a few hours before session and the 4th Circuit denied our motion to block the seating of the Republican in the 28th house district, so we start the season with the new makeup of the House 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats.

That is still an amazing and historic change of composition, as Democrats picked up 15 seats. As a result, I was very busy working with the leadership of our Caucus as we negotiated rules that preserve some semblance of proportionality on committees AND subcommittees - which is a first.

Subcommittee votes will now be recorded, another major concession from previous sessions.

Although we weren’t successful in getting a change to allow the leaders of each party to appoint their own members to committees, the Speaker did, in some cases, take into account our preferences for committee membership. After four years in the House, I am now on three committees:

  • Court of Justice
  • Militia, Police, & Public Safety
  • Science & Technology
I'm particularly excited to be on Courts as it is a new committee for me and will give me the opportunity to work on criminal justice reform, civil procedure, and changes to the Code of Virginia. I’ve already had more than 8 bills of mine referred to Courts, where we hear between 1/5 up to a 1/4 of all legislation that’s introduced.

Former Governor McAuliffe delivered his farewell address on Wednesday, highlighting the successes of his administration as well as the "rough patches" in his relationship with the Republican leadership.

Over the weekend, Governor Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring were sworn into office on the Capitol steps. You can view the transcript of Governor Northam's inaugural speech here. 2018 Legislative Issues Survey

As I mentioned in my last email, my 2018 Survey is now available online and I'd love to hear from you. Please take a moment to let me what state-related issues are important to you.

During Session, you can always reach out to my office with constituent issues and legislative concerns:

Mailing Address | Pocahontas Building | 900 E. Main Street | Room 224W | Richmond, VA 23219

Email | DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov

Phone | (804) 698-1053

You can also view my legislative agenda for this year.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Governor's Budget

It’s going to be a much different year in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017 with Democrats having secured at least a 50-50 tie in the Chamber pending the outcome of a disputed election in Fredericksburg.

Democrats seem likely to be in a position to insist on a power sharing arrangement that allows us to Chair committees and possibly control the speaker’s gavel. As of this writing many of those details remain to be worked out, but be assured that I will revisit them in upcoming columns as session approaches.

Meanwhile, earlier this week outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe unveiled his final biennial state budget, and in it, his last and best effort to provide health care to the over 400,000 Virginians who make too much money to qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage and not enough to afford even subsidized insurance in a health care exchange or in the open market by expanding Medicaid in Virginia.

The two-year budget plan relies on savings that will be realized only if we accept the roughly $6 million dollars a day that Medicaid expansion would provide and use it to pay for essential services that we've paid for from the General Fund instead for the last four years.

Two years ago, the Governor introduced a budget that used the savings to be realized from expanding Medicaid to lower the state's corporate tax rate. The thought was that Republicans love a good corporate tax cut more than they hated Obamacare, and that would give them cover to accept Medicaid expansion while doing something that would help McAuliffe lure more companies to Virginia to help diversify our economy.

Only he miscalculated. It turned out Republicans hated Obamacare more than they loved the idea of cutting corporate taxes.

This year the approach is different, and with the new make-up of the General Assembly, which now likely includes at last 50 Democrats, and possibly 51 depending on the result of pending recounts and lawsuits, it just might work.

Overall, things are looking good. Revenue forecasts are looking up and our unemployment rate is down to 3.6% - the lowest in nearly a decade. General Fund collections exceeded the official forecast by more than $134 million. Over the next biennium, the General Fund revenue forecast is just over $42 billion.

The Governor’s top budget priorities are funding vital public services like the Standards of Quality for public education and the existing Medicaid program.

Other highlights from this year's budget include:
  • Funding to automate the teacher license application system and to support principal recruitment and retention in our hardest-hit school divisions.
  • Updating Virginia’s education formulas including the Standards of Quality, which will add $436 million in education funding over the next two year.
  • In the area of workforce development, $1 million in new funding is added to the budget for two-week cybersecurity camps dedicated to exposing high school students to careers in this rapidly growing industry.
  • Children can’t learn if they are hungry, so we’ve added $2 million to support our breakfast incentive funding, which has dramatically improved participation in our high-need elementary schools.
  • There is $4 million in increased funding for the New Economy Workforce Credential tuition assistance program to address the high demand of students wishing to participate in the program.
  • In an effort to make Virginia a little greener, $2 million to support the development of the solar industry in Virginia. $110 million in Commonwealth Transportation Capital Projects Revenue Bonds for mass transit projects in FY 2020 to maintain the state’s commitments to these services.
  • In addition to expanding Medicaid, the budget provides Full funding for the revised Medicaid forecast for foster care and adoption programs and Children’s Services Act caseloads as well as funding to support 825 additional Medicaid waiver slots over the course of the biennium for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
  • I’m excited about funds that will allow Virginia to continue to make strides in the way we treat people living with Mental Illness in Virginia, including $11 million to begin primary care screening and monitoring at the Community Service Boards, $1 million for the creation and expansion of mental health dockets in jurisdictions with high caseloads, $2.9 million to establish special units and programs for seriously mentally ill inmates and $10 million to support medication-assisted treatment for individuals who seek help with opioid addiction, through our Community Service Boards.
  • Finally, the budget includes a 2% raise for state employees, including teachers, law enforcement, and state agency workers.
In year’s past a budget that includes these priorities might have been viewed as Dead on Arrival. With a 50/50 House of Delegates, well, not so fast. Should be an interesting session.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

When we vote, We win

I was always the crazy one
Who broke into the stadium . . .

How do you like me now
How do you like me now
Now that I'm on my way
Do you still think I'm crazy standing here today?

~Toby Keith, “How Do You Like Me Now?”

All the votes have been cast, most of the ballots counted, and in addition to a Democratic sweep of all three statewide offices, as it currently stands the Virginia House of Delegates will have 49 Democrats and 48 Republicans next year, with three races still too close to call. Although the outcome of the state sponsored recounts is not certain, Democrats are favored to win one and Republicans appear poised to hold off challengers in the other two.

That would result in a House of Delegates evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, 50-50. This has only happened once before in recent memory, after the 1999 elections. During my four years in the House of Delegates, Republican have held a 2-1 margin with Democrats having no more than 34 seats.

What a difference a year makes.

Things look much brighter today than they did in November of 2016, as we all wondered how bad a President Trump could be, and whether Democrats could ever win anything ever again. Many of us took solace in the fact that Hillary Clinton carried Virginia.

Most everyone agrees that Virginia is no longer a "purple" state up for grabs by either party. No, after this week we're as blue as the ocean.

How did it happen? What drove it? Well, in addition to wanting to send a message to Donald Trump, Virginians decided to embrace our diversity. As a result, the House of Delegates will look a lot more like Virginia in 2018.

All fifteen of the seats we have flipped or may flip are seats that were held by white men. Eleven of those were won by women. That will bring the total number of women in the General Assembly to twenty-six. We’ve also elected our first transgender delegate, our first two Latina delegates, our first lesbian delegate, and our first Asian American woman delegate.

Now, about those recounts.

In the 28th House District in Stafford there is an 84 vote margin and in the 40th House District in Fairfax a 115 vote margin. In the 94th House District race in Newport News, we trail by only TEN (10) votes. Never let anyone tell you that your vote doesn't count.

As I said before, one likely scenario is a 50-50 split. That said, there are other possibilities.

Even if the Republicans retain control of the House, they will be spread pretty thin. They’ve lost chairs for four committees: Militia, Police, & Public Safety, Science & Technology, Transportation, and Courts of Justice. Their near supermajority of delegates will have dwindled to at most a single vote. With such a small majority, they will have to relearn how to work with Democrats. It won’t be easy to steamroll the things that they don’t like anymore.

If the Democrats win complete control of the House, it will be the first time since 1999. It also means that one third of our caucus will be brand new. We’ll go from being the opposition party playing defense against the worst legislative proposals to the party that governs.

A 50-50 split in the House also has huge implications for the upcoming 2018 Session and beyond. It will be a cage match, figuring out power-sharing, electing a Speaker we can all agree on, and possibly even a new Clerk of the House.

All these scenarios mean change is coming to the General Assembly. That change should be good for Falls Church and the values of our community. It will mean you have a Delegate who can't be ignored, not anymore. A Delegate who will finally get on some good committees, and may even chair one of them. There is a lot still to unfold, but all of it is good - much better than a year ago. That's for sure.

Thank you to all of you that voted, that encouraged your friends and neighbors to vote. Thank you to those that volunteered their time to work on a campaign. And a special thanks to Win Virginia, Code Blue, Indivisible Virginia, Network NoVA - to all the groups that never wavered in their determination and enthusiasm to make sure that we elected more Democrats across the state. 

You proved it - When we vote, we win!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Government that works for you

I'm on my way I'm making it, huh!
I've got to make it show yeah, hey!
So much larger than life
I'm gonna watch it growing...

The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I'm smarter than that,
I worked it out
I'll be stretching my mouth to let those big words come right out

~Peter Gabriel, "Big Time"

Something is in the air these days.

Most years there are only a few issues people want to talk to me about on the campaign trail. What's going on in their kid's schools, what can I do to make their commute a little easier, and are we doing enough to keep their families safe. Education, transportation, public safety.

Some folks are particularly passionate about common sense gun safety laws, protecting a woman’s right to control her own medical decisions without interference from politicians, and most of my constituents are confident that the science that tells us man-made climate change is wreaking havoc with our environment.

In addition to the issues that affect them and their families directly, my constituents have always been concerned about the plight of the less fortunate. I've always had plenty of support for my efforts to shore up the holes in the social safety net and make sure the most vulnerable among us are protected.

This year, though, the term "economic insecurity" has become a new buzzword. Many people think it explains our recent Presidential election, and the strong feelings of many that the current system is in need of a major disruptor-in-chief to shake things up.

What are Democrats and folks like you, Delegate Simon, going to do about that? That’s the tough question I’ve been hearing most lately.

The truth is there is a lot that I and my Democratic colleagues have been doing - or trying to do. We recognize that the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is corrosive to our form of participatory democracy.

A Living Wage, Paid Sick Days, & Student Loan Debt

Virginians working hard at a full time job ought to earn a living wage - to make enough to meet their basic human needs. While this may not be something that folks reading this e-mail have to worry about personally - we understand that all of us are better off when everyone who works a full-time job can find decent housing, can afford to feed their kids nutritious food, and can even afford to put money aside for major purchases like cars and homes. And no one should be one illness away from losing their job, or one serious medical issue away from bankruptcy.

That's why I was the first person in Virginia to propose minimum wage legislation that would eventually get us to a $15.00 an hour wage.

That's why I am the small business owner and entrepreneur that also supports mandatory sick days for all Virginia employers.

And that's why I support allowing those saddled with thousands of dollars in student loan debt and unconscionably high interest rates to have the opportunity to refinance that debt with a state backed loan, to lower their interest rates and payments, and fully participate in the Virginia economy.

The growing gap between rich and poor, between haves and have nots, has many causes. There is no one solution that will bring our economy back into balance. State government and the Virginia General Assembly can do many things to make life better for working class Virginians, and all Virginians for that matter.

We can require employers to pay higher wages, we can repeal laws that prevent us from having stronger unions and we can pass better consumer protection laws for student borrowers and all consumers.

When I was kid I was always taught if I worked hard, played by the rules, and got good grades I'd get a good education. That would be enough to help me find a good job. From there I’d be able to make a comfortable living while I raised my own family.

For too many people that promise isn't being kept. I hope you will vote November 7, 2017 to send me back to Richmond where I'll continue working, harder than ever, and with an even greater sense of urgency, to make good on that promise for all of us.