Thursday, December 17, 2020

It's the end of the year

It’s December, which means it’s time for an end of the year column.   

This year’s Richmond Reports started out on an optimistic note.  Virginia Democrats, at long last, had taken the majority in the House of Delegates for the first time in two decades.    

In 2019 (and before), I’d been an outspoken-back-bencher, serving on one House committee that rarely met, another committee that did all of its work in subcommittees (I wasn’t on any). And another committee where I was on a subcommittee, but it had been created for troublemakers like me (informally dubbed “the Simon” subcommittee) where only extra mundane bills were ever referred 

 In 2020, I was appointed to the General Laws, Courts of Justice, and Rules Committees and was named Vice Chair of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. I chaired 3 subcommittees, while serving on 4 or 5 or maybe 6 altogether. It was a very busy time!  

Early 2020 taught me to be careful what you wish for   

I had the privilege of presiding over the committee where we finally passed the Equal Rights Amendment so that it could go to the floor for a full House vote. This same committee passed several critical voting and election related bills, including no-excuse absentee, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and making Election Day a state holiday.  

In the House General Laws Committee, we passed the Virginia Values Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  

In the House Courts Committee, we passed marijuana decriminalization and repealed the medically unnecessary ultrasound requirement and 24-hour mandated delay, effectively removing political interference between a woman and her medical provider. 

I may be most proud of the work I did on another member’s bill, helping to shepherd Delegate Lamont Bagby’s HB 788, which came through my Housing subcommittee. Together we overcame the objections of numerous special interests to craft a bill that allows property owners to remove obsolete and unenforceable racists covenants from their chain of title 

Just as we were about to celebrate a triumphant session in Richmond - where we made historic investments in education, healthcare, and public employees as well as raised the minimum wage and granted public sector units greater opportunities for collective bargaining, plus passed historic gun safety laws to protect our communities from the ravages of gun violence - the grim reality that a global pandemic had arrived in our Commonwealth set in.  

The Governor announced the first set of pandemic-related health and safety guidelines in early March. In April, we met for a Reconvene Session outside on the grounds of the Capitol, and did our business acting on the Governor’s amendments and vetoes. 

Unfortunately, that meant rolling back a lot of those investments we’d included in our budget while we waited to see what impact a quarantine and prolonged social distancing requirements would have on our revenues.  

While we stayed safer at home, glued to our screens, images of the murder of George Floyd made their way into our living rooms and our collective consciousness. 

In August, we met in a special session to revisit our state budget, take steps to provide relief to Virginians affected by the pandemic, and pass important police and criminal justice reforms.  Just this fall the Governor signed laws banning choke holds in most circumstances, eliminating most no-knock warrants, and making it harder for bad police officers to hop from department to department, or be hired in the first place.   

As the year comes to an end, I think we can all agree we’ve seen far too many of our friends and neighbors depart this life too soon. Far too many stores close their doors, many never to return again. There is no doubt that our efforts in Richmond to ease the suffering and provide economic relief have been insufficient to meet the need.   

I’m hopeful that with the inauguration of a new president and administration that believes in the power of Government to be a force for good, for positive change, things will get better. I hope that much needed stimulus payments make their way to individuals, business, and state and local governments.   

There are great challenges that continue to await us in 2021.  I don’t know when we’ll resume the roaring pace that we seemed to get off to early in 2020, but I am confident that we will pull together, though, and make 2021 a far better year than the one we are about to leave behind. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

What I'm thankful for

With Thanksgiving 2020 fast approaching, it's time to take stock those things in our life for which we are grateful. This year will go down in history as one of the most trying and difficult in our nation’s history. There will be plenty of time to look back at what went wrong and why.  This month, this week, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to focus on thinks we in the greater Falls Church community can be thankful for.  

After all, about this time last year we were so optimistic. The 2019 Election had produced another blue wave, sweeping in Democratic majorities in both the House of Delegates and the State Senate. With Democrats in charge of the Governor’s mansion as well, we had a blue trifecta of sorts and would soon take complete control of the lawmaking apparatus in Virginia. 

As our first order of business, we elected Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn as the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House and the first woman and the first African American majority leader, Delegate Charniele Herring. Keeping a campaign promise to make the Virginia legislature reflect ALL Virginians, the Speaker then appointed the most diverse slate of committee chairs ever. 

The transformation of the Virginia General assembly was about more than simply who we elected. It also is about what, together, we stand for.  With our new majorities and leaders from diverse communities in leadership positions, we were able to pass an aggressive and sweeping agenda to bring Virginia into the 21st century.  

First order of business was to improve Democracy in Virginia. We went from being ranked 49th to 12th according to the 2020 Cost of Voting Index. I’m thankful that a record number of Virginians were able to conveniently and safely participate in the 2020 elections with more options than ever to cast their ballots. You were able to vote early by mail, in person, at a drop box, or cruise in and out of a very uncrowded election day polling place this year. We also passed flexible voter ID laws and made Election Day a state holiday. 

We went from tied for last with a minimum wage of $7.25 to a gradual increase up to $15.00 an hour a few years down the road 

We passed the Equal Rights Amendment. 

I’m thankful we passed a historic transportation funding bill to ensure that our state-wide transportation needs are met. We’ve finally identified and dedicated the revenue sources necessary to address our often worst in the nation congestion.  

Our communities are now safer because of gun violence prevention legislation designed to keep guns out of the hands of those that shouldn’t have them. Localities can prohibit the carrying of firearms in public places and government buildings. We’re working to improve Virginia’s reputation by reinstating the one handgun purchase per month law. 

Through legislation and the biennial budget, we addressed utility shutoffs and evictions related to the ongoing pandemic. The utility shutoff moratorium has been extended to 60 days after the declared state of emergency ends and includes language to create a repayment plan for customers who are behind. A universal eviction moratorium was established to the end of the year. Starting January 1st, we outlined an eviction policy that relies on the creation of payment plans and applications to the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program prior to any evictions related action taking place. 

During the Special Session, we passed substantive criminal justice reform to make our communities safer for all of us. Banning no knock warrants, increasing oversight of law enforcement agencies through civilian review boards, creating mental health response teams, requiring de-escalation and racial bias training, limiting the law enforcement agencies ability to purchase military grade equipment, and making it a hate crime to make false 911 calls motivated by race or other bias are just a few highlights. 

It is my privilege to serve you in the House of Delegates and I am thankful every day that I have the opportunity to make our community the best place to live, work, and raise a family.  

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Special Session Wrap Up

Last week the Virginia General Assembly wrapped up one of the most special of Special Sessions in recent memory. It was special not simply because it was called by the Governor outside of our normal annual schedule. It was also the first session conducted almost entirely remotely with virtual sessions conducted by Zoom on the House Side. It was also probably the most productive and likely most impactful session we’ve ever held. 

Our ability to make improvements to Virginia voting laws that made the logistics of putting on an election during a pandemic possible would have been a remarkable achievement during a “normal” special session.  But this Special Session was extra special. 

We also passed an ambitious package of important police reform and criminal justice reform bills, which we funded while having to plug a 9-figure hole in the biennial budget we passed in March.  

Here are some highlights. 


The Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) will be tasked to develop a mental health awareness response and community understanding services (Marcus) alert system throughout the Commonwealth next year under the provisions of Delegate Jeff Bourne’s HB 5043.  

We finally taken care of a bizarre oversight in Virginia that made us one of a handful of states where it wasn’t expressly illegal for law enforcement officers to engage in sexual activity with any detainees in Del. Karrie Delaney’s HB 5045.  

We banned the use of chokeholds (HB 5069) and no-knock warrants (HB 5099) while passing a robust police demilitarization bill prohibiting law enforcement agencies from acquiring military grade weapons and vehicles (HB 5049).  

My bill requiring decertification of law enforcement officers who have been terminated for misconduct or quit while an investigation is pending will keep bad officers from jumping from one jurisdiction to another (HB 5051), while other bills increase vetting and training requirements. HB 5055 requires localities to establish a law-enforcement civilian oversight committee that may investigate and issue findings on civilian complaints regarding officer conduct. 

To protect consumers, we passed legislation to prohibit price gouging of goods and services during a state of emergency (HB 5047). Another bill, HB 5050, authorizes the Governor to purchase and distribute PPE to non-governmental entities during a declared state of emergency due to a public health threat. 

The Budget 

Because of the pandemic, we also needed to address a reforecast state budget. Unsurprisingly, we weren’t able to maintain all the funding that we originally outlined earlier in the year. 

We allocated Federal Cares act funds to K-12 education to help with school reopening and virtual programs, unemployment assistance, direct aid for utility customers, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, broadband accessibility, PPE purchasing, and mortgage and rental assistance. We also ensured that there is funding for the November election, providing for additional cleaning services, PPE, and drop boxes. While some of the CARES Act funding remains unallocated, we will be sure to utilize all the funding before the end of year deadline. 

To further help utility customers, the budget extends the disconnection moratorium until 60 days after the state of emergency ends. It also establishes a universal moratorium on evictions through the end of the year. Starting in the new year, individuals will be able to apply for a Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, which will create affordable payment plans. 

Over $140 million will be spent over the next two years on critical behavioral health services and DD waivers. There is also $7 million for the Virginia Federation of Food Banks. 

I even had a budget amendment that came from constituent casework, which was ultimately included in the final budget. The amendment provides that the DMV must allow individuals who are 65 or over and individuals with an underlying medical condition to make all needed transactions electronically or through the mail during the state of emergency. 

You can review the complete budget conference report online at 

So, although the Special Session may be going on a bit longer than we thought it might, there is no question that we are making progress in the area of criminal justice reform and that we are making the state budget stretch as far as it can. I haven’t missed a single say of the Session Special and I’ve got the receipts.