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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.