Thursday, March 21, 2019

Not all good things pass

In a future column I’ll talk about laws that passed during the 2019 Session that you’ll need to know about before they go into effect on July 1 of this year. This month, though, I need to share with you a rundown of the important legislation that failed to pass. As this is an election year here in Virginia, with all 140 seats in the General Assembly on the ballot, I think it’s important readers understand what’s at stake.

Gun Violence Prevention

Unlike the sure, swift action we are seeing parliament take in New Zealand after the tragic mass shooting at a Christchurch mosque, the Virginia General Assembly remains a steadfast obstacle to common-sense reforms to our firearm laws. For instance, Delegate Rip Sullivan’s bill to create substantial risk protective orders to allow removal of firearms from the homes of individuals who have been reported as posing a substantial risk of harm to themselves or others - a so-called Red Flag Law that is even supported in concept by the Trump Administration - died in subcommittee on a party line vote.

Other bills killed would have reinstated Virginia’s one handgun purchase per month law, banned the sale of bump stocks and high capacity magazines, and simply required proper storage for firearms in homes where daycare centers also operate.

Student Loan Debt

I’ve worked closely with Delegate Marcia Price of Newport News for several sessions on solutions to the growing student loan debt crisis in Virginia, where over 1 million people carry student loan debt totaling $30 billion. This year, our House Bill 1760, would have licensed student loan servicing companies operating in Virginia, empowering the State Corporation Commission to enforce a student borrower bill of rights. Deceptive and corrupt practices have led borrowers and attorneys general in several states to file dozens of lawsuits against companies like Navient, a prominent student loan servicing company headquartered in Fairfax County.

Working Families

With the help of Delegates like Ken Plum, we continue to work hard to improve the lives of working families here in Virginia. Even as our neighbors in Maryland, D.C. and even West Virginia are seeing increases in the minimum wage each year, our bills which would have very gradually raised the wage over the next 5 years, failed on a party line vote.

While the General Assembly agreed to provide paid family leave for our own employees, so that workers can care for chronically or seriously ill children or family and still be able to pay their rent, health insurance, and other bills, legislation to bring the same worker protections to the private sector continue to go nowhere in the General Assembly. Virginia’s lack of paid family leave affects the state economy and economic productivity.

Solar Freedom

I worked for months between the 2018 and 2019 sessions with Delegate Mark Keam, the Sierra Club, and other stakeholders on a bill (HB 2329) that would have removed legal barriers preventing Virginia homeowners and business from using solar energy to meet their electric power needs. It would have expanded access to net metering, lifted Virginia’s 1% limit on solar energy generation, and allowed the development of community solar projects. The bill had wide support among a variety of groups, but it was still defeated on yet another party line vote.

Contraception & Women’s Health

Removing unnecessary and costly barriers to women’s healthcare, including birth control medication, was another initiative I pursued this year, with a bill to allow the Board of Pharmacy to issue licenses to non-profit facilities and clinics to dispense contraceptives on site. Although this bill had nothing to do with abortion, the bill died in subcommittee on a party line vote after the Family Foundation spoke against it.

Same Day Voter Registration

It shouldn’t be hard to vote in Virginia. This is why I unsuccessfully introduced HB 1904, hoping to allow same day voter registration. Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in our democracy. Deadlines that may have served a purpose in the past to allow registrars time to manually prepare for the election are no longer necessary.

These are just a few of the areas where there is so much work left to be done. That is why I’m running for reelection this year and hope to once again earn your support. We’re so close to having the majority in the House and the Senate – I see all the potential, progressive legislation that we can accomplish that would have a truly lasting and meaningful impact in our community.