Friday, January 20, 2023

The 2023 Session Begins

January 11th marked the start of my 10th General Assembly Session. The day before session, on January 10th, Holly Seibold and Aaron Rouse won in the 35th House District and the 7th Senate District seat, respectively. Aaron Rouse’s victory expands the Democratic majority in the Senate and assures a majority of Senators who favor protecting abortion access in the Commonwealth.

I’d love to be able to say session got off to a smooth and uneventful start, but reality was a bit different.

I started feeling badly last Monday and tested positive for Covid-19 on the Tuesday morning before session started. Fortunately, under the leadership of former Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, we established procedures for remote participation in the House of Delegates. I was able to use Zoom for opening day and didn’t miss any votes on the Floor or in committee.

Little Banned Book Library

While I was out, I missed the kerfuffle that occurred outside my office in the Pocahontas Building over my Little Banned Book Library.

In response to the growing and disturbing number of books being targeted by far-right MAGA activists around the Country and here in Virginia, I set up the library outside my office to give folks an opportunity to see and borrow some of the books that are being taken out of circulation and let them judge the books for themselves.

Although we've had a lot of positive feedback about the library, not everyone is a fan. One group of red-clad visitors was so upset by the library that they took to pulling books off the shelf, waving them around and pressing the books up against my administrative assistant’s plexiglass protector. Fortunately, things settled down before the Capitol Police had to get involved. 

2023 Legislative Agenda

My 2023 legislative agenda is a combination of constituent requests, City of Falls Church agenda items, and bills to make Virginia a better and more just place to be a worker, a parent, a consumer, or just someone who wants to be free to be themselves.

My first bill prohibits candidates from raiding their campaign funds for personal use. I've introduced a version of this bill every year since I was first elected. Campaign finance reform is an important issue and I'll keep chipping away until this becomes law in Virginia.

I’ve also introduced a bill to amend the charter of the City of Falls Church at the request of Council to allow any resident over the age of 18 to participate on appointed boards and commissions.

Another bill requested by the City would allow public schools to provide childcare for students on non-instructional and early release days without having a separate license as a daycare provider.

Dyslexia is the most common of the language-based learning disabilities in the country. I've introduced a resolution designating October as Dyslexia Awareness Month at the request of a constituent who lives with Dyslexia and is an advocate for raising awareness. The resolution acknowledges educators specializing in effective teaching strategies and celebrates the many achievements of kids, students, and adults with dyslexia.

This summer, I was approached by a constituent with a familiar and frustrating problem. She was drowning in different health forms and digging for different bits of information to enroll her children in various summer programs. So, at her request, I have introduced a resolution directing the Department of Health and the Department of Education to study the medical forms and information collected by children's summer camps and similar programs in order to make the process more efficient.

Finally, two of my bills are “ripped from the headlines”, inspired by real newsworthy events here in the Commonwealth. The first repeals the Code Section that allowed a Virginia Beach resident to sue books for being alleged to be obscene in an effort to prevent their sale at private bookstores. The Court held the statute unconstitutional, and I agree. It’s time to take it out of our Code.

The second requires anyone who possesses a firearm in a residence, where children are present, to store it unloaded in a locked container and to store all ammunition in a separate locked container. This aims to prevent tragedies like the 6-year-old who recently took a gun to school in Newport News and shot his teacher. 

My Budget Amendments
You may have read last month when the Governor introduced his budget that he included the money necessary to pay the costs of incarcerating women and their doctors for violating his proposed abortion ban. I’ve introduced a budget amendment to remove that language, and to assure that anyone who needs to terminate a pregnancy due to a severe fetal abnormality, but can’t afford it, can access Medicaid funds to do so.

And we’re just getting started!

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Running for Re-Election in 2023

I am thrilled to announce that I am running for re-election and will be seeking the Democratic nomination in the newly drawn 13th House District in 2023.

Over the last decade, I have worked hard to be the best possible representative for the values and shared interests of our Falls Church community. I’ve been fortunate to be able to make a real and meaningful difference on some of the most pressing issues facing our Commonwealth, particularly in our two years in the majority with a Democratic Governor.

Education

As a member of leadership in the House Democratic Caucus (Deputy Floor Leader), I recently participated in a panel for the Virginia Press Association on the issue of Education and parental rights. I had the opportunity to highlight the real issue behind recent headlines - a desire to undermine public education.

I am committed to protecting public education in our Commonwealth. I believe that every student should have access to a high-quality education that prepares them for success in college, career, and life. I have supported legislation to increase funding for public schools, reduce class sizes, and improve teacher pay and working conditions. I have also advocated for policies that expand access to early childhood education, support students with special needs, and provide opportunities for students to learn technical and vocational skills. I will continue to prioritize public education and ensure that every student has the support they need to succeed.

Gun Violence Prevention

I am proud of my strong record on gun violence prevention.

I will continue working to stop the tragic mass shootings that have devastated communities across our country. I have supported legislation to strengthen background checks, restore Virginia’s one handgun a month limit, give localities the ability to restrict firearms in public places, and budget items that invest in programs to prevent gun violence. I will continue to be a vocal advocate for common-sense gun laws that keep our community safe.

Abortion Access

I have also been a steadfast supporter of protecting abortion access in Virginia, making us a sanctuary state in the south. I believe that every individual has the right to make their own reproductive choices, and I will never stop fighting to defend this fundamental right. I will continue to support legislation that ensures access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare services, including contraception and abortion.

Climate Change

I am committed to addressing the climate crisis and protecting our environment. I recognize that the health of our planet is at risk, and I have supported legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy, and protect our natural resources. I will continue to prioritize the health of our planet and the well-being of future generations.

Equality

As Chairman of the Housing Subcommittee in 2020, I helped to pass the Virginia Values Act. I believe that every individual has the right to live their lives without fear of discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Virginia Values Act bans discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I will continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQ individuals and for a society that is free from discrimination and prejudice.

Criminal Justice Reform

As a member of the Public Safety & Courts of Justice Committees, I have been committed to advocating for criminal justice reform. I believe that our justice system should be fair, equitable, and focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment. I have supported legislation to reduce the prison population, improve conditions in correctional facilities, and provide support for individuals returning to their communities after serving their sentences. I have also advocated for better mental health resources for individuals involved in the justice system, as well as for programs to help them find employment and housing upon release. I will continue to work towards a criminal justice system that prioritizes justice and rehabilitation over punishment.

A Living Wage

Lastly, I am proud of my efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. This is a critical step to ensure that all workers in our community can earn a fair and livable wage. I have supported legislation to gradually increase the minimum wage, and I will continue to push for policies that support working families and reduce income inequality.

As I seek re-election, I am committed to continuing this work and addressing the challenges facing our community. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve, and I hope to earn your support and trust for another term.

Please note that the new districts don't take effect until after the November 2023 election. Until then, I'll be representing the current 53rd House District.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Three Holidays in November

Virginians now celebrate three Holidays in November. Election Day (a State Holiday since 2021), Veterans Day, and next week, Thanksgiving.

First, a couple of quick take aways from last week’s election.

The modern electorate is nearly impossible to poll accurately, so it’s time we all spent less energy focusing on data models and polling averages and more time thinking about the issues.

Young people showed up and voted in record numbers across Virginia and the Country. Many of them are what I call “unpollable” because they don’t have landlines and don’t pick up the phone for unknown numbers. As any parent of young people can tell you, sometimes they don’t even pick up for mom & dad or even return our texts.

We also learned that voters are a lot smarter than some pundits give them credit for. They understand that inflation is a global phenomenon, they know when politicians are trying to divide them with provocative misleading allegations about social issues, and they know that an individual’s right to control their own body is now a legislative issue that they care deeply about.

As a result, the “red wave” election many expected never materialized. Democrats will continue to hold a majority in the US Senate and may even increase it.

Locally, Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Abigail Spanberger, and Jennifer Wexton all won re-election.

Across the country, the biggest wins may actually be at the state-level. Democrats held every state chamber they had, flipped the Michigan state legislature blue, plus the Minnesota Senate and Pennsylvania House. A series of state ballot measures aimed at banning abortion failed and ones that aimed to protect abortion access were successful.

And now let’s talk about the losers.

They usually reveal themselves by their finger pointing over whose fault it was.

That’s how you know the biggest losers of the 2022 Election are both Governor Youngkin, and former President Trump. Our Governor spent the last ten months campaigning across the country for extremist candidates, the vast majority of whom lost their elections.

In all three competitive congressional races here in Virginia, Democrats greatly increased their margins over 2021 results. Loudoun County, for instance, increased its Democratic performance fifty percent, going from D+10 to D+15. We saw similar gains for Democrats in Prince William and Virginia Beach.

Clearly with the benefit of a year of seeing the Governor in action, suburban voters in particular are disappointed in what they’ve seen. Voters who thought they were getting a nice guy in a goofy vest are abandoning GOP candidates and the Governor in droves because of his controversial policies to ban books, threaten our democracy by questioning the integrity of our elections, reduce abortion access, and use buzz words like “CRT” to weaken our education system or divisive tip-lines to harass our teachers.

In the aftermath of their disappointing showing, some Virginia Republicans, including the Lieutenant Governor, have started distancing themselves from Trump, citing their losses as evidence that his time has passed and that perhaps his MAGA mantra isn’t such a winning strategy. Meanwhile, former President Trump has pushed back on Virginia’s statewide politicians on Truth Social.

You’ll forgive me if I smell like fresh popcorn next time you see me.

Veterans Day

I was so pleased to be able to join members of the Falls Church City Council and community leaders at a special ceremony on Veteran’s Day to recognize our military residents in the Little City. We also revealed a new plaque honoring high school graduates who went on to serve their Country abroad and lost their lives in the process.

Thank you, Veterans, and all who currently serve in the armed forces. You are an important and integral part of our greater Falls Church Community, and it is my great honor to serve you in the Virginia House of Delegates.  

Thanksgiving 

 
Speaking of giving thanks, we have a lot of reasons to feel gratitude here in Greater Falls Church. This year I am particularly grateful for a renewed focus on the importance of state legislatures. Whether they meant to or not, the Supreme Court has motivated a new generation of voters to protect abortion access, increase gun violence prevention, expand voting rights, and enact climate change initiatives at the state and local level.

I am thankful to everyone who participated in our great Democracy, thankful that it seems to be resilient and lasting, and thankful to represent all of you in the House of Delegates.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Just Say No to the Commanders Stadium

At the beginning of the year, it seemed inevitable that Virginia would pass legislation to create a special Stadium Authority, allowing the NFL and its Washington Franchise to issue debt to build a new stadium in one of the DC exurbs. Taxpayer money (albeit money generated arguably only because the stadium was there) would then be used to pay the debt back.

The only question was how sweet the deal would be for the owner, and how high the tab might be for Virginia taxpayers.

The Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Richard Saslaw carried the broader version of the bill in the State Senate. House Appropriations Chair, Republican Barry Knight of Virginia Beach carried a bill narrower version in the House of Delegates. The bill even got a nod of approval from newly elected Governor Youngkin in his inaugural and State of The Commonwealth addresses.

Having this momentum, the bill cruised through the committee process in the House (keeping in mind the Appropriations Chair was the sponsor) and landed on the House Floor a few weeks into session.

Meanwhile, I was getting nothing but negative constituent feedback about a taxpayer-funded stadium. There was no organized opposition, but plenty of e-mails, commentors at town halls, and people pulling me aside at the grocery store all saying the same thing:

“I’m against this.”

So, when the bill got to the floor, I was looking for ways to slow down the momentum of the train that was barreling down the tracks toward either Dumfries or Loudoun. I decided to throw up a signal light.


Some constituents I heard from were concerned about traffic implications and others about the rate of return on stadium investments. And still others thought it was a bad land use decision. Most of the complaints I heard were that the primary beneficiary of the plan would be someone who had shown himself to be wholly undeserving of it: Daniel Snyder.

Some disapproved of the way the team had performed during his tenure as owner, but most felt like he was (based on press accounts and investigations swirling around him) a bit of a creep. Certainly not someone they’d want to be in business with.

So that was my angle of attack. When the bill came up for a vote on the floor, I introduced an amendment that tied the creation of the Stadium Authority to the NFL and the Washington Franchise agreeing to release the results of attorney Beth Wilkinson’s investigation into the toxic team culture, including allegations of sexual harassment and assault by team employees. Unless and until that report was released, as the U.S. House Government Oversight Committee had requested, the Stadium Authority legislation would not take effect.

Although the amendment was rejected with all 52 House Republican’s votes, it changed the conversation about the bill and its trajectory.

Eventually both the House and Senate plans passed in different forms, but without language tying the release of the report to the creation of the Authority. The bill no longer seemed quite so inevitable.

The Senate version of the bill needed to be corrected to avoid giving the team access to billions in tax revenue related to all the business adjacent to the new hypothetical stadium. A Super bowl was played in February in a stadium funded entirely by its owner with no taxpayer help.

When the bill conferees working couldn’t come to an agreement on the size and scope, it became clear that there were no longer the votes for any bill. It was allowed die a quiet death.

Last week, ESPN Magazine reported that Mr. Snyder’s inability to secure public financing for a new stadium, and his inability to take on the debt to build one without government help, was contributing to increasing noise that his fellow owners might force him to sell the team.

This goes to show that sometimes even when the numbers are stacked against you in the legislature, it’s worth putting an idea on the table and making people vote on it – making a statement even when it has no chance of passing.

My constituents didn’t want to pay for an NFL Stadium, they didn’t want it in Virginia, and they didn’t want Dan Snyder to reap the benefits of the deal.

I took their concerns to Richmond and made them heard.

If you’d like to share anything with me about the upcoming 2023 Session, the best way to reach me is via e-mail at delmsimon@house.virginia.gov or at 571-327-0053.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Abortion is Healthcare

Protecting rights to abortion care is the reason I am in the General Assembly today.

That’s how I opened my May column, when we only had a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion indicating that, in spite of their assurances to the contrary, recently confirmed justices were prepared to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Just a few weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision, overturning Roe v. Wade, stripping women of the constitutional right to an abortion, effectively giving each state legislature control over the future of abortion access.

Thirteen states already had “trigger bans” on the books, ready to kick in soon after Roe v. Wade became obsolete. Since the June 24th Dobbs v. Jackson decision, ten states have banned nearly all abortions, with little but mostly no exceptions for rape or incest. You can bet that in the coming months, there will be more attempts to limit or outright ban abortion access across the country, including in Virginia.

Although Virginia’s Governor was seemingly non-committal on the campaign trail about his stance on abortion, he gave a clear signal of his intentions earlier this summer, encouraging members of the Virginia GOP to legislate an abortion ban as soon as possible and announcing a small group of legislators had been tasked with drafting a bill.

With the General Assembly set to resume the 2022 Special Session 1 on September 7th, rumors are swirling that such a bill (or bills) will be introduced next month, in an effort to stir things up before the mid-term congressional election.

With the Republican Majority in the House and the Democrats’ thin hold on the Senate, things aren’t looking good. The Governor has made it clear that he will sign any bill restricting access to abortion that reaches his desk. He has said he is looking for a 15-week ban but will settle for a 20-week ban – and that he thinks he can get some Democrats to go along and make such a ban “bi-partisan.”

Given that we are in Special Session only, we are only scheduled to be back in Richmond for a day, the prospects for navigating the procedural hurdles necessary to pass such a bill this fall seem dim. Actually passing it may not be the goal, though.

The Governor may want the bill floating out there during the mid-terms to increase his personal profile and score him some hits on Fox News.

Regardless of whether he tries to pull such a stunt in September or not, or how much traction he gains from it, we can expect to see a wide variety of anti-abortion bills introduced and debated during the upcoming 2023 legislative session. Some may even pass the GOP controlled House of Delegates.

For our part, I expect Democrats to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to codify the right to an abortion during the 2023 Session. Given the makeup of the General Assembly and the Governor's push for a 15-week ban, it will be an uphill battle to get this passed in the House and the Senate. If it did pass, then it would have to pass the General Assembly again during the 2024 General Assembly Session. After passing this second time, then it would be on the ballot in November 2024, so that voters could decide if it would be included in the Virginia Constitution.

Recently, Kansas voters defeated a Constitutional Amendment that would have ended the right to an abortion in the state. And the margin wasn’t small either, in fact, 58% of voters voted “No” on the banning of abortions in Kansas. That is a whopping 165,000 more voters than the other side received.

I am hopeful that what happened in Kansas foreshadows how hard folks are willing to fight to protect their rights in other states, including Virginia. With states once again on the front line of this issue, I am even more committed to protecting abortion access in Virginia.

I am often asked what folks can do in the meantime. Voting for like-minded elected officials who support your shared values, including the right to abortion access, is crucial. But also talking with your friends, family, and neighbors about these issues goes a long way - we must have these honest conversations. Beyond this, donating and volunteering with organizations that promote or provide abortion access delivers direct aid to those who need it right here in Virginia. Aside from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, there is the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, Blue Ridge Abortion Fund, Hampton Roads Reproductive Justice League, and the New River Abortion Access Fund.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

New Laws on July 1st

 I typically focus my June column on the bills that passed during the most recent General Assembly Session, since the laws we pass during our regular session are effective on July 1st and July 1st is the first day of the fiscal year, the date on which the new budget becomes effective. 

This year we are running a little bit behind 

We finished the regular session in March without a budget, forcing the new Governor to call us back for a Special Session on April 4th. Unfortunately, he forgot to check with House and Senate leaders first - even those of his same party. So, when we arrived back in Richmond there was literally nothing for us to do. 

The GOP-controlled House and the Democratic Senate finally reached a budget compromise over Memorial Day weekend, and we returned on June 1st to debate and adopt the budget that was released on Memorial Day Monday. It was then sent to the Governor for his action 

The Special Session convenes again on June 17th to vote on any amendments the Governor may have made, although he’s not obliged to tell us what they are until 11:59 on the 16th of June.  So much for transparency. 

So, I can’t yet tell you exactly what will happen with the Grocery Tax, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or your standard deduction on July 1st. I can talk about a few of the bills that passed, and more significantly this year, a few bills that WON’T become law on July 1st 

This is all thanks to opposition from Democrats in the General Assembly and despite the Governor’s desire to see these changes made.  

For instance, the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County will keep those signs at the entrances to our parks, libraries and community centers that remind residents firearms are not permitted in those public spaces. Bills to repeal local authority to regulate firearms were defeated in committee, as were bills to repeal Virginia’s proven and effective red-flag laws, and bills to allow Virginians to carried concealed weapons anywhere without a permit.  

LGBTQ+ Virginians will continue to enjoy full legal protection from discrimination under the Virginia Values Act, as efforts to repeal the bill, make it more difficult to enforce, and to provide a myriad of exemption under the guise of *religious freedom* were defeated.  

Even though Governor Youngkin has created a secret tip line to report the teaching of Critical Race Theory and “inherently divisive topics” in the classroom, bills that would ban the teaching of such topics in our excellent Falls Church and Fairfax County schools were defeated 

Efforts to repeal public sector employees’ right to form a union were unsuccessful. This means negotiations can continue toward educator-friendly collective bargaining agreements in Falls Church City that could provide the best model for the rest of Virginia. 

That said, there were a few good things that did pass and will become law in a few weeks.  

Our furry friends will be better protected now that individuals who have violated the federal Animal Welfare Act will not be allowed to sell or import cats and dogs. 

Student-athletes can now be compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness (NIL) and prohibits higher education institutions from preventing this except in certain circumstances.  

We’ll start taking baby steps toward campaign finance reform. Beginning in January 2024, candidates will have record keeping and retention requirements so that the Department of Elections will be able to annually audit a percentage of campaign committee accounts. 

If you are a Virginia Realtor, you will now have the ability to negotiate health insurance options through your member associations.  

For my fellow environmentalists, localities can now adopt ordinances for the planting and placement of trees during the land development process. This means that tree conservation can be a bigger priority in areas with high development. 

To address the critical issues at the Virginia Employment Commission, the VEC will develop an unemployment insurance resiliency plan to include specific actions taken when claims increase, to address staffing needs, and overall communications. The law requires employers to submit claim-related forms electronically and the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management will lead a multiagency workgroup to address support strategies during emergencies. The VEC’s internal audit division will also review and update online resources related to unemployment compensation.  

As you know from my previous Richmond Reports, we review a lot of bills during the regular session. You can view a more comprehensive list of bills on dls.virginia.gov. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Special Session & Budget Update

I typically focus my June column on the bills that passed during the most recent General Assembly Session, since the laws we pass during our regular session are effective on July 1st and July 1st is the first day of the fiscal year, the date on which the new budget becomes effective.  

This year we are running a little bit behind 

We finished the regular session in March without a budget, forcing the new Governor to call us back for a Special Session on April 4th. Unfortunately, he forgot to check with House and Senate leaders first - even those of his same party. So, when we arrived back in Richmond there was literally nothing for us to do. 

The GOP-controlled House and the Democratic Senate finally reached a budget compromise over Memorial Day weekend, and we returned on June 1st to debate and adopt the budget that was released on Memorial Day Monday. It was then sent to the Governor for his action 

The Special Session convenes again on June 17th to vote on any amendments the Governor may have made, although he’s not obliged to tell us what they are until 11:59 on the 16th of June.  So much for transparency. 

So, I can’t yet tell you exactly what will happen with the Grocery Tax, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or your standard deduction on July 1st. I can talk about a few of the bills that passed, and more significantly this year, a few bills that WON’T become law on July 1st 

This is all thanks to opposition from Democrats in the General Assembly and despite the Governor’s desire to see these changes made.  

For instance, the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County will keep those signs at the entrances to our parks, libraries and community centers that remind residents firearms are not permitted in those public spaces. Bills to repeal local authority to regulate firearms were defeated in committee, as were bills to repeal Virginia’s proven and effective red-flag laws, and bills to allow Virginians to carried concealed weapons anywhere without a permit.  

LGBTQ+ Virginians will continue to enjoy full legal protection from discrimination under the Virginia Values Act, as efforts to repeal the bill, make it more difficult to enforce, and to provide a myriad of exemption under the guise of *religious freedom* were defeated.  

Even though Governor Youngkin has created a secret tip line to report the teaching of Critical Race Theory and “inherently divisive topics” in the classroom, bills that would ban the teaching of such topics in our excellent Falls Church and Fairfax County schools were defeated 

Efforts to repeal public sector employees’ right to form a union were unsuccessful. This means negotiations can continue toward educator-friendly collective bargaining agreements in Falls Church City that could provide the best model for the rest of Virginia. 

That said, there were a few good things that did pass and will become law in a few weeks.  

Our furry friends will be better protected now that individuals who have violated the federal Animal Welfare Act will not be allowed to sell or import cats and dogs. 

Student-athletes can now be compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness (NIL) and prohibits higher education institutions from preventing this except in certain circumstances.  

We’ll start taking baby steps toward campaign finance reform. Beginning in January 2024, candidates will have record keeping and retention requirements so that the Department of Elections will be able to annually audit a percentage of campaign committee accounts. 

If you are a Virginia Realtor, you will now have the ability to negotiate health insurance options through your member associations.  

For my fellow environmentalists, localities can now adopt ordinances for the planting and placement of trees during the land development process. This means that tree conservation can be a bigger priority in areas with high development. 

To address the critical issues at the Virginia Employment Commission, the VEC will develop an unemployment insurance resiliency plan to include specific actions taken when claims increase, to address staffing needs, and overall communications. The law requires employers to submit claim-related forms electronically and the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management will lead a multiagency workgroup to address support strategies during emergencies. The VEC’s internal audit division will also review and update online resources related to unemployment compensation.  

As you know from my previous Richmond Reports, we review a lot of bills during the regular session. You can view a more comprehensive list of bills on dls.virginia.gov