Thursday, February 28, 2019

Budget Update

While much of the news out of Richmond for the last several weeks was about shocking and disappointing scandals, the just concluded 2019 General Assembly Session also produced some important legislation that will have a positive impact on the lives of Virginians across the commonwealth.

The biggest bill we took on during the 46-day session actually sent us into overtime and a rare 47th session day. HB 1700 contained about 230 pages of amendments to the biennial budget we passed last year.


The amendments include money to give teachers across the Commonwealth a larger than expected pay raise. Overall HB 1700 provides a net increase of $85.7 million for K-12 education above the current adopted base budget and adds $12 million for school counselors in all elementary, middle and high schools in the Commonwealth in an effort to lower the school counselor to student ratios.

Other legislation (HB 1729) mandates that at least 80% of school counselors’ time during the school day be dedicated to providing counseling services to students, rather than other administrative support functions counselors are often called upon to do.

Water Quality

The amendments include significant investments for water quality improvement projects, including $25 million to help Alexandria separate its stormwater and sanitary sewer systems to prevent raw sewage from flowing into the Potomac River during heavy rains. Two years ago, the General Assembly gave Alexandria a tight deadline to stop polluting the Potomac.

Another $127.4 million will go to assist local governments and individuals in reducing nutrient pollution, such as a municipal or industrial waste discharges, which can act like fertilizer causing excessive growth of algae which can have negative impacts on the Bay, and $10 million to help localities install efficient and effective pollution-control measures– such as stream restorations and constructed wetlands- to combat runoff.

Affordable Housing

While we have yet to provide a recurring annual source of revenue for Virginia’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, we were able to provide an additional $1.5 million next year, bringing the total deposit to $7.0 million for the general fund annually.

We also funded a study of the potential need for an eviction diversion and prevention program in response to a recent study that found Virginia has of the highest eviction rates in the country.


The Budget also begins to make a down payment on the recently announced Amazon deal. Beginning July 1, 2020, the first $40 million of sales and use taxes remitted by online retailers with a physical nexus in Virginia shall be deposited into the Major Headquarters Workforce Grant Fund.

New investments in Higher Education will begin creating a Tech Talent Pipeline, including new high-tech degree programs to produce more computer science bachelors and master’s degrees Amazon and other tech companies desire.

Redistricting Reform

The House and Senate overwhelmingly voted for a resolution to amend the Virginia Constitution to create an independent redistricting commission to draw new congressional and general assembly district lines after the 2020 census is completed. The resolution will have to pass in identical form next year and receive a majority of votes cast in a referendum in November of 2020 for the change to take effect.

No Excuse Early Voting

Virginian’s will finally have to stop making up excuses to vote early, if the Governor signs the bill we passed that allows any registered voter to vote absentee in person beginning on the second Saturday prior to election day without having to provide a reason.

School Resource Officers

The General Assembly directed the Department of Criminal Justice Services to establish compulsory minimum training standards for law-enforcement officers serving as school resource officers including mediation and conflict resolution, including de-escalation techniques; awareness of cultural diversity and implicit bias; working with students with disabilities, behavioral health or substance abuse disorders, or trauma experiences; and student behavioral dynamics, including child and adolescent development.

Jacob’s Law

Delegate Richard P. “Rip” Sullivan championed a bill none as “Jacob’s Law” that will allow unmarried and same sex couple to create families using assisted conception. His bill changes the statute to provide gender-neutral terminology and allows an unmarried individual to be an intended parent, paralleling the ability of an unmarried individual to adopt under the adoption statutes. The bill further allows for the use of an embryo subject to the legal or contractual custody of an intended parent in a surrogacy arrangement.

Help for Families with Autism Coverage

Legislation passed this year requires health insurers to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in individuals of any age. Currently, such coverage is required to be provided for individuals from age two through age 10.

Deep Fake Video Harassment

Finally, my own bill updates Virginia’s anti-revenge pornography statute to include creating, adapting, or modifying a sexually explicit videographic or still image with the intent to depict an actual person.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Changing the Rules

This is the final week of the 2019 General Assembly Session. Odd year sessions are our short sessions, when we meet for 45 days rather than 60. In theory we have less to do, since Virginia adopts a biennial budget every other year, although in practice we end up doing almost as much revising to our biennial budget in the odd years as we do when adopting new budgets in the even years.

In addition to figuring out how to manage a significant budget windfall that resulted from tax changes at the federal level that limited Virginians’ ability to itemize deductions (we did a combination of tax payer rebates and raising the Virginia standard deduction), we also considered over 2,200 bills and resolutions.

There is no way to handle that much work in as slow and deliberate a way as we might have liked. Especially in short session years, it’s critical to keep laser focused on our legislative priorities — even in the face of other crises.

Last year, on the heels of our historic gains in the House when we came a random drawing away from partisan parity, I passed a record five bills (out of about 40 that I introduced). In short session years the rules limit us to introducing 15 bills. I’m pleased to report that four of my 15 bills have now passed the Senate. Three of them will go into a conference committee — the process in which two similar bills passed in each respective chamber are reconciled into one — after which, they will head to the Governor’s desk. In addition to this, I submitted 13 commending resolutions to honor those in our community who celebrated a milestone anniversary or work achievement.

In addition to shepherding my own bills through the legislative process, I serve as the Parliamentarian for the House Democratic Caucus. That means I’m responsible for knowing the rules, helping my fellow Delegates navigate the floor, and trying to out-maneuver my colleagues from the other side of the aisle on procedural matters. This session has been particularly interesting when it comes to knowing and using the rules to the maximum benefit of our caucus.

One of the most prominent issues in the General Assembly this year was the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Virginia was presented with a unique opportunity to become the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA. Since the beginning of this session, there have been lobby days, rallies, protests, ROBO calls, and mass emails — all centered on passing the ERA. And for those of you who followed the journey of Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy’s HJR 579, you’ll know that it was defeated in subcommittee by Republicans on a party line vote.

My colleagues in the Senate, however, passed SJR 284, a bipartisan measure introduced by Senators Glen Sturtevant and Dick Saslaw. After crossover, my Republican colleagues in the House left that bill in subcommittee, again on a party line vote.

After crossover, advocates on behalf of the ERA and some of the bill’s original patrons came to me, as the House Democratic Parliamentarian, looking for another path to bring the ERA to a vote on the floor. We know that if the entire body were presented the opportunity to vote on the ERA, rather than just being presented to a small subset of its members in a subcommittee, we have the support to finally pass it in the House.

Working with Delegate Hala Ayala, the House Democrats introduced a rule change that would specifically allow the full House to vote on resolutions to ratify amendments to the United States Constitution by a simple majority vote (HJ 274). In addition, I also introduced a rule change (HJ 280) to allow the House of Delegates to discharge any resolution from a committee by a simple majority.

Proposed rule changes must sit on the Speaker’s desk for five business days — so we’ll know by Thursday of this week whether we can bring the ERA to the floor for a full vote. I’m cautiously optimistic about the outcome of these proposed rule changes; but I know that even if we cannot ratify the ERA this year, then we will most certainly be able to do it next year with a Democratic majority in the House.