Tuesday, January 31, 2017

2017 Session - Week 3

We did it 
We did it 

~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.