During the 2019 General Assembly session, Cathy analyzed and wrote about a different bill everyday between January 9 and February 22. You can go to a specific bill by clicking on the blue button with the Bill Number listed (HB-House Bill, SB-Senate Bill, HJ-House Joint, SJ-Senate Joint) or scroll down and read the each post in reverse chronology of the posting. If you would like to start with the first post and scroll up, click here.
ERA, JUSTICE, & EQUALITY
February 22, 2019
This Senate Bill, patroned by Sen. Jeremy McPike, required licensed child day programs and certain other programs that serve preschool-age children to develop and implement a plan to test potable water for lead. The bill indicated that only child care programs using water sources identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as high priority would be impacted. If a test showed a level of lead in the potable water that was at or above 15 parts per billion, the care program shall remediate the level of lead in the potable water to below 15 parts per billion.
Lead in our water can especially impact developing brains. This bill was designed to help mitigate one of the many fears that parents have when we drop our children off at daycare. Locking this bill into a committee in the House was a destructive and harmful decision.
After the ERA passed the Senate but didn't get released from the House Committee, I thought I'd follow another piece of legislation that suffered the same fate. This SB was passed unanimously by the Senate and the Committee for Rehabilitation and Social Services unanimously passed it. It was sent to the House and unanimously passed the Committee of Health, Welfare, and Institutions but the Committee on Appropriations passed it by indefinitely, thereby locking it into "killed" status. The General Assembly session ends tomorrow but today is the last day of passing legislation.
February 21, 2019
HB1908, patroned by Delegate Schuyler Van Valkenberg (a middle and high school teacher), was a fairly short and direct bill. It asked for a tweak in the 6th grade science curriculum. It directed the Department of Education to work with the Department of Environmental Quality to update the existing "Window into a Green Virginia" curriculum for sixth grade science to include a unit on the benefits, including the energy benefits, of recycling and reuse.
There were a lot of Environmental/Natural Resources bills introduced in the General Assembly this year. I've covered several, like the Fossil Fuels Moratorium and the RGGI prohibition. As a rule, most bills that Democrats introduced related to the environment died in a close vote (i.e. generally along party lines).
HB1908 was reported from the Education Committee (12-9) and then the vote in the House was a tie (48-48, 3 abstained). When it is a tie, the measure is defeated.
It's important to educate our children, especially on areas related to climate change and energy consumption. Choosing to ignore climate change and trying to hide recyclable energy benefits from children demonstrates an inability to lead Virginia in a positive, forward-thinking direction. Our legislators should do better because our children deserve to understand the world they are inheriting.
February 20, 2019
Virginia operates under a biennial budget cycle. Each year the Governor prepares the proposed budget bill for introduction by the General Assembly. The bill is initially adopted in even-numbered years and amended in odd-numbered years. Amendments to the budget bill can add, modify, endorse or delete items in the Governor's proposed budget. Before the General Assembly adjourns each year, a conference committee resolves any differences between the versions passed by the two houses. That’s the stage where we are right now.
The budget has many, many items in it, but I’m going to concentrate on three areas that all relate to education: Virginia public school teachers’ salaries, the number of school counselors, and At-Risk Add-On funding.
Some background information: According to the Virginia Educator’s Association, since 2008, Virginia’s state funding for K-12 schools has declined 12% when adjusted for inflation. Virginia teachers currently earn $9,218 less than the national average, ranking us at 34th in the country. That ranking may not look too bad, but Virginia is ranked the 12th wealthiest state. If you want another scary statistic: Virginia is ranked 42nd in per-pupil state funding. So, let's dive in to the three areas previously mentioned and see what's happening between the Governor's proposed budget, the House version, and the Senate version.
First, the Governor proposed $87.6 million to increase state support for salaries for a total of a 5% raise for teachers. At present, the Senate seems to be on board with that increase. The House is a different story. The House budget did something very specific with that money. They explicitly consented to raising salaries by 5%, but said that localities would be responsible to pay for the raise for the first half of the year and then the state would chip in the other half. This measure would exacerbate the difference in funding between wealthier schools/districts and poorer regions. Localities that could not fund a raise for teachers would be left out in the cold, and those teachers wouldn’t even receive the half year salary raise from the state because the conditions for a raise, in their localities, wouldn’t be met. Public school teachers in Linville-Edom deserve the same respect and the same raise that teachers in Fairfax County earn. The House budget doesn't do that.
Next, for some background knowledge, the American School Counselor Association recommends a counselor to student ratio of 1:250. In Virginia, our current levels stand at 1:500 in elementary schools, 1:325 in middle schools, and 1:300 in high schools. In December, the Governor proposed investing $36 million for additional school counselors. Doing so would decrease the ratio of counselors to students to 1:375 in elementary schools, 1:325 in middle schools, and 1:300 in high schools. The House agreed to this expenditure. The Senate did not. In the Senate bill, they propose investing $10 million and change. Doing so would result in a counselor-student ratio of 1:460 at elementary school, 1:375 at middle school, and 1:330 at high school. Yes, both budgets will reduce our current ratio, but the Senate budget allotment is a stop-gap measure rather than one that can have a significant impact on our students, counselors, and staff.
Finally, At-Risk Add-On funding is one of three major ways that Virginia’s education funding occurs. First, the local composite index considers a locality’s capacity to fund education. Second, the lottery provides funding on a per-pupil basis, so divisions with more students get more money. Finally, the At-Risk Add-On considers the amount of poverty that schools have to address as they’re educating children. The Governor proposed a $35.6 million to increase the At-Risk Add-On funding that is directed, on a per-pupil basis, to those students most in need. The House budget keeps about the same amount of funding total, but allocates more money to be given to the lottery fund rather than At-Risk Add-On funding. The Senate keeps almost the same ratio of funding to the three methods of funding the Governor budgeted, but it lowers the sum total of all education funding. To put it in direct numbers, the $35.6 million increase to At-Risk Add-On funding would become a $21.4 million increase in the Senate budget and would become exactly zero in the House budget.
At-Risk Add-On Funding might seem like spare change compared other areas in the budget but it has a very real effect, especially on rural areas of the Commonwealth. The At-Risk Add-On program targets schools with high concentrations of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals and works to give them after-school programs and special instruction, among other things. District 26 would benefit from increased at-risk add-on funding, yes, but it’s also the right thing to do.
Last year, as part of the Sorensen Institute’s Political Leaders Program, we were tasked with balancing the budget. We were split into two teams (Senators and Delegates—not to worry, I was a Delegate!) and given a list of all the things wanted/needed (and their costs) and the ways that we could choose to raise revenue. First, we worked in our groups to separately get to a budget. Then the two groups compared budgets, compromises were made, and we finally settled on a budget. But it wasn’t easy.
I know the job that these legislators have isn’t easy, but I believe that the Commonwealth needs to prioritize and fund a high-quality public education for every child in our state. As the Delegate in the 26th District, I will work so that teachers and support staff are fairly compensated for the incredible work that they do. I’ll work to make sure that our tax dollars are used in an equitable and beneficial way. And I’ll make sure that our children are given the tools for success through a strong education.
February 19, 2019
I like the possibilities that I see in this bill. I say "possibilities" only because the bill impacts the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News Metropolitan area and not my district. But it will be a useful bill to watch to see whether something similar could be useful here.
The bill, patroned by my friend Delegate Jerrauld "Jay" Jones, incentivizes landlords to offer housing options to lower-income residents. In areas where less than 10% of residents live below the poverty line, landlords could use the Communities of Opportunity Tax Credit (currently in use just around the Richmond area) so that the landlords could accept residents with housing vouchers. This bill was designed to deconcentrate poverty as well as diversify and strengthen the Hampton Roads communities.
The bill was reported from the Finance Committee of the House (20-2), passed by the House (87-8), sent to the Senate, reported from the Senate Finance Committee (13-0), and passed unanimously by the Senate. On February 11th, having passed both Senate and House, it was signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. It was sent to the Governor, and he signed it into law on February 15th.
I think this type of bill could be useful to explore as an option for how to help residents with fixed and lower incomes, especially within the city of Harrisonburg. District 26 encompasses Harrisonburg and most of Rockingham County, but the division between sectors of the city is easiest to see within the city. The state of Virginia can provide more possibilities of tax credits and incentives than localities can. With my determination to help the residents of District 26, I can bring the state's financial resources to help this local issue. #CountOnCathy to be fiscally responsible #CountOnCathy to implement creative solutions
February 18, 2019
Here's an interesting bill, and (bonus points!) it highlights some of the issues that legislators are dealing with in how to fund improvements for I-81.
SB1470, patroned by John Edwards, was introduced into the Senate as an additional motor fuels tax. It would have added 5% onto our current gasoline tax. The money gained would be distributed as such: $300 million for improvements to Interstate 81, and the rest distributed statewide as needed.
The bill was reported from the Finance Committee but, before it was read on the floor of the Senate, SB1322 was incorporated into it. SB1322, patroned by Sen. Emmett Hanger, introduced a 2.1% gas tax, but also placed the majority of funds into I-81 improvements.
On the whole, these two bills are very similar and one could see why they might play nicely together. But here's what the bill actually became: SB1470 is now focused on Transportation Revenues. The bill directs the Secretary of Transportation to evaluate the impact of increased fuel efficiency and increased use of hybrid and electric vehicles on transportation revenues, and to report to the General Assembly no later than December 10, 2019.
So, two bills were introduced to increase gas taxes, allowing money to be put toward I-81 improvements. The bills were combined but the gas taxes were eliminated entirely and the point of the bill is to study how fuel-efficient vehicles impact potential revenue sources.
That bill passed the Senate (25-15) and is being studied in the House's Committee on Appropriations.
I do appreciate research; I think that's how critical decisions should be made--through a nuanced and researched understanding of the issues. But I-81 needs to be funded. And it needs to be funded now. Senator Mark Obenshain, especially, has declined to toll, declined to tax, and is content to let the next cycle of legislators actually fund the changes that need to happen to improve I-81. I'm happy to be one of those legislators to fund the improvements.
February 17, 2019
Nondiscrimination in public employment
This bill, patroned by Sen. Adam Ebbin, prohibits discrimination in public employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill codifies for state and local government employment the current prohibitions on discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran.
It is not a revolutionary bill, but it is a necessary bill because discrimination too often happens in the workplace and LGBT individuals have been subjected to the whims of executive order rather than given the dignity of being included in codified law.
In 2005, Gov. Warner amended an executive order that for the first time explicitly banned Virginia state agencies from discriminating against gays in hiring and promotions. In 2010, the governorship changed parties, and Gov. McDonnell signed an executive order barring discrimination in the state workforce on grounds that include race, sex, religion and age, but NOT sexual orientation. After another switch in 2014, Gov. McAuliffe signed an executive order that barred discrimination in the state workforce on grounds that include race, sex, religion, age, AND sexual orientation.
In order to avoid the whims of an executive order, the General Assembly needed to pass something as simple as nondiscrimination in public employment (on the basis of sexual identity and gender identity, since all of the others are already in law). But it hasn't proven easy. This session, you'll find HB2067 and HB2421, both of which look a lot like this Senate bill. They were both killed in General Laws Committee in the House.
SB998 went to the General Laws and Technology Committee in the Senate and passed on an 11-7 vote. It then passed the Senate 28-12 in mid-January. It went to the House and was assigned to the Rules Committee, which voted to move it to the General Laws Committee in mid-February. If left in that Committee when the General Assembly closes next week, it will be killed.
The LGBT community deserves better treatment--not only in the workplace but by their representatives in the General Assembly. I will work hard so that everyone can enjoy a non-discriminatory workplace.
February 16, 2019
Coming to a highway near you! SB1521 passed the Senate in a 28-12 decision after passing the Transportation Committee. In the House, the Transportation Committee there added another amendment and passed it 20-2, before it passed the House 74-24. Because the House had amended the bill, the Senate had to re-vote and passed it 30-8 this time. It'll go to the Governor's desk now.
If he signs it into law, here's what will happen. The bill, patroned by Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr., who formerly worked for the Virginia State Police, allows the Department of State Police to set up automated speed traps in highway work zones. If a vehicle is photographed exceeding the speed limit by 12 or more MPH, then the owners of that vehicle will receive a ticket in the mail.
Through this bill, the Virginia State Police can make up to $37 million per year; the profit to be made by the private company contracted by VSP for these cameras is yet to be determined. In the 1990s, when Virginia tested these cameras in an attempt set them up in the Capitol Beltway, the Virginia Department of Transportation found the radar equipment would read between 3 MPH and 9 MPH too high when operators deliberately positioned the cameras 8 degrees away from the recommended orientation. Hopefully, those issues have been solved in the intervening 20 years.
Prior to this bill, state law required in-person service before a ticket could be enforced. This new law states that speed camera ticket recipients outside of Virginia will face "all legal collections activities" if they fail to pay.
The bill, if signed into law, would allow these speed traps to start on July 1st of this year. So, slow down in highway construction zones or you will be mailed a ticket of $125.
This is a complex bill, and it did not easily divide on party lines. I agree that it is useful to maintain safe speeds in highway work zones to protect workers. However, the "Big Brother" aspect of cameras watching our every move can certainly be a concern for this type of legislation.
February 15, 2019
I talked about Campaign Finance Reform on January 29th, in reference to HB2092 and HB1958, both of which were killed in committee. But HB1617 is still active, so let's discuss it.
Patroned by Delegate Mark Cole, this bill prohibits the personal use of campaign funds by the candidate or campaign "for a strictly personal purpose with no intended, reasonable, or foreseeable benefit to the candidate's campaign or public office."
Let's break it down. Currently, in Virginia, when donations are made to a candidate, those amounts need to be tracked and entered into COMET (the electronic filing place for the Virginia Department of Elections). When a donation is made, the Virginia Dept. of Elections tracks who gave the contribution, how much it was for, and some information from the donor.
But let's look at what happens to the money, once given to the candidate. They need to report money that comes in, and they need to disclose when money flowed out of their campaign (staff payments, yard signs purchased, etc). But HOW the campaign chooses to use their money has zero regulations, beyond basic no money-laundering, etc. (This does differ from federal campaign regulations.)
With no regulations on how a campaign uses their money, there is a level of trust built into any campaign that one donates to. You assume that they will use the money in a smart way to achieve the outcome: getting elected. Campaigns may hire finance directors and the like but, in the end, the candidate is responsible for how they choose to use the money. Did they decide to use 3/4ths of their money on paying staff? Did they decide to use 15% of their money on voter outreach?
This bill would aim to put a sort of regulation into effect. If a candidate couldn't use funds for a "personal purpose," then what would that entail? Is paying a babysitter allowed? Probably, if for a campaign event. Renting an outfit for a campaign appearance? Probably. Paying for a campaign P.O.Box? Fine. But what wouldn't be considered allowable? That's where the regulation comes into play.
A complaint could be filed by anyone to the State Board of Elections. Then that complaint would be heard, or a campaign could reimburse for the amount of money if they didn't want to pursue a hearing.
There may be a cost connected to this bill. The State Board of Elections and Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council would be responsible for handling the complaints. Depending on how many complaints are received, they may have to increase staff. However, there's no way of knowing how many complaints would be given before a bill like this is put in place.
So, what to do about this bill? The House unanimously passed it, after some amendments were added while in the Privileges and Elections Committee. It's currently in the Senate's Committee on Rules.
I think it starts a conversation about Campaign Finance Reform, and it begins to discuss that a campaign should use funds donated to a campaign to elect that candidate, in that specific election. The bill is deliberately vague and the process of "revealing" a violation requires citizens to police other candidates. That could get messy. But campaigns are already pretty messy.
I would lean toward passing reform like this, but I also think we need much more campaign finance reform. The other Campaign Finance Reform bills I mentioned at the beginning need to be given their chance to be amended and discussed and voted on by the House and Senate.
Trusting your candidate's ability to handle the money that you give them is a leap of faith. Personally, fiscal responsibility is a cornerstone in my campaign.
February 14, 2019
It's been one year since the Parkland shooting. Legislators still aren't doing enough to bring commonsense legislation to the floor so that violence can be prevented. This bill is an excellent example of what commonsense gun reform should look like.
The bill, patroned by Delegate Jeffrey Bourne, required a person who lawfully owned a firearm to report the loss or theft of that firearm to the police within 24 hours after they discover the theft or have been told about the theft from someone else. If a person did not report the theft, they would be fined $50.
The bill would also require the law enforcement agency to which the theft was reported to enter that information into the National Crime Information Center.
This bill protects responsible gun owners. The bill specifically states that, if a person reports a theft, they will be immune from criminal or civil liability committed with the stolen firearm.
This bill is a complete win. It protects gun owners who have been robbed from being held liable for acts committed with the stolen item. It allows a database of stolen firearms to be continuously updated. It encourages gun owners to report a crime, and allows the police to work a case even before the firearm may be used. And it allows a window of time for the report to happen, especially making allowances in case you found out about a theft at a later date.
The bill was sent to Subcommittee #1 of the Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee. They voted, along party lines, to pass it by indefinitely, and it was effectively killed.
Commonsense gun violence prevention laws are necessary. In addition, they should be something easily agreed on by all responsible people. But something has changed in the last few decades; the NRA, through a deliberate campaign to incite fear, has caused us to hate each other and has turned a discussion on gun violence prevention methods into a polarized war. The result of this has not been nuanced, direct action on solving problems (say, of gun theft) but it has been killing bills that dare to mention guns, and attacking.
Just today, my Congressman Ben Cline promoted the NRA and vowed to protect me from a "bad bill." That divisive, inflammatory language and action is not what I want to do in the state legislature. I want to bring thoughtful legislation into focus, discuss it in a productive manner with colleagues, and implement effective change.
February 13, 2019
I remember, as a 9th-grade student journalist, the power of researching and crafting a story. To me, the smell of fresh newspaper ink links inextricably to that tell-tale thrill of knowing that your opinions, your thoughts, and your heart is on display for the world to read. So let's dive in to a bill that would allow student journalists in Virginia to have full freedom of speech & the press.
This legislation, patroned by Delegate Chris Hurst, was killed in Subcommittee #1 of the Education Committee when it was not recommended to move forward to be voted on by the Committee.
The bill would have allowed student journalists to exercise their freedom of speech and the press in school-sponsored media. Editing and "prior review" practices would still be implemented by advisors.
HHS Media, in a Newsstreak Editorial Board column, cogently and passionately discussed this bill and how it would bring clarity and functionality as students learn the ropes of being a journalist. They also do a commendable job of explaining the historical court cases that have controlled student journalism practices. I've linked it below; please read it.
When I'm elected Delegate, I look forward to working with all members of my district to craft clear legislation and to implement said legislation in a rational and useful way. I would enjoy advocating for student journalists on a bill like this. I want high schoolers in my district to revel in sharing their opinions through journalism.
February 12, 2019
This bill, patroned by Senator Barbara Favola, "provides that a defendant in a capital case who had a severe mental illness, as defined in the bill, at the time of the offense, is not eligible for the death penalty."
This bill has been a close vote bill during its time in the General Assembly. It passed the Courts of Justice Committee in the Senate in an 8-6 vote and passed the Senate 23-17. All Democrats and 4 Republicans voted in favor of it. It has crossed over to the House and is currently being seen in the Courts of Justice Committee.
Senators in favor of this bill saw it as a way to address two issues: the death penalty in Virginia (especially whether it is a humane and responsible way to administer justice) and mental illness. Sen. Saslaw, who voted for the bill but explained that he was pleased that the death penalty had been imposed on Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, said “probably we ought to think twice” about imposing the death penalty on mentally ill patients.
Opposition to the bill came descriptively from Sen. A. Bentin Chafin, who said the bill would protect “these monsters who move through the dark and move through the day, and they slaughter innocent people.” And Sen. Norment said that the legal system already has “a number of safeguards” designed to keep mentally ill patients from being given the death penalty during sentencing.
In a Democratic Party meeting in Harrisonburg yesterday, a member from Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty cited this bill as one that they are following in their desire to eliminate the death penalty from Virginia.
Two men are currently on death row in Virginia, which has not imposed the death sentence since 2011. I do not know whether either of the men have been deemed mentally ill. Sen. Scott A. Surovell, who supported the legislation, cited that between 5 percent and 20 percent of death row inmates nationally meet the definition of severely mentally ill.
Personally, I would support this bill.
February 11, 2019
Hazardous Waste Site Inventory
This bill, patroned by Delegate Alfonso Lopez, a fellow Sorensen alum and all-around wonderful person, would post a listing of Hazardous Waste sites on the public website of Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality. The list would be created by July 1, 2020 and updated yearly. The inventory would list all the sites where the disposal of hazardous waste not otherwise excluded from regulation has occurred and provide specific information about each site.
The bill allows public transparency regarding hazardous waste; whether it's a hazard to human health or to protect our environment from toxic substances, Virginians should be able to check to see where hazardous waste might be in their community.
This bill shows the dedication that Delegates can bring to their job. It had to go through two committees (Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources and Appropriations) and add on a few amendments. But, with work, this became a bill that unanimously passed both committees and the House. It's in the Senate's Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee right now. But, because of the hard work that was put into this bill both before and during the session, I think it stands a good change of passing the Senate and being signed into law.
As Delegate, I will be responsive to bills. Writing bills that can help our district will be necessary, but leading them through amendments and talking with other General Assembly members to produce the most effective piece of legislation is the way to actually make change. As a Writing Instructor, I know that it takes work to move from draft to final product, and I won't leave bills to languish. Thanks, Delegate Lopez for your inspiring example!
February 10, 2019
Minority Language Accessibility
This bill, patroned by Delegate Kathy Tran, would have required "the State Board of Elections to provide voting and election materials in languages other than English for use by localities for which more than five percent or 10,000 of the citizens of voting age are members of a single language minority and unable to speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process and for which the illiteracy rate of citizens of such a group is higher than the national average."
For our District, this bill would have been incredibly useful. All voters should understand their ballot and how to make the choice to best represent them. Providing translated voting and election materials would mean more informed and excited voters.
This bill was referred to Subcommittee #2 on the Privileges and Elections Committee. On party lines, they failed to recommend reporting it and killed the bill. As Delegate, I want to write and advocate bills like this that can expand and empower the electorate, so that our voices are heard more clearly.
February 9, 2019
This bill, patroned by Delegate Charles Poindexter, seeks to impose a strict control on whether Virginia ever enters into a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program. The bill would prohibit the Governor or any state agency from entering into an agreement for CO2 cap-and-trade (such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative-RGGI). It would allow the Commonwealth to participate if both chambers (Senate and House of Delegates) adopted such a resolution by a 2/3rds vote.
The bill passed the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee on a partisan-vote split. It passed the House (51-49, again on a partisan vote). It was sent to the Senate and just passed their Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee on a partisan-vote split. It'll be voted on in the Senate, likely, next week. I have a guess as to what the vote will be.
This bill breaks my heart in two ways: environmentally and civically.
The environmental portion is easy to understand. We need to do something about pollutants and I think we need to have creative solutions because climate change is moving swiftly. There are multiple ways to attempt to reduce CO2, but a carbon tax and cap-and-trade are the two that are most often discussed. Neither one will fix our planet. But RGGI, which has 10 states--all in New England--within their pilot program, has shown a significant reduction in carbon emissions while also enjoying economic growth.
The fiscal implications portion of the bill's impact statement explains "The Department of
Environmental Quality, which is responsible for carrying out the mandates of the Virginia Air Pollution Control Law on behalf of the Air Pollution Control Board, estimates that participation in a program to limit and reduce the total carbon dioxide emissions released by
electric generation facilities may generate approximately $65 million annually beginning in
2020, with yearly reductions of three percent until 2030. Under the proposed regulation, 95 percent of these funds will be passed on to the public through utility rebates, and five percent will be received as nongeneral fund revenue by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy for the abatement and control of carbon dioxide air pollution."
So, if Virginia doesn't enter into a CO2 cap-and-trade world, it could be giving up a significant sum of money and further harming our planet. However, that's not the reason that this bill hurts the most.
I can see logic behind not choosing CO2 cap-and-trade and choosing carbon taxes or another method of regulation. I would be delighted to discuss alternatives and to explore compromises in order to achieve the best result. But this bill actively works against constructive dialogue and legislative action. It seeks to stop change from happening. And the planet isn't going to stop changing.
Virginia legislators know how difficult it is to have a 2/3rds majority in both houses. By bringing a bill to the floor that seeks to limit how our state agencies can deal with carbon emissions, the legislators show a distrust not only in state agencies to do their job impartially and for the common good, but they show a distrust in the voters. I would argue that, if legislators thought this bill was vitally important, then they should be required to have a 2/3rds majority to pass this bill.
Politics can be nasty, but it doesn't have to be. I want to work to discuss, find, and implement effective solutions to address our carbon emissions. When legislators bring bills designed to keep Virginia in the 1980s (at best), I want our Delegates and Senators to use their voices to explain why this is wrong.
February 8, 2019
HB2680: Milk Production Tax Credit
This bill was introduced by the current delegate of my district, Tony Wilt. It was referred to Subcommittee #3 of the Finance Committee which briefly discussed it on January 18th. The bill was never voted on to progress to the floor of the House and, on crossover day this past Tuesday, it officially died.
I think this bill had the potential to help some small dairy farms in my area, and I wish that the Republican-chaired committee and Delegate Wilt had worked harder to make this a feasible bill and effectively advocate for our dairy farmers. This bill would have given a tax credit to dairy farmers who sell milk below the producer price that is determined by the State Milk Commission. The tax credit varied depending on how much milk was sold below the producer price. It also required that the dairy farmers had implemented a nutrient management plan or a resource management plan.
The Citizen (hburgcitizen.com) had a well written story about small dairy farms in today's (2/8/19) edition. Please consider reading it, but I'm going to talk about a slightly different angle to the problem.
In my area, dairy is a big deal, but the ability of mega-dairy farms (outside of our district) to oversaturate the market is a problem. Mega-dairy farms can afford to sell their milk for less because of the huge quantities they produce.
In addition, the consumption of milk has decreased since the early 2000s. In 2014, milk producers had a spectacular year, mainly because China overestimated the dairy that they required. China more than tripled the amount of milk they bought that year. This caused dairy farmers to enjoy a banner year of profits, but also to put these profits into improving their dairy farms and planning for larger production years. When China admitted their error and returned to their usual buying rates, the milk industry here had the ability to make huge quantities of milk but no one was buying those huge quantities.
Dairy farmers are some of my favorite people to talk to. They know the industry; they know their product; they care about the environment, their cows, the milk they produce, and the future. They deserve to have a delegate who will fight for them and who can work with them to have creative and long-term solutions. Delegate Wilt was right to introduce a bill that introduced tax credits, but that's far too little far too late. They needed this to be done in 2010, when Delegate Wilt was first elected.
I want to work with dairy farmers to figure out solutions. Huge costs of transportation of milk can be accrued because Virginia has not invested in a milk production facility. For some dairy farms, milk produced here in the Shenandoah Valley has to be driven daily to North Carolina to be processed and sold. I'm excited to keep talking to dairy farmers during my campaign so that we can figure out clear solutions and implement very real and helpful change during the next session of the General Assembly.
February 7, 2019
HJ720, patroned by Delegate Debra Rodman, designates June 20th of every year as World Refugee Day in the Commonwealth.
The House and Senate pass many bills every year that honor people or groups. I'm so pleased that the General Assembly chose to acknowledge and recognize refugees. Harrisonburg is an official Church World Service refugee resettlement community. Since 1988, refugees from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia, Burma, Colombia, Congo (Kinshasa), Croatia, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Russia, Rwanda, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan have settled in our area, and they have made our community stronger. In 2016, the "Welcome Your Neighbor" movement started here and took off nationwide thanks to our community's desire to include and welcome everyone.
I'm glad that the General Assembly seems poised to designate June 20th World Refugee Day. The bill unanimously passed the House after unanimously passing the Committee on Rules. It was sent to the Senate and is in their Committee on Rules.
February 6, 2019
HB2733: Exempting agricultural vehicles from a personal property tax
Words matter. This bill changes one word in a current law, but that single change has widespread benefits. Delegate Michael Webert patroned this bill.
(Emphasis in this paragraph has been noted by me through asterisks.) Current law provides a separate classification for motor vehicles, trucks, and trailers that are used *exclusively* for agricultural purposes, and for which the owner is not required to obtain a registration certificate, license plate, and decal or pay a registration fee. This bill would expand the definition by changing the criteria to motor vehicles, trucks, and trailers that are used *primarily* for agricultural purposes.
The bill also expands the exemption to equipment used by a nursery when producing horticultural products and to any farm tractor.
In District 26, this matters. It would benefit the local agricultural producers in our area. This bill would not impact any federal regulations on these vehicles. This bill would not have any fiscal impact on the state either through revenue or administration costs. The bill, though, would likely have a slight local impact due to decreased revenue but that would likely be mitigated by decreased administration costs as well.
After going through the Finance Committee and having a couple of amendments integrated into it while also doing a couple of impact statements, this bill was unanimously passed in the House (as part of a block vote, where multiple bills were voted on at the same time). The Senate should begin the process of placing it in committee soon.
February 5, 2019
Today, I'm going to dive into a controversy from the Valley.
SB1068: This Senate bill, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain, "prohibits a baccalaureate public institution of higher education from employing an individual appointed by the Governor to the board of visitors of such institution within two years of the expiration of such member's term but exempts the employment of the institution president or superintendent from such prohibition."
That's the exact wording from the amended bill. That bill passed the Senate in a 40-0 vote, after having unanimously passed the Senate's Education and Health Committee. The bill, patroned in the House by Delegate Steve Landes, has been read once and sent to the Education Committee. When the bill was first introduced in the Senate, it asked for prohibiting employment for four years, but it was amended to two years before it passed out of committee.
Now let's get into why it is a controversy. This is the JMU/Bill Bolling bill and it was introduced by Sen. Obenshain because of a situation that was reported on late last year and garnered a bit of national press and even more state and local press.
Bill Bolling is a former Republican Lt. Governor of Virginia. He was elected twice, in 2005 and in 2009, and served under Democratic Governor Tim Kaine and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell. He considered, announced, and suspended a run to be Governor during 2012 (for a 2013 gubernatorial election year).
Mr. Bolling served on the JMU University Board of Visitors for six years. The Board of Visitors is the governing body of the university and oversees the governing of the institution. The Board of Visitors acts in a supervisory role toward the President of the University, Jonathan R. Alger.
President Alger hired Mr. Bolling for a newly created position of senior fellow in residence for public service following discussions that began in part while Mr. Bolling was still on the Board of Visitors. As advised by JMU's legal counsel, though they had a discussion about it while he was still on the Board, they did not begin negotiations until after Mr. Bolling left his Board position.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, on December 16, 2018, that "[t]he records show that after approaching Alger about a job, Bolling was allowed to write parts of his own job description, including changing his title; was granted reduced-rate rent on a university-owned house and given a “signing bonus” to cover the first year of the rent, at his request; was allowed by Alger to continue some work at the insurance firm he works for in the Richmond area after he started on the payroll at JMU, which Bolling told university officials would net him a total of $50,000; and received free club seats to home football games."
JMU spokespeople said that the picture painted by the press was inaccurate and irresponsible. And President Alger noted that Mr. Bolling's leadership and experience made him one of only a few individuals in the Commonwealth who could fulfill the duties of this role.
When reported, Sen. Obenshain immediately expressed public surprise saying "Conflicts of interest are about appearances of impropriety. This is unquestionably a conflict situation, in which somebody who is serving on a board is talking to the executive who reports to him about rotating off of the board and into a paid position with that organization. That’s a conflict." It was widely noted the Mr. Bolling and Sen. Obenshain have had a contentious relationship as they moved in the power circles around Richmond.
Here at JMU, most public opinion centered on the potential conflict of not looking for other potential candidates and of creating a new position that seemed suited to one individual. President Alger did not break the law, but some did think that more time should have been taken between the end of service with the Board of Visitors and employment at the University. Public opinion did seem to favor that a law should be introduced to formalize the rules regarding how Board of Visitors should interact with the University after their tenure has been completed. I think that introducing a law, but not making it retroactive (as SB1068 is), might be an acceptable path forward. It is a conflict that needs to be resolved.
What is of further interest is that Sen. Obenshain has publicly stated that he would withdraw this bill if Mr. Bolling resigns or JMU ends his employment. Sen. Obenshain has been very clear that he sees this situation as a conflict of interest and as one that should be remedied so that other universities don't have these conflicts. Taking the bill off the table would mean that Sen. Obenshain was only interested in this due to a personal vendetta not a public solution to a potential conflict of interest.
I believe that bills introduced in the Senate and the House need to fix potential problems, such as these, but they should not be used for personal attacks. I hope to bring a very real problem-solving approach to Richmond, and I will not let my personal thoughts outweigh my public service to the people of my District.
February 4, 2019
SB1748, patroned by Senator Adam Ebbin, focuses on firearms.
The bill does several things, but the most notable portion was reducing the maximum magazine capacity in firearms in the state down to 10 (it's currently at more than 20). The bill did include a lot of language for how to redefine an assault weapon and penalties for transporting and selling assault weapons.
This bill was passed by indefinitely in the Senate Court of Justice along a party line vote.
I think that we need to have these open discussions on the floor of the House and Senate. Assault weapons, a weapon that our forefathers could have never even fathomed, can cause destruction and harm in a small amount of time. If we have discussions about these bills, rather than sweeping them under the table, then we can address the issue of gun violence prevention.
February 3, 2019
HB1652 has four co-patrons, Delegates Roxann Robinson, Les Adams, David Reid, and Glenn Davis (3 Republicans and 1 Democrat). Although this bill doesn't impact my area as much, I think it's a clear demonstration of how the power of the state over localities works in Virginia.
The bill, commonly called the "King's Dominion" bill, primarily impacts school districts in Richmond and Williamsburg, but it would apply to the whole state of Virginia. It specifies that local school boards will determine the setting of a school calendar and the opening day. It eliminates the current post-Labor Day opening requirement and the need for school boards to make "good cause" petitions if they want to open their school year earlier than Labor Day.
This bill will be especially important for disadvantaged students, for whom longer academic breaks can be especially detrimental.
Now, in my district, both Rockingham County Public Schools and Harrisonburg City Public Schools routinely have their first days of school in mid-late August. Our local school boards have to petition for this start.
The bill was sent to the House by the Education Committee in a 17-5 decision. After the three required readings of this bill, it passed in an 81-15 decision. (The current delegate from the 26th district voted against it.) The bill will now be sent to the Senate.
Of note, this bill is closely connected to HB2140, SB1005, SB1074, and SB1113.
February 2, 2019
This bill allows no-excuse in-person absentee voting to be available beginning on the second Saturday immediately preceding the election. This bill, patroned by Delegate Nick Rush, would require about $8,814 to implement; the Department of Elections would need to updates forms and add a new "reason" code to the ballots.
I think this is a useful and necessary part of the election process. Easier access would result in more voters, and more voters means that our community is being heard and reflected.
It unanimously passed the Privileges and Elections subcommittee, and then sent to the House floor by the P&E committee in a 20-2 vote. It'll be interesting to follow this bill.
February 1, 2019
There were two bills recently in a Counties, Cities, and Towns subcommittee that dealt with monuments and war memorials. I'm going to focus on HB1097, patroned by Delegate Mark Levine.
This bill allows local governments to relocate monuments (that are owned by localities) to a museum of choice, or, if the monument is privately owned, a local government could give the owner an opportunity to reclaim or relocate it within six months.
This bill and the others similar to it in the House and in the Senate were left in the subcommittee. This bill aims to remove the painful reminders of white supremacy and racial injustice. This bill does not destroy the monuments, but re-locates them to a place where we can still learn about racial injustice, reflect upon it, and actively work to combat it. But it does not flout the white supremacy present when those monuments were chosen and built.
This bill would have allowed conversations at the local level. Localities should be given the power to deal with these monuments; in this case, the will of the local citizens can best decide how their community wishes to handle the individual monuments. I wish the subcommittee would have brought this to the floor. Too often, critical conversations are avoided because the topics make people uncomfortable. I'm not afraid to have those conversations.
January 31, 2019
This bill gives the option to use ranked choice voting for county board of supervisor and city council elections. The bill explains ranked choice voting as "the method of casting and tabulating votes in which (i) voters rank candidates in order of preference, (ii) tabulation proceeds in rounds in each of which either a candidate or candidates are elected or the last-place candidate is defeated, and (iii) tabulation ends when the number of candidates elected equals the number of offices to be filled." The bill specifies that any costs associated with ranked choice voting would be charged to the localities.
Subcommittee #3 of the Privileges and Elections Committee, in a narrow 4-3 vote, chose to lay it on the table. I doubt they'll pick it back up during this session, but we'll watch it.
I'm disappointed by the decision to not move it to the House. I'm not sure how I feel about ranked choice voting and would have welcomed discussion about it. I think it would have been interesting to see what nuances of the voting process would have been shared. It isn't a vote-by-party-line issue, and I think those kinds of debates can show the complexity of how legislators work.
Personally, I think ranked choice voting could be useful to implement at the locality level, provided the locality chooses to use it. This bill offered this. If localities want to do ranked choice, they should be allowed. I think it can have a useful benefit in one distinct way: it can give more feedback about how ranked choice voting works. We don't have a lot of feedback because it hasn't been consistently used in voting. Maine used it in the November 2018 elections; other areas have also used it.
There are neat YouTube videos explaining it, and I encourage you to watch a couple and see what you think. I like that it might move the field to move beyond a two-party system, and it might protect against a split vote. But it also seems to be more costly in terms of money and time. I'd like to see localities use it, if they choose to, so that we can have more data available as we work to see how it can fit into our current voting process.
January 30, 2019
Let's talk about HB2082, patroned by Delegate Vivian Watts.
The house bill wanted to legally define birth control. Specifically, the bill "defines 'birth control,' for the purposes of the regulation of medicine, as contraceptive methods that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and provides that birth control shall not be considered abortion for the purposes of Title 18.2 (Crimes and Offenses Generally)."
Referred to the Committee for Courts of Justice, it was assigned to Subcommittee #4 who voted along party lines to pass by indefinitely.
I am pro-choice, but this bill isn't about abortion. This bill wants to change a definition so that women are not charged with a crime if they lose a pregnancy and have taken birth control.
Birth control cannot cause an abortion. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, among others, have falsely characterized birth control as "abortion-inducing drugs." This is dangerous and absolutely wrong.
People may say that this definition change is not an important bill or that it has no real value. However, my educational life has been spent in two ways: learning science (I was a biology major, specializing in microbiology, genetic research, and herpetology) and examining the power of words (through English literature and by studying rhetoric).
The science: Birth control may prevent a pregnancy from occurring, if used correctly. A fertilized egg must implant in the uterus in order for a pregnancy to occur. Morning-after pills, according to the most recent research, do not have any effect on implantation but can delay ovulation or thicken mucus to prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg. In addition, the most common types of birth control (pills, condoms, and IUDs) prevent conception only by keeping the eggs from being fertilized.
The language: Words matter. Women (and it is only women, to be very clear) could be charged with a crime by the current law if they miscarried and had been taking birth control.
I'm not surprised that this failed to pass. But as a scientist, as a writer, as a woman, and when I am your Delegate, I will make it my priority to protect women from charged and despicable abuses of language like this.
January 29, 2019
HB 2092, HB 1958
Both of these bills wish to change how we approach financing campaigns. HB1958 would limit electric utility companies (like Appalachian Power and Dominion Energy) to give, at max, $500 per candidate.
HB2092 would have banned corporations or business entities from donating to any candidate; basically, only people would be allowed to donate.
To be honest, I didn't understand the full need for campaign reform before I ran to be Delegate. You start to understand quickly how much people care about the money raised. And it beats you down as a candidate at times--being told that your time is most valuable asking for money rather than talking to voters.
Money means attention. Money means influence. And, in Virginia, we have tied money to politics. Companies wield money to gain influence, and candidates are so greedy for the money that they can sometimes fall prey to the lure of cold hard cash.
We need reform. We need to take money out of the equation and focus on the voters. In an ideal world, both sides would have the same amount of money and the ideas and energy within their campaign would distinguish them. But we have tied it to a system that rewards hoarding money until the next campaign and pushes toward more money as the answer of why someone would be the best delegate.
My opponent has a "war chest," the standard term for leftover money from a previous campaign that they can now use in this campaign. Legally, he can have that money and use it however he sees fit. But I view it as irresponsible to raise money for one campaign and use it for a different campaign. My Republican opponent also has a war chest, as do so many others. Perhaps, you can say, I would feel differently if I had a war chest.
But I know that my ethics would not allow me to take money from someone and then refuse to use it in the most responsible fashion. For instance, I will not use money raised specifically to oppose another party to fracture and debase those in my same party.
It isn't about me, though. Both of these bills died in the Privileges and Elections Subcommittee #2 before they could be debated in the House.
I will bring change to Richmond. I will work to make our voices more important than a corporation's donation.
January 28, 2019
During my Emerge Virginia training this past weekend, Delegate Elizabeth Guzman talked to our class. She is such an engaging, intelligent, and passionate person, so let's focus in on one the many bills that she has patroned.
HB2129 helps to expedite the nursing licensing process for nurses who are spouses of veterans. Virginia is home to many military families, and facilitating access to jobs, especially jobs within the nursing field, helps our Commonwealth grow stronger.
This bill passed through the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee after two small amendments, and was unanimously passed in the House today. I hope that the Senate will quickly approve it and move it to the Governor's desk so it can be signed and enacted.
January 27, 2019
This joint resolution aims to change the Virginia Constitution so that a 16-member Redistricting Committee would establish the Congressional districts and the districts for Senate and House of Delegates.
Gerrymandering is a major problem within our current system, since whichever party is in charge of the HoD and the Senate, at that time, has divvied up land in ways that benefit their party. We can see the results of our current districts today. It's difficult to tell people which parts of Rockingham County are in District 26. Yes, it's Broadway, but not all of Broadway (one friend of mine can look across her road at her neighbors in the 26th while she is outside the district). Yes, it's all of Harrisonburg, but the hospital on the outside edge of the 'Burg is not in District 26. Dayton is in the 26th, but Bridgewater isn't/ It's enough to make your head spin. But the real truth is that this is a system designed to favor certain parties and even certain senators and delegates. We need reform.
SJ306 provides a solution. They propose 4 members of the Senate, 4 members of the HoD, and 8 citizens selected by a panel of 5 retired judges. There are proportioned amounts of these people based on majorities and the winning party and a lot of other rules. They are trying.
I don't know what will happen to this bill. It might have more amendments tacked on to it before being voted on in the Senate (it was passed out of the Privileges and Elections Committee with 7 Yeas and 1 Abstention). Personally, I like having a technological aspect to the idea of drawing lines. But we should all be following this bill quite closely.
January 26, 2019
This is an example of unanimous support for a bill. I think it's useful to see these because they allow us to see commonalities rather than a partisan or ideological divide.
This measure relates to the Virginia DMV. Among other actions, it requires insurance companies to report insurance changes to the DMV within 30 days, it updates the DMV's insurance verification process, allows the DMV to dismiss suspensions if driver's were operating under VA insurance laws, and it amends VA's installment payment plan to be more friendly to the consumer.
This bill will not result in an increased expenditure by the DMV or need additional staff. It aims to increase the efficiency of the DMV and update current systems.
After unanimously passing the Commerce and Labor Committee on 1/10/19, it was read and passed unanimously in the House on 1/16/19. It has been sent to the Senate Transportation Committee.
January 25, 2019
Let's look into HB1688 and where it is in the process.
HB1688, patroned by Del. Michael Mullins, provides that, if disorderly conduct occurs on school property or on a school bus by a student at any elementary or secondary school, then that student shall not be guilty of disorderly conduct in public places. Currently, disorderly conduct is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor, subject to a sentence of up to 12 months in jail.
I understand the opposition to this bill. Bus drivers are charged with the safety and care of dozens of children at a time; school principals, teachers, and school staff are charged with caring for hundreds of students. When students act out, causing a disturbance, it can be dangerous to a huge amount of people. Having the threat of a class 1 misdemeanor might act as a deterrent for other children contemplating similar actions.
However, severe punishments have not been proven to deter crime. Yes, this would require schools and the administration to spend more time deciding on the punishment and course of action for this student. But that process, of mediated rehabilitation, counseling, community or school service, etc, could have more long-term benefits not only for the child but also for the community. We need to give more funding to school counselors and school support staff so that the problem can be dealt with in an effective and beneficial manner.
In addition, sending a child to a juvenile detention center doesn't deter that child from committing future crimes. In fact, there is a higher rate of recidivism for children who were in juvenile detention facilities. In addition, the state and localities have to pay for juvenile detention facilities and upkeep. With this legislation, there most likely would be fewer kids being held in juvenile detention facilities.
Subcommittee #1 of the Court of Justice recommended "laying [the bill] on the table" and voted 5-3 along party lines to do so. "Laying on the table" means that it wasn't officially killed, but is effectively killed. If, at the next meeting, the house bill is renewed, then it can be discussed and voted on. If it is not renewed at the next meeting, then it is dead.
January 24, 2019
SB1024: Allows weapons to be brought into a place of worship.
Currently, the law prohibits "...carrying a gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger, or other dangerous weapon, without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place." SB1024 would repeal this prohibition.
You may recognize the content of Dick Black for State Senate's bill; it was brought by Sen. Chafin last year. Chafin's bill passed the Senate but died in the House.
The bill aims to incite fear into our Commonwealth. It pretends to protect people, by vocalizing that shootings of unarmed worshippers have happened inside places of worship. Supporters argue that, in times as dire as these, concealed weapons are the only way to make things safe.
One voice from District 26 who works at a place of worship and opposes this legislation confided that, when she went to talk to Sen. Obenshain about this bill, she had to go through a metal detector and was not allowed to have a weapon in the Virginia Statehouse. She thought it ludicrous that legislators were attempting to bring weapons into her workplace when they did not allow weapons (brought by non-GA members) into their own workplaces.
SB1024 is not a bill that would bring safety. Bills to alleviate gun violence should be brought forward: alleviating gun violence means safe storage of ammunition, promoting responsible gun ownership practices, and funding research on guns and their impact on society.
SB1024 directly contradicts the intent of a place of worship. I attend church every Sunday and it is, for me, a holy and safe refuge. Places of worship should be free from violence.
Bills such as SB1024 and the rhetoric they bring is meant to be divisive and to foster hatred amongst groups. They use "safety" to pretend that, if that action isn't taken, a person can't truly care about the well-being of others. That's not true. I do not hate guns; I do hate gun violence. I respect gun owners and their right to have guns. I also respect the intent a place of worship: namely, to allow people to worship in a peaceful environment. Virginia's interfaith communities disagree with this bill, and they believe that our legislative representatives should be working to encourage tolerance and respect. I stand with them.
SB1024 was brought to the Senate floor after a 7-6 (along party lines) vote from the Courts of Justice Committee. The first reading of it on the floor occurred on the 22nd of January; the second reading occurred yesterday. Although there is no timeline for a decision, the vote will probably occur within the next few days.
January 23, 2019
This was a legitimate shock to me: HB1635 passed through Committee and will now be discussed on the House floor.
First, it would issue a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects. Utility-scale energy projects and natural gas pipelines would be impacted by this moratorium.
Next, it would require energy suppliers to provide 80% of their electricity from clean energy suppliers by 2028 and 100% by 2035. Suppliers could use solar, wind, geothermal, and ocean tidal as energy sources; they could not use biofuels as energy sources.
Last, and most exciting to me, is that this bill would mandate the creation and implementation of a Climate Action Plan, which would address important issues of resiliency and mitigation, create a system for reeducating individuals transitioning away from work in the fossil fuel industry, and support the development of private and community-owned renewable energy projects.
HB1635 was read in the Commerce and Labor Committee after the Rules Committee had referred it there (during a voice vote). The Commerce and Labor Committee was wildly split on this bill: 9 voted to progress it, 7 voted nay, and 6 chose not to vote. Of interest, this was not strictly on party lines. One Republican voted with 8 Democrats to progress this. Of specific interest to me is that the Delegate from the 26th district, Tony Wilt, voted Nay.
I'm excited to hear the House debate this bill. It could mean a huge shift in policy for Virginia in how we invest in and prioritize renewable energy sources. I hope Virginia looks to how we can protect our community and our resources best in the coming years. The bill offers the vision and passion that we need.
January 22, 2019
After the ERA news for today, I wanted to check in on a feel-good bill and one that I think will pass easily and will have a significant impact in our world.
The bill, patroned by Debra Rodman, is HJ720 and aims to designate June 20th as World Refugee Day.
Within our world, we are often inundated with fearful rhetoric about “outsiders.” I think this bill works against that rhetoric in useful and impactful ways.
In the Commonwealth, but especially in District 26, refugees are a critical part of our economy. And, more importantly to me, refugees are people—people had to leave their homeland out of fear and who deserve our respect and help.
HJ720 may seem to be just designating a day. But it can have a larger impact. When we designate a day, it allows a place for discussion to happen.
January 21, 2019
Let's dive into the Literary Fund for this next bill. SB1093, patroned by Sen. Frank Ruff, creates a Subfund in the Literary Fund.
Some background: From the Virginia Department of Education "The Literary Fund is a permanent and perpetual school fund established in the Constitution of Virginia. Revenues to the Literary Fund are derived primarily from criminal fines, fees, and forfeitures, unclaimed and escheated property, unclaimed lottery winnings and repayments of prior Literary Fund loans. The Literary Fund provides low-interest loans for school construction, grants under the interest rate subsidy program, debt service for technology funding, and support for the state’s share of teacher retirement required by the Standards of Quality."
Governor Northam recently acknowledged the Literary Fund in his announced budget in late 2018, specifying that he wanted to place a one-time deposit of $80 million into the Literary Fund so that the state would have more interest to devote to new school construction projects.
Now, SB1093 wants to create a subfund (called the School Modernization SubFund). The subfund would subsidize interest for school construction and modernization for school divisions with a local-ability-to-pay less than 0.4000.
First, I think that Virginia needs to allocate more funds to the Literary Fund so that more school districts can benefit from state help in building the schools they need. I hope to push forward legislation that can further increase the Literary Fund.
Second, though, is how the funds from the Literary Fund are used. There are several excellent resources online to read through the history of the Virginia Literary Fund and the regulations for which school districts can use it. I believe that the funds need to be more accessible to all school boards. Putting a local-ability-to-pay less than a certain amount has the spirit of taking care of our economically disadvantaged systems. But it has a negative side too: the Literary Fund has been shunted aside and minimized because not enough areas have seen a benefit to them derived from the Literary Fund. If more school divisions were able to use the funds, then the Literary Fund could grow stronger. Virginia needs to make the state paying for construction of schools a priority. Having a larger Literary Fund that helps many schools throughout the Commonwealth could ease taxes and tensions within localities when schools need to be built.
SB1093 was sent to the Finance Committee, and I'm interested to follow the conversation.
January 20, 2019
My friend Delegate Jerrauld "Jay" Jones patroned HB1664. This bill addresses how our Commonwealth treats people who have had past drug offenses and are moving to our state from a different state. Currently, there are many obstacles that often prevent these persons from gaining a Virginia driver's license.
This bill allows a person convicted of a drug offense in another state to petition the general district court of their new residence so that they can operate a motor vehicle (though not a commercial vehicle) in the Commonwealth on a restricted basis.
I think this is a smart bill that addresses some inequalities in our system. The bill unanimously passed the Transportation committee (after a unanimous vote forward from Subcommittee #3), but it is being passed not directly to the floor but to the Courts of Justice Committee.
I'll be following this bill. I hope you will too!
January 19, 2019
Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety, and Media Literacy...all three are critical to a better understanding of how our world functions. As a Writing & Rhetoric instructor at JMU, I spend a large chunk of the semester teaching how to capably and carefully use resources. The internet is a powerful tool, and the amount of data that is accessible through a quick Google search is astonishing. However, our ability to sift through that information, specifically to recognize and place rhetoric, has not progressed as rapidly as the internet's ability to place the information in front of us.
We need to understand how to responsibly interact with digital resources, and HB1978 (patroned by Delegate Rip Sullivan) offers an avenue to address the digital world. The bill establishes a Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety, and Media Literacy Council. That Council would be 12 persons strong and would be appointed by and work to advise Virginia's Superintendent of Public Instruction. Some of the wording in the bill of who the members should be is somewhat hazy, and I hope that an amendment could be added to clarify. Including more than one school librarian (especially because school librarians have extensive media literacy training as well as knowledge of how to connect to administrators, teachers, and students in specific and clear ways) would be useful.
The Council established by this bill would recommend to the Board of Education a model policy and instructional policies that local school boards could use when developing digital citizenship, internet safety, and media literacy in their schools. In addition to submitting a report of their findings, this Council would also "design and post on the Department of Education's website a page with links to successful instructional practices, curricula, and other teacher resources used in school divisions within and outside of the Commonwealth for the safe, ethical, and responsible use of media and technology by students" (qtd HB1978).
The bill was referred to the Science and Technology Committee and has not yet been discussed. It is on the docket, though, for Monday (1/21) at 10 am. I hope that they will pass the bill, sending it to the floor to be read, discussed, and voted on. There is a small chance that they could refer this bill to the Education Committee because it does deal with a committee connected to public instruction. However, since the Education Committee has a lot more items on their docket, I hope that the Science & Technology Committee simply progresses this bill straight to the House.
January 18, 2019
Bills are starting to get onto the floor to be discussed, so let's look at one of those: HB1752.
This House bill, patroned by Delegate Paul Krizek, makes Election Day (always the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November) a school holiday.
This bill was discussed in the Education Committee and voted during the January 16th session. The vote ended up being 18 yeas and 3 nays. Today, on January 18th, it was read for the first time in the House.
In Harrisonburg, schools are used as polling locations and our local school board has had to write this day into our school calendar. In Rockingham County, though, schools are in session on this day because the schools are not used as polling locations.
There has been a lot of discussion about making Election Day a National Holiday, on the federal level. It would encourage a more robust turn out and there would be many other positives.
Virginia is just one state, though, and can't change federal laws. But school holidays often can help progress the idea; studies show that businesses (especially small businesses) often frame their schedules around school schedules because they understand that, otherwise, parents have to pay for childcare. This bill would start to change the conversation.
I hope this bill becomes law, and I think it stands a good chance of doing that. Any negative impact of this bill could be mitigated by bills like SB1206, HB1794, or HB1959 that would allow no excuse early voting and make it easier for people to vote.
January 17, 2019
We're going to dive into HB2270. This bill has huge implications for my area, since Harrisonburg ("The Friendly City") is an Official Church World Service Resettlement Community. Our city started the "No matter where you're from, we're glad you're our neighbor" signpost trend too.
HB2270 was seen by the Militia, Police, and Public Safety Subcommittee #2, chaired by Delegate Tony Wilt, who is the current Delegate for the 26th District (Harrisonburg/Rockingham Co).
The bill requires that sheriffs, jail superintendents, or other officials in charge of local correctional facilities or regional jails must notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the release or discharge of an incarcerated alien at least seven days prior to their release/discharge. In addition, the bill states that if correctional facilities or regional jails refuse to comply, they can lose funding for up to three years.
HB2270 was passed, with amendments, by the four Republicans in the subcommittee. Democrats Delegate Kaye Kory and Delegate Sam Rasoulvoted against it. At the time of this posting, the amendments were not listed on Virginia's LIS, but I will update it as the information is released.
This bill is unnecessary and extremely dangerous.
First, it forces local police to contact federal ICE officers or suffer severe financial consequences for the whole department. Although officers work with state and federal officers when necessary, our local officers' jobs are to protect people and property. Positive interactions with the community allow police officers to do their job effectively. Federal ICE officers often inspire fear. Having police officers required to contact ICE will heighten tensions and cause distrust of our local officers.
Second, the morality and legality of bringing in federal officers for a local detainment is under scrutiny. It's critical to note that Subcommittee #2 voted to refer this bill to the Committee for Courts of Justice. The subcommittee certainly recognizes that these moral and legal questions need to be discussed. However, the subcommittee could have quickly and decisively killed this bill instead of continuing it.
January 16, 2019
HB 1763, HB 2372
If you want to examine a few more House bills, please look at these. (Full disclosure: The Harrisonburg chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America supports these bills and has asked for people to call members of the subcommittee to express their support. You can find all members and contact information, along with their agenda items, here: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?191+sub+H15001)
Subcommittee #1 of the the Virginia Militia, Police, & Public Safety Committee will debate HB1763 and HB2372 on Thursday, 1/17.
HB 1763, sponsored by Del. Rip Sullivan, creates a court process for temporarily removing guns from a person found to pose a significant danger of harming themselves or others. The process is called an "emergency substantial risk order" (known elsewhere as an extreme risk protection order or a red flag law). Emergency substantial risk orders, which have received bipartisan support on a national level, are shown to help prevent suicides and mass shootings, many of which are domestic violence or murder-suicides.
HB2372, sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope, will require licensed and voluntarily registered family day care homes to keep firearms and ammunition separately and in locked storage. Currently, voluntarily registered family day care homes are not required to do so. This bill is known as Cole's Law, after the little Virginia boy who found a loaded handgun in his Orange County home daycare in May 2017. He fatally shot himself, dying five days after turning 4 years old.
I believe that this legislation is necessary. Oppositional voices will likely argue that the measures infringe on the 2nd Amendment right to own guns. But I think these laws help to make our world safer. Too often, gun debates devolve into pro/anti arguments, but I think that safety is common goal that we can all agree on. HB2372 does not prohibit guns, but requires that guns are stored safely and that ammunition is stored separately (what most responsible gun owners do). HB1763 does not quickly or permanently divest someone of a gun. ESROs have been carefully studied and successfully implemented in many places.
January 16, 2019
I wanted to bring in a procedural twist that happened with a recent bill that had been referred to Subcommittee #1 of the Education Committee.
The bill is HB1930 (introduced by Delegate Richard Bell) and related to how the Board of Education and each local school division needed to annually update their procedures and policies for reporting concussions in student-athletes.
The bill was referred to Subcommittee #1 within the Education Committee. During their meeting, they passed it unanimously (8-0), but only after recommending an amendment, namely that they update biennially rather than annually.
HB1930 will move to the House to be debated, but I wanted to point out that laws can still be modified while in session. It takes discussion and teamwork to move legislation through the process.
January 15, 2019
SJ 284/HJ 579
Let's tackle a topic that has been in the spotlight: SJ284 and HJ579
First, the J designation stands for Joint Resolution. Bills and joint resolutions function in the same way but a joint resolution is used when proposing amendments to the Constitution.
Both bills are exactly the same. They both propose that an amendment be added to the U.S. Constitution. It's generally called the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and explicitly states that all persons have equal rights and it is not based on the sex of that person.
The Amendment directly states: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification."
The ERA has been trying to be ratified by 38 states (what is required to amend the Constitution) for many years.
Opposition to this bill argues that it's been too long and Congress couldn't take the next steps. Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring wrote an impassioned reply disputing this opposition.
Supporters say that it is TIME to have equal rights for all. I'm on the side of passing the ERA, and I'm so excited that Virginia could be the one to move it to the next step in the process.
Now, what's happening with these joint resolutions? The Senate Joint Resolution came out of committee and was PASSED by the Senate (26 to 14). The House has been much slower. It has been referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections but has not passed through there. E-mail, call, or otherwise contact your House of Delegates member to encourage them to pass the ERA.
January 14, 2019
For the next bill to tackle, let's look at a bill that has made it through committee: SB1200 (patroned by Senator Rosalyn R Dance) just passed through the Commerce and Labor committee. Now, it will be debated on the floor of the Senate before being brought to a vote there. If it passes, it will need to pass the House and be signed by the Governor before becoming law.
SB1200 increases the minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 now, to $10 by July 1, 2019, then to $13 by July 1, 2020, and finally to $15 by July 1, 2021.
Opponents of the bill argue that raising the minimum wage will place a heavy burden on businesses, especially small businesses.
Supporters of the bill argue that it could lift thousands of Virginians out of poverty.
I support SB1200 for several reasons. First, breaking the cycle of poverty is integral to having a prosperous economy and a healthy Commonwealth. Two, this bill proposes graduated increases, which studies show, has had a low impact on unemployment. I think that SB1200 goes about the economics of this issue in a clear way, and I'm interested to see how the bill progresses.
I should note, though, that this bill will not have any impact on the under-employed or unemployed. For a long-term solution, there needs to be an economic stimulus that creates more jobs. The #GreenNewDeal, which ties these jobs to environmental protection, has been touted as federal program that will address these long-term plans. At the state level, I believe that our legislators would be wise to make a start with SB1200 (along with similar motions in HB2157, HB2195, and SB1017) and continue to investigate how the Green New Deal could have positive impacts in Virginia.
January 13, 2019
I want to discuss a bill critical to our area (District 26). HJ597 asks for the Department of Environmental Quality to perform a study on "...the economic impact of litter on fishing, farming, water quality, and other components of Virginia's economy and to propose strategies, campaigns, and necessary state actions to protect the economy of the Commonwealth from harm caused by litter and promote Virginia's economic welfare."
I think this is a critical bill, brought forward by Delegate Paul Krizek, for Rockingham County, especially. The water in our area needs to be clean; we use our water to drive our agriculture and agro-tourism industries, and those are the lifeblood of our community. Research done by the Dept of Environmental Quality, and proposals that they give on how to protect our water supply, will ultimately benefit our community.
This bill has been referred to the Committee on Rules within the House of Delegates. Delegate M. Kirkland Cox is the chairman of this committee. If water quality (from any pollution source, including pipeline-related activities and general litter) concerns you, I encourage you to contact Delegate Cox or any members of the committee.
January 12, 2019
Many bills focus on how multiple issues coincide (see my post on Chris Hurst's bill about power and schools). SB1137 (patroned by Barbara Favola) zeroes in on how criminal justice and mental illness connect.
This Senate Bill requires that, if a defendant with mental illness is on trial for a capital charge, the defendant can not be given the death penalty. The bill explains the circumstances for determining mental illness by the judge, jury, experts, or evidence.
This bill was brought to my attention by Marilynn Propst Jarrells, who shares my concern about how we treat mental illness in our world and how we can curb the use of the death penalty in our state.
The bill has been referred to the Committee for Courts of Justice. I will be tracking this bill, along with SB1231, which allows mentally ill defendants to receive medically appropriate treatment rather than just treatment designed to restore mental competency for trial.
January 11, 2019
SJ261 (introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke) sought to amend the Virginia Constitution. It proposed deleting the passage that says that felons cannot vote unless the governor or other authorities have restored their civil rights.
The ACLU and the League of Women Voters in Virginia had supported the amendment and the points they bring up in the article I've linked to are worthy of contemplation and reflect my personal thoughts.
SJ283 (to automatically restore felons' voting rights if they have completed their sentences and made restitution) will be discussed later. It was introduced by Sen. Emmett Hanger (a Republican), and might stand a better chance of passing through that committee and getting on the Senate floor to be discussed.
January 10, 2019
For the next House Bill post, let's look at HB1869.
This bill, introduced by Del. Chris Hurst, brings forward two of my passionate interests: schools and energy efficiency.
The bill pertains to Appalachian Power Company and directs them to conduct a pilot program. The program looks at energy consumption by any public school in the Commonwealth. If, during a billing period, a school generates more energy (through wind power or solar power) than it consumes, then the school can either credit the excess electricity to another school within that division or be paid for the excess electricity at the contracted rate.
I like the approach of this bill. Start slowly, and build. The larger goal of this bill is to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and to lower utility bills, but there are two impressive side benefits. One, there is an increased funding source for schools (by either taking the money or by applying the energy saved to another school in the district). And, two, it encourages power companies (and even school systems and localities) to invest in renewable resources.
The bill, though it deals with schools, has been properly placed in the Commerce and Labor Committee. I'll be tracking it during the session.
The schools in District 26 have made a concerted effort to integrate solar power into the long-term plan. I think it's a wise move made by our local leaders and, if this bill progresses further, it could prove to be a financially savvy and environmentally progressive move.
January 9, 2019
Let's look at HB1641 (HB stands for "House Bill" and will move through the House of Delegates as opposed to SB, a Senate Bill, moving through the Virginian Senate).
HB1641, patroned by Delegate Charniele Herring, proposes that any registered and qualified Virginian voter can vote via absentee ballot in any election without providing a reason for why they choose to vote absentee. Currently, if a Virginian wants to vote absentee, they have to provide a reason.
Nation-wide, 28 states + D.C. allow no-excuse absentee voting. Those in favor of this bill argue that it helps the elderly and infirm exercise their right to vote and allows for more people to exercise their right to vote.
Opponents are likely to cite concern for fraud and increased costs as reason to oppose. States with no-excuse absentee voting have not reported an uptick in fraud or costs related to no-excuse absentee voting.
Where is the bill now? It's been referred to the "Privileges and Special Elections" House Committee, chaired by Delegate Mark Cole. That committee will decide which subcommittee will read it. We will certainly be tracking this bill.
The senate version of this bill (SB114) was killed in committee on 11/30/2018.