Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2017 Session - La La Land

City of stars Are you shining just for me?
City of stars
You never shined so brightly 


~Ryan Gosling, "City of Stars" - winner 2017 Oscar for Best Song, La La Land


Richmond may not be a city of stars in the same way that Los Angeles is, but during the 2017 Legislative Session, it often felt like I was in La La Land. While my House Democratic Colleagues and I focused on legislation improving the lives of working families, the other side of the aisle seemed intent on pressing hot-button partisan and social issues.

For instance, we introduced bills to give hard working Virginian's a raise, protect student borrowers from predatory and deceptive billing practices, provide guarantees of equal pay for equal work between men and women, and make sure the workers who care for the most vulnerable Virginian's could earn overtime and sick leave.

The House GOP introduced bills to defund planned parenthood, allow more people to conceal carry guns in schools, courthouses and emergency shelters, give tax breaks to encourage more coal extraction, and make it more difficult to apply for absentee ballots.

All that said, there are a number of pretty good things that made it through with bipartisan support. 


Good Things That Passed in 2017

Birth Control

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn's bill to require health insurance companies to cover a 12-month supply of prescription birth control survived a last minute challenge on the floor from Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas, who suggested that birth-control was bad for women's health. Fortunately, Dr. Stolle, a Republican Delegate from Va. Beach stood up to set the record straight.

Bullying

Another of Delegate Filler-Corn's bills requiring principals to notify the parent of any student involved in a bullying incident within five school days of the allegation also passed, on the last night of session after some last minute drama. I was pleased to be able to speak on the floor in support of the bill which ultimately passed.

Coal Ash

Senator Scott Surovell made some progress in his crusade to force Dominion Virginia Power to take some responsibility for their large coal ash ponds under a compromise bill that cleared the legislature.
DNR Reciprocity
Delegate Sam Rasoul and I introduced a bill that makes Durable Do Not Resuscitate orders or other orders regarding life-sustaining treatment executed in another state to be deemed valid in the Commonwealth.

Driver’s License Suspensions

We passed bills to require judges consider a defendants ability to pay when imposing a schedule for unpaid fines and to give judges discretion not to suspend a driver’s license for a first marijuana offense.

Immigration

On straight party lines, Republicans passed a bill to ban “sanctuary” localities here in Virginia. The Governor has promised to veto the bill.

The Governor vetoed a separate bill that would require the Department of Social Services to publish “personally identifiable reports” on refugees, saying “it does not reflect Virginia’s values.”

Lead

We passed a bill introduced by Senator Jeremy McPike that will have school systems create and implement plans to for lead in school's drinking water in pre-1986 buildings.

Mental Health

While we failed to add money for mental health screening in jails to the Governor's budget as he had asked, the House and Senate did approve $7.5 million in state and other funds for a “same-day access” program. The program requires Community Services Boards deal with people who are in mental health crisis the day they walk into the clinic, not days or weeks later.

Also added to the budget was $5 million for permanent supportive housing for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless because as a result of their serious mental illness.

Opioids

The Governor has already signed into law bills to create needle exchange programs; to increase access to naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of certain opioids; changes to prescription policies; and improved services for infants who had been exposed to opioids in utero.

Short Term Rentals

The General Assembly gave local governments more authority to adopt ordinances and otherwise regulate online short-term rental platforms like Airbnb, including requiring owners to register with the locality to be able to offer short-term rentals.

Veterans

We also passed a bill very similar to one I introduced authorizing any member of the US Armed Forces or Virginia National Guard who receives military relocation orders for a period of service of at least 90 days to terminate contracts for certain services (like internet, cell phones, or gym memberships).

Finally, with the end of the Session comes the end of restrictions on my ability to accept campaign contributions. Please consider clicking here to help me raise money to pay my filing fees and other costs of being a candidate for re-election.

I'm looking forward to returning to La La Land next session to fight for us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

2017 Session - Week 6

You say yes, I say no
You say stop and I say go go go, oh no
You say goodbye and I say hello
Hello hello
I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello
Hello hello
I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello 


~The Beatles, "Hello, Goodbye"


Hello. This is the last week of the 2017 session of the Virginia General Assembly - so this will be the last of my weekly updates. I'll send out a session wrap up next week, though, so stay tuned for that.

Legislative Priorities

Who do you think is in greater need of consumer protection - 17, 18 and 19 year-olds taking out loans for what will almost certainly be the most significant investment of their lives to that point, or middle aged dads who forget their family vacation is scheduled for the same week as the Iron Maiden reunion concert?

If you said the dads - you'd fit right in here in Richmond.

My effort, working with Governor McAuliffe and Senator Janet Howell, to create a student borrower bill of rights and license student loan servicers (SB 1053) died on a party line vote in committee last week, despite passing the Senate with broad bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, Delegate Dave Albo's bill (HB 1825) to guarantee a right to resell tickets, which I happened to support, passed the Senate, even while Delegate Albo admitted that the restrictions on resale were actually disclosed in the fine print when he purchased his tickets. Again, I supported this bill and think many of us will benefit when it becomes law, but I don't understand why Republicans in the House of Delegates found these transactions more worthy of consumer protection than student loan transactions.

Similarly, during the same week that a bill to make it legal to discriminate against same sex couples (HB 2025) passed the House and the Senate, the bill Senator Jennifer Wexton and I introduced to add fair housing protections for same sex couples (SB 822) was defeated in the House General Laws Committee. The committee vote was on party lines after passing the Senate with bipartisan support. This has happened for the second year in a row.

So, instead of establishing consumer protections for student loan borrowers, which there is a clear need for as demonstrated by the current federal lawsuit against Navient, we made it easier to purchase scalped tickets.

Instead of expanding our fair housing statute to include non-discrimination against the LGBTQ community, we legalized discrimination.

While I am confident that the Governor will veto HB 2025, these bills highlight just how out of touch the House Republican Majority is with the problems facing ordinary Virginians.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 Session - Crossover & the Budget

Last week was as busy a week as we are going to have during this year’s 45-day short session. On Sunday at one in the afternoon, we got our first look at the House Appropriations Committee's amendments to the Governor's budget. On Monday and Tuesday, we debated and voted on hundreds of bills and resolutions at the crossover deadline. On Wednesday, floor amendments to the Budget were due at noon and on Thursday we debated and voted on the Budget.

Each year the General Assembly establishes a deadline, near the halfway point of the session, for each house to complete work on its own bills, vote on them, pass them, and send them to other body for consideration.

This year at the crossover deadline we debated and voted on a total of 192 bills. Here are some of the highlights.

Women's Health

We passed HB 2267 allowing women to receive up to a 12-month supply of their birth control as prescribed by a doctor, over the objections of Delegate Bob Marshall of Prince William.

Criminal Justice

We passed HB 2064 which precludes a person who has previously been convicted of any violent felony from being eligible for first offender status for assault and battery against a family or household member, unless all parties agree.

One of many bills aimed at addressing the growing opioid abuse crisis in much of Virginia, HB 1453, expands the category of state officials able to train individuals on the administration of naloxone for use in opioid overdose reversal.

Finally, SB 816 would increase the grand larceny threshold from $200 to $500, meaning fewer acts of petty theft would be charged as a felony. We’ll see how that bill fares in the House of Delegates, where many are still hostile to that idea.

Veterans

Both houses passed language for a Constitutional Amendment to create a property tax exemption for surviving spouses of disabled veterans, even if they move. That bill will have to pass again in identical form next year and then be approved by the voters in a referendum before it can take effect.

My Virginia Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act was folded into HB 1537. It allows any member of the United States Armed Forces or Virginia National Guard (or their spouses or dependents living with them) to terminate contracts for certain services if they receive military orders to relocate for a period of service of at least 90 days.

Redistricting Reform

Several bills were introduced in the House of Delegates this year to reform how Virginia conducts redistricting, the process of redrawing electoral district boundaries. The bills, which were lumped together in committee and killed on a single voice vote, would have taken legislators out of the redistricting process, created an independent redistricting commission and constitutionally banned partisan influence in redistricting.

Budget Update

At the end of the day on Thursday, I was one of only 2 NO votes to the House of Delegate's budget plan. Here's why. Reviewing the budget amendments, I found several that were objectionable, including:

  • Eliminating $4.5 million the Governor had requested to identify gaps in Virginia's community mental health system where people with mental illness were getting lost.
  • Eliminating $6 million in purely federal funds to provide long term contraception to poor families in Virginia.
  • Republicans put language back in the budget to prohibit home healthcare workers from working more than 40 hours in a week and earning overtime pay. You can view my floor speech against this amendment here.
  • Language which stops the Governor from expanding Medicaid if (as many of us expect) it isn't replaced as part of the ongoing effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. You can view my floor speech here.
  • Removes $4.2 million the Governor is seeking to improve mental health treatment in prisons and jails.
Republicans killed every Democratic effort to amend the budget, including a floor amendment I introduced with Delegate Jennifer Boysko to require equal pay between the male Clerk of the House of Delegates and the female Clerk of the Senate.

I also introduced a floor amendment to prohibit discrimination against the LGBT community in public employment which was killed after the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee suggested I should have introduced the language as a bill. This came immediately after the House approved Delegate Bob Marshall's amendment to prohibit the spending of state funds on any abortion services, without any explicit exceptions for viability or the health and welfare of the mother.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

2017 Session - Week 3

We did it 
We did it 
Hooray!

~Dora the Explorer


There is much to report after the second full week of session. We're one week closer to the halfway point of session, which means committees are meeting for longer and we are spending more time on the House floor as we debate bills.

How to Kill a Bad Bill

On Tuesday, my bill to add Virginia to the National Popular Vote Compact (HB 1482) was heard in committee, along with bills to allocate Virginia's electoral votes by congressional district. Under my bill, Virginia would pledge its electoral votes to the presidential candidate that received the most votes nationwide. That bill was killed in favor of a bill that would have awarded 7 of Virginia's 13 electoral votes to the Donald Trump by using Virginia's very gerrymandered congressional districts to allocate our electoral college votes.

On Wednesday, I started to receive emails, social media posts, and phone calls concerned about reports that the General Assembly might actually start awarding its electoral college votes by congressional district.

That evening, I attended a reception at the Governor's Mansion and shared your concerns with him. Not only did Governor McAuliffe give me permission to tell you he would veto Delegate Cole's bill (HB 1425), he handed my phone to one of his aides and made this video.

On Thursday, I know many of you made calls to Delegate Cole's office to share your concerns about his bill.

By Friday, Delegate Cole had decided to strike HB 1425, saying the Governor was going to veto it anyway. Whatever the reason, I was happy to hear this and know that many of you are as well given the high number of emails, Facebook messages, and calls I received opposing the measure.

Thank the Governor!

I'd like to publicly thank Governor McAuliffe for taking a firm stand against legislation like HB 1425, which only serves to further promote gerrymandering and jeopardize our election system. Click here to thank Governor McAuliffe for making the video with me and sending a clear message that we won't stand for this kind of political maneuvering.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2017 Session - Week 2

It might seem crazy what I'm about to say
Sunshine she's here, you can take a break
I'm a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don't care, baby, by the way...
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth 


~Pharrell, "Happy"

In a surprising turn of events, when the General Assembly returned last week for the first full week of our abbreviated 45 day Session things moved at a very relaxed and deliberate pace, giving us lots of time for thoughtful, non-partisan discussion of legislation that focused on policy considerations over politics. (Actual facts- we were slammed with visits from lobby groups, overlapping committee meetings, and increasingly long floor sessions.)

On Monday, the Gun Violence Prevention activists finally got through to members of the NRA and Virginia Citizens Defense League and got them to agree that no one wants to confiscate their personal firearms. Here I am pictured with the approximately seven million protesters that descended on the Capitol in Richmond. (Actually, I was proud to participate in the gun violence prevention rally alongside my colleagues, Lieutenant Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring as we advocated for commonsense gun violence prevention measures, most of which face a daunting up hill battle against the gun industry).

Legislative Update - Alternative Facts Edition

On Thursday, I had 5 bills heard in 3 different subcommittees.

Early in the day, House General Laws Subcommittee #2, members stood up to the groups who spoke out on behalf of the construction industry and their various trade associations and instead put the City of Falls Church and its taxpayers first by allowing the City to ride the procurement contracts of some of our larger neighbors. (HB 2170). (Actually- after hearing from five different groups representing the construction industry, the bills died for lack of a motion from any member of the subcommittee, avoiding a vote on the matter.)

In a subcommittee of Militia Police and Public safety the subcommittee members agreed that my bill creating a Virginia Specific Soldier's and Sailors Civil Relief Act was more comprehensive and agreed to roll a Republican Delegate's bill into mine and advance it to the full committee. (Actually, my bill was rolled in the Republican version, which incorporated most everything I was seeking to do, so I'll call that an actual win. HB 2147).

Finally at the end of a long day, the subcommittee took a long and thoughtful look at my 3 very reasonable gun violence protection bills (HB 1683, 1684, & 1685) which they agreed were small, common sense measures that would effectively improve the public safety of all Virginians living in urban areas, the Commonwealth's young children, and end Virginia's status as the number one source of crime guns in many major east coast cities. Members of the subcommittee saw the importance of these bills, of which I have long been a champion and advanced all three.

Actually...but now you've recognized the pattern.

I promise to have some good news to report next week. Two bills which were constituent requests advanced on the Floor today and look likely to pass the house. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

2017 Session - Week 1


We are one week into the 2017 General Assembly session which gaveled in on Wednesday, Jan. 11. This year is a short session, lasting 45 days, during which the General Assembly will review about 1,500 bills and make amendments to the state budget. It is also an election year for all 100 members of the House of Delegates as well as the Governor, Lt Governor, and Attorney General.

No single issue seems likely to dominate the session, but there are a few things to watch. Voting rights, including the issue of how we deal with the voting rights of convicted and former felons, will be a hot topic, as will how we deal with the need to diversify Virginia’s economy.

Here are some highlights of my legislative agenda:

Student Loan Debt

Tackling the Student Loan Debt crisis will once again be one of my major initiatives in 2017. Over a million Virginians are saddled with over $30 billion in student loan debt right now. I’ve introduced HB 1916 to bring back Virginia’s Student Loan Education Authority with the authority to refinance existing student loans at lower interest rates and on better terms. You can see the full video of the press conference on my YouTube page. In addition, I’ve introduced HB 1915 which establishes an ombudsman office under the SCC, regulating loan servicing companies and outlining a borrower’s bill of rights.

Ethics and Transparency

One lesson from the 2016 elections is that Virginians and all Americans are looking for more accountability and transparency from their elected officials. It’s critical that we increase faith and trust in our political institutions and elected officials.

I am excited to be working with the Governor to pass a bill (HB 1446) to prohibit the personal use of campaign funds. This will be my fourth try in four years.

I’ve also introduced HB 1794 which requires the Supreme Court of Virginia to make every state court’s case management database fully accessible to the public. While this information is already public, it is not easily accessible; this legislation will not only increase access but provide a database that is searchable by party name, charge (for criminal cases), filing type (for civil cases), hearing date, and case number across all localities.

Voting Rights
My constitutional amendment HJ 540 removes the one sentence in the Virginia Constitution that continues to disenfranchise an entire class of adults, denying them the right to vote.

By simply striking the last remaining sentence Virginia will no longer automatically disenfranchise individuals simply because they are convicted of felony. If successful, Virginia would join Maine and Vermont as the only other two states that have no restrictions on the voting rights of felons.

When Virginia ratified its 1902 Constitution after Reconstruction and at the beginning of the Jim Crow era, the felon disenfranchisement voting clause was, along with poll taxes and literacy tests, one of the tools deliberately designed to prevent African Americans from casting their votes.

Town Hall & Blood Drive

On Saturday I held my Annual Legislative Town Hall meeting to discuss the session and answer questions from the community. Several issues were raised, including raising the minimum wage, bipartisan redistricting, restrictions on TANF, gun violence prevention initiatives, and accountability for VDOT projects. It was great to have so many in attendance and learning of your priorities helps me better represent you!

For the first time (and what I plan to make another annual event), I sponsored a blood drive at the Falls Church Community Center with INOVA Blood Donor Services. The drive was part of an annual day of service event honoring Martin Luther King Day weekend and National Blood Donor Awareness Month.

I’m proud to say that we had a total of 27 donors, including myself, which amounts to two gallons of donated blood, 10 red cell units, two plasma units, and two platelet units.

This one donation event will help approximately 90 patients throughout the Metropolitan D.C. and Northern Virginia communities. If you have questions donating blood or want to make an appointment, call 1-866-BLOODSAVES or visit inova.org/donateblood for more information.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Closing Time

So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend.
Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.
 

~Semisonic, “Closing Time”

Goodbye 2016. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

We invited you in with high hopes that you’d bring us some really nice gifts. You were going to deliver us Democratic control of the Senate, big gains in the House, our first woman president, all so we could appoint the next three Supreme Court Justices.

That was the plan.

Your loud, boorish friend, the one with bad hair and the orange hue, he was only going to be here for a little while. He was going to leave early. You promised us. And your cranky uncle, the one that talks like the guy from that HBO show, he goes to bed early. That’s what you told us.

He’d stick around long enough to have a substantive conversation about the big issues and challenges facing our country. We were going to take on Wall Street and the issues of income inequality, and crony capitalism, and write brilliant position papers on how to solve them. We’d have plenty of time to tinker around in the garage with the Affordable Care Act until we got the knocks and pings out, making it run as smoothly as it ought to be.

Then he’d go to bed satisfied that his work here was done.

Somehow, though, things went a little off the rails. Turns out the folks who’d come to the party didn’t want to just talk about how to fix the economy so it worked for everyone. They wanted to do something about it and they wanted to do it now.

So you had to get firm with your cranky uncle and send him to bed, but the way you did it made everyone a little uncomfortable, and a lot of folks left early.

And the loud orange guy just stuck around. As guest after guest left, he didn’t go anywhere. He just kept getting louder, and angrier, and more belligerent. And there was something intoxicating about it – for a lot of people. Not a majority, but enough. And those that got caught up in what he had to say, they really got into it.

And they took it all over. And kicked us out. And here we are in the dead of winter out in the cold, on the outside looking in. And it’s scary, because it looks like they just might burn the whole place down.

And we feel helpless to stop them.

Well, the good news is 2017 is coming. And 2017 is going to have our back.

We’ve got a chance to start to set things right this year. In Virginia, we can start by electing Ralph Northam Governor. An actual brain surgeon with the bedside manner of an old country doctor. A real leader who couldn’t be more different than the loud man with the bad hair burning the place down.

And here in Virginia we have a chance to turn the Virginia House of Delegate from red to blue, or at least make it closer to purple, by electing more good progressive people who share our values. Because people see what’s going on up the road in Washington and they’re ready to take action.

Working together in 2017 we can build an economy in Virginia that sets an example for everyone and shows them what’s possible. We can have a living wage, so no one who works full time still lives in poverty. We can have paid sick leave, so single parents won’t lose their job for taking their kids to the doctor when they get sick.

We can fix things so that you can go to college without having to mortgage your future under a mountain of college debt you have no hope from getting out from under. And if you’re already buried, we can give you tools to dig your way out so you can join the economy again.

I’ll be working with 2017 to make sure our children are healthy, well educated, safe from gun violence, and can look forward to being more successful than their parents were. We’ll do it by removing barriers to upward mobility- barriers that have funneled all the wealth from our economic recovery into the hands of the few, leaving too many Virginians and American’s behind.