February 25th Update
The longest "short session" in anyone's memory -- and perhaps ever -- has concluded. Over forty-seven days the General Assembly vigorously debated issues ranging from tax reform to women's rights to redistricting reform to climate change to the budget. As usual, below is a roundup of what happened last week in Richmond. You can expect a lengthier breakdown of the full session from me in a few weeks.
On Friday, as the session was nearing its end, I had the honor of meeting President George Washington on his 287th birthday. I hope I look that good at his age.
The first legislative hurdle of the week came on Monday, when Jacob's Law (HB1979) went to the Republican-led Senate floor for consideration. Jacob's Law would make changes to Virginia surrogacy law to help Virginians start or grow their families. It will help all Virginians, but especially same-sex married couples, who currently are not included in the existing surrogacy statute. The bill is inspired by two of my constituents, Jay Timmons and Rick Olson (pictured below with their beautiful children CJ, Ellie and Jacob in the gallery while I spoke on the House floor during debate on the bill), who endured an excruciatingly difficult path to becoming parents to their son Jacob, who was born via surrogacy in another state.
I was not surprised -- but nevertheless disappointed -- when a Republican Senator immediately proposed a "poison pill" amendment on the floor related to abortion that was not only irrelevant to the underlying bill, but would have likely led to its demise. I am happy to report that the amendment was defeated, and the bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support. You can view the final vote below.
Jacobs' Law then headed back to the House because there was an earlier friendly (in fact I asked for it) Senate committee amendment that needed to be agreed to by the House for the bill to pass the General Assembly once and for all. The bill passed, again with support from both sides of the aisle -- 62 to 38. The House vote to adopt the Senate amendment and pass the bill is below. After a very long, arduous, but ultimately successful process, Jacob's Law is headed to the Governor's desk for signature.
As a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), I was proud to copatron two resolutions -- one sponsored by Delegate Hala Ayala and one by Delegate Marcus Simon -- to change the House rules so that we could bring the ERA directly to the floor for a vote. The ERA had previously passed the Senate, but had been killed by a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee along party lines.
According to polling data, 81 percent of Virginians support passage of the ERA. If Virginia were to be the 38th state to pass the amendment, we would reach the threshold for making it part of the U.S. Constitution.
House Republicans, despite an outpouring of public support for the amendment and superb advocacy work by ERA supporters, blocked both rule change attempts. Since we had just sworn in Delegate Ibraheem Samirah the previous day to fill the vacancy left by now-Senator Jennifer Boysko, Democrats had 49 votes for the ERA. We needed two more. The rule changes failed. We will be back next year however, and I will continue to support the ERA so that we can finally enshrine equality for women in the Constitution.
On Saturday we passed a historic compromise resolution to amend the Virginia Constitution so that we can roll back partisan gerrymandering. As you may know, I have long supported non-partisan redistricting reform. I have introduced redistricting reform legislation in each one of my prior sessions of the General Assembly, including three (HB205, HJ5, and HJ21) in the 2018 session. This was a big victory for those of us looking to take partisan politics out of the redistricting process.
The resolution we passed would create the Virginia Redistricting Commission. You can read the conference report -- the final language agreed to by both the House of Delegates and the Senate -- here. For the amendment to be adopted, it must pass the General Assembly again in 2020, and then go before the voters in a statewide referendum in November 2020.
While this is not the constitutional amendment I would write, it is a milestone in the fight to roll back gerrymandering. Perhaps most importantly, no redistricting plan can be approved unless a majority of the citizen members of the Commission agree. Politicians no longer control the process. There must be public hearings on all proposed plans, and all Commission records and documents used to produce new district lines must be public -- a giant step forward for transparency.
On Sunday we finally passed a budget that represented a true compromise between Democrats and Republicans. Also not perfect, it is nevertheless a budget of which we can be proud, and which supports and advances many of our Democratic priorities. It increases funding for preschool and early childhood initiatives, teacher pay and benefits, and higher education. It includes new investments in affordable housing, environmental protection, and behavioral health services.
Adjourning "sine die" yesterday marked the end of a tumultuous but productive session. I will particularly miss my seatmates and fellow members of the "back row posse," Delegates Delores McQuinn, Roslyn Tyler, and Jeion Ward, pictured below.
I will send out a longer, more comprehensive summary of all that happened this session in the coming weeks. Until then, have a great week.
February 15th Update
The penultimate week of session was very busy, as the session's velocity accelerated with just a handful of days left before the regular 2019 session adjourns on February 23rd.
I met with a number of terrific groups this week, including the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. We had a great discussion, and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn about their legislative priorities.
I also met with members of Moms Demand Action, a very active and effective group that passionately advocates for gun safety. Their work is critical to keeping this important topic in the spotlight in Virginia.
On Wednesday I presented Jacob's Law (HB1979) to the Republican-led Senate Courts of Justice Committee. Jacob's Law would make changes to Virginia surrogacy law to help Virginians start or grow their families. It will help all Virginians, but especially same-sex married couples, who currently are not included in the existing surrogacy statute. The bill is inspired by two of my constituents, Jay Timmons and Rick Olson (pictured below while testifying), who endured an excruciatingly difficult path to becoming parents to their son Jacob, who was born via surrogacy in another state.
The bill was debated at length, and you can watch the testimony and the discussion here. I was ultimately able to persuade three Republicans to vote to favorably report the bill out of committee, making the final vote tally 9 yeas and 6 nays. The bill will be considered by the full Senate next week. Likely on Monday.
Thursday was Valentine's Day, which is traditionally a big deal in the General Assembly. We decorated the desk of our Administrative Assistant, Lisa (pictured below with my Legislative Assistant, Kate), who has done fantastic work to keep our office running for the last two sessions. During these hectic weeks, she has been a tremendous asset.
Thursday was also the day we held a massive rally on the Capitol steps, calling on House leadership to allow a House floor vote on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). To date, the House Republican leadership has refused to allow a vote.
Although the Senate-passed bill to ratify the ERA died in a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee, it could still go to the floor for a vote if there were a change in the House rules. Delegate Hala Ayala has introduced such a rule change, and I look forward to supporting it so that we can finally get a full House vote on this historic and overdue constitutional Amendment.
I kept my remarks at the rally very short. You can view them here. I only had six very important words to say: "let us vote" and "it is time." Virginians deserve a chance to see where all of their representatives stand on the ERA, and a vote on this important amendment should have happened years ago.
On Friday the Senate passed my HB2292 and HB2293, both related to promoting energy efficiency. We have come a long way on this issue since I first began pushing it as a freshman Delegate in the General Assembly -- energy efficiency programs were a large part of the Governor's energy bill last year, and an increasing number of members are beginning to see the light (pardon the pun) on the importance of using less energy. The bills are now headed to the Governor's desk for his signature.
Next week will be a full one as we close out the regular 2019 session. Have a great weekend. I will continue to update you on our progress down here in the Capitol.
February 8th Update
As turmoil and controversy engulfed Richmond last week, we still had our job to do. The first two days of the week were very, very long on the floor. We were racing against the clock before crossover, the point by which all of the bills the House of Delegates and Senate will consider this year must be passed by their respective chamber so that the other can address them.
The week kicked off with my presentation of Jacob's Law (HB1979) to the full House of Delegates. Jacob's Law would make changes to Virginia surrogacy law to help Virginians start or grow their families. It will help all Virginians, but especially same-sex married couples, who currently are not included in the existing surrogacy statute. The bill is inspired by two of my constituents, Jay Timmons and Rick Olson, who endured an excruciatingly difficult path to becoming parents to their son, Jacob, who was born via surrogacy in another state.
On Monday, Jacob's Law was on "second read," meaning that the full House voted on whether to advance it to a final floor vote on "third read" the following day. You can view the speech I gave urging members to support the bill here.
The bill passed on to third read by voice vote on Monday, and passed the full House in a bipartisan vote of 63-35 on Tuesday. The board below reflects the vote before one member who had not voted and another member who voted nay both contacted the Clerk to be recorded as aye votes. The next stop is a Monday meeting of the Senate Courts Committee.
On Monday, the House also passed my HB2292 and HB2293, both related to promoting energy efficiency, unanimously. We have come a long way on this important issue since I first began pushing it as a freshman Delegate in the General Assembly -- energy efficiency programs were a large part of the Governor's energy bill last year, and an increasing number of members are beginning to see the light (pardon the pun) on the importance of using less energy. I will present both bills to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee next week.
Wednesday marked the beginning of the Senate's consideration of House bills and vice-versa. I presented my bill related to the statute of limitations for unsigned written contracts -- a bill only a lawyer could love -- to the Senate Courts Committee that afternoon. I am happy to note that HB2242 was unanimously reported out of committee, and will be heading to the Senate floor for a vote soon.
On Thursday, we considered a long list of amendments to the House budget. I spoke against a measure that would strip money from the Clean Energy Revolving Loan Fund -- it is imperative that we invest in renewable energy now so that we can better protect our environment moving forward. Click here to see my comments on the amendment.
I also met with several constituents this week during the flurry of legislative activity. Below is a photo with the League of Women Voters, whose work on critical issues like redistricting reform and voting rights has been instrumental in moving the ball forward.
On Friday, we announced that a tax deal had been struck to achieve both tax conformity and relieve pressure on many Virginians who were left behind by the Trump tax cut. The bill is a compromise, but even Republicans have acknowledged that the final package more closely mirrors our Democratic priorities than Republican ones.
February 3rd Update
The fourth week of session was full of lengthy committee meetings since in just two days, crossover hits. By next Tuesday, all of the bills the House of Delegates and Senate will consider this year must be passed by their respective chamber so that the other can address them. Next Monday and Tuesday will be very, very long days on the floor -- I will keep you posted as to which of my bills will be taken up by the Senate.
However, before I delve into the fourth week's updates, I want to address the recent controversy regarding Governor Northam:
I don't know what is going to happen. By the time you receive/read this, the situation may well have changed from what it is as I write this Sunday morning. I have joined with my Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly to call for the Governor's resignation immediately, and I hope that he will step down so that we all can begin to heal and have a meaningful conversation about the racism that still tragically exists in Virginia.
Back on the legislative front, last week, I spoke on the floor about the urgent need for Republican leadership to take up a bill to conform our state tax law to federal law. It is typically one of the first steps -- and always bipartisan -- that we take every session to make sure tax filing season goes smoothly and Virginians get their tax returns and refunds on time.
Apparently, Republicans were listening. It took until deep into the 2019 session for the majority to bring forward a bill, but finally one came forward in the full House Finance Committee on Monday. I expressed concerns that the bill does not include a real tax plan, despite multiple ideas having been put forward by the Governor and others.
Later in the week, I spoke against the Republican substitute to the bill when it came to the floor for debate. Republicans are denying us the chance to vote on a "clean" conformity bill, needlessly politicizing a regularly routine step for the General Assembly.
On Monday afternoon, I presented my hate crimes reporting bill, HB1976, to a House Courts of Justice subcommittee. I have been introducing the measure for years, and with hate crimes on the rise in Virginia according to FBI data, we need HB1976 more than ever so that we have a more accurate picture of the problem here in Virginia. Specifically, the bill adds sexual orientation and gender identity to our state hate crimes reporting statute. The bill was killed on a party line vote, but I am determined to pursue the initiative again next year.
This week, the full House Commerce and Labor Committee heard two of my energy efficiency and renewable energy bills. HB2293, which would allow more input from energy efficiency experts in how utilities' energy efficiency efforts are planned and conducted, and HB2292, which makes important changes to enhance transparency in the SCC's energy efficiency efforts, both passed the committee unanimously and are headed to the floor for a vote next week. These bills represent meaningful steps in promoting energy efficiency and I am hopeful that we can achieve even more for Virginia moving forward.
The focus at the end of my week was my bill HB1979, also known as Jacob's Law, which would make changes to Virginia surrogacy law to help Virginians start or grow their families. It will help all Virginians, but especially same-sex married couples, who currently are not included in existing surrogacy statute. The bill is inspired by two of my constituents, Jay Timmons and Rick Olson, who endured an excruciatingly difficult path to becoming parents to their son, Jacob, who was born via surrogacy in another state. Their beautiful, all-American family is pictured below.
Jacob's Law passed the House Courts Committee 11 to 7, and we have a battle ahead of us on the floor next week to make sure that same-sex families like Jay's and Rick's have the same rights as heterosexual couples. Below are CJ, Ellie, and Jacob with me on the House floor - on Wednesday, they spent time in the House gallery and on the floor, played with Delegate Michael Webert's puppy, Star, and attended the House Courts subcommittee hearing on the bill, where it passed 6 to 2. It was wonderful to have the committee members meet this happy, loving family.
Jacob's Law is heading to the House floor for debate and a vote on Monday and Tuesday, and I will fight hard for its passage -- Virginia values must include equality for all families.
January 25th Update
The third week of session felt like an entire month crammed into one week. With "crossover" looming (the day by which all House and Senate bills must be acted on by their respective chambers) in just over a week and a half, we're working long hours and having tough -- but important -- conversations about all kinds of issues.
One of my favorite things I like to do as a Delegate is to meet with constituents. This week I met with several groups of constituents, including the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce (pictured below), the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association (pictured below), Virginia New Majority (pictured below), the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and the Humane Society.
This week included a major disappointment when a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee chose to kill the Senate-passed Equal Rights Amendment. It was great to see a huge number of Virginians out rallying for the Amendment, and the room in which the subcommittee hearing was held was overflowing with supporters. I stayed to watch the debate, sitting with the patron of the House version of the ERA (of which I am a copatron), Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy (pictured below with Delegate Hala Ayala).
On Friday, Democrats pushed to revive the ERA after it was killed in subcommittee. Delegate Mark Sickles moved to place HJ579 on the day’s agenda, and his motion was rejected on a party-line vote. It was disheartening that this year the ERA did not pass, but it was the Committee that failed -- not the bill. As I expressed in a press conference following the subcommittee vote, I look forward to continuing this fight for equality next session.
I also participated in a press conference to support reproductive rights on Monday, which was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. With the U.S. Supreme Court now dominated by anti-choice Justices, I am determined to ensure that we work hard on the state-level to protect a woman's right to choose.
Ironically, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is "gun lobby day" in Richmond, when pro-gun groups like the NRA and the Virginia Citizens Defense League descend on the Capitol. Thankfully, they are typically outnumbered that day by Virginians who also visit us to support commonsense gun safety measures.
We held a rally that morning and heard powerful speeches from gun violence survivors, faith leaders, Governor Northam and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran (below), among others.
On Thursday, a House Commerce and Labor subcommittee heard four of my energy efficiency and renewable energy bills. One bill, which would allow more input from energy efficiency experts in how utilities' energy efficiency efforts are planned and conducted, and another, which makes important changes to enhance transparency in the SCC's energy efficiency efforts, both passed the subcommittee unanimously.
As the resident House of Delegates nerd on energy efficiency issues, I am pleased that these bills are moving forward with bipartisan support. These are issues I have worked on since I was elected. We need to use less energy, and move to renewable energy for the energy we need.
On Friday, I gave a floor speech about the failure of the Republicans to take up bills to conform our state tax law to federal law. It is typically one of the first -- and always bipartisan -- steps that we take every session. By not taking up tax conformity, we have jeopardized the entire tax collection routine, potentially throwing filing season into chaos and needlessly delaying the refunds that many Virginians are expecting and on which they rely. You can view the speech here.
Additionally on Friday, HB 2242 became my first bill of the session to pass the full House of Delegates. The bill clarifies a statute of limitations issue for breach of an unsigned, written agreement. It's a wonky bill that only a lawyer could love, but I am pleased that it is now heading to the Senate.
This afternoon, I presented to a House Appropriations subcommittee my bill, HB 1978, to create a Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety, and Media Literacy Council within the Department of Education’s Office of the Superintendent. The Council’s mission would be to advance the goal of safe, ethical, and responsible use of media and technology by students in Virginia's public elementary and secondary schools. Despite HB 1978 having no fiscal impact (additional cost in the budget), the bill was killed in a party-line vote.
This week, the General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution I introduced honoring the 100th anniversary of Arlington Fire Station #8, which was started as a volunteer station by African-Americans in 1919 to serve the greater community. I will be presenting it at the 100th anniversary celebration tomorrow. You can read the full resolution text here.
Have a great weekend. I will continue to update you on our progress down here in the Capitol.
January 18th Update
The second week of session certainly had its ups and downs but we are continuing to work hard here in Richmond. The wheels of the General Assembly are definitely moving fast, between committee meetings with literally dozens of bills on their dockets, hearing from constituents about the bills most important to them, and passing key bills.
One particularly fun moment for me came this week when I met my seat-mate Delegate Delores McQuinn's granddaughter - it's always great to meet colleagues' families when they come to visit.
I love having constituents to visit. This week, among others, I met with professional fire fighters from Arlington County and Fairfax County, and Fred Gilbert and Scott McAfee (pictured below), two physical therapists who are small business owners. We also were visited by representatives from the Arlington Free Clinic and Indivisible Arlington, whom I recognized on the floor of the House for their efforts (pictured below). Thank you to all who make the trek down to Richmond to visit -- we are located in the Pocahontas Building in Room 220E.
I was appointed to the House Committee on Education this week -- my third committee assignment along with the Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources and the Committee on Finance. Bills that are referred to the Education Committee range from those regarding seat belts on school buses to in-state tuition for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students to First Amendment freedoms for student journalists.
My most frustrating, disheartening moment this week came on Thursday, when a Militia, Police, and Public Safety Subcommittee killed my Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO), also known as a "red flag" bill, on a party-line vote. This was an opportunity for the Virginia GOP to come to the table on an idea that even President Trump, Vice President Pence, and numerous other Republicans have endorsed, and which 13 other states -- many of them red states -- have adopted. The same subcommittee also killed the hate crimes-related bill I introduced that would have taken guns away from those convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes.
I'm disappointed, but I will not stop fighting for gun safety.
On a much more positive note, I was thrilled that the Senate passed the Equal Rights Amendment on Tuesday. I look forward to voting on this historic and overdue piece of legislation soon. Hopefully the Speaker will allow the Amendment to get to the House floor for a vote.
I hope everyone stayed safe and warm in the 48th during the snowfall. Don't forget, if you ever have any issues with getting your street plowed, you can contact VDOT directly at 1-800-367-ROAD (7623) or my Richmond office at (804) 698-1048.
Have a great weekend. I will continue to update you on our progress down here in the Capitol.
January 11th Update
It has been a busy first week for the General Assembly's 2019 session. While no bills have passed out of either chamber yet, many are moving -- or being killed -- in their respective committees already. This year is a short session -- 45 days long -- so time is of the essence if we want to accomplish all that we need to.
I participated in two press conferences this week, one pertaining to LGBT issues and the other to gun safety. At the LGBT-related press conference, I spoke about three bills that I have introduced this session.
My first two bills deal with hate crimes in Virginia.
The first is one I have introduced for years. It’s a straightforward bill, one which would simply align Virginia’s hate crimes reporting standards for “sexual orientation” and “gender identification” with the FBI’s. It would finally get a complete picture of what we face here in Virginia in terms of hate crimes.
The second is one I am proud to carry on behalf of Attorney General Herring. It would introduce parity regarding punishment for certain hate crimes that currently result in slightly less consequential sentencing having to do with firearm removal. The bill would allow the perpetrator to petition to get their guns back after two years.
Finally, I have introduced a bill that would make it easier for same-sex couples to start or grow their families using surrogate pregnancies.
Later in the week, I attended the Safe Virginia Initiative's press conference on gun safety.
We discussed my bill, HB 1763, at the event, which would create a judicial process through which law enforcement can petition a judge to prohibit individuals deemed at substantial risk of harming themselves or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting firearms. Laws like this in other states are often called "Red Flag," laws, Gun Violence Restraining Orders, or Extreme Risk Protective Orders. You can read my press release on the bill here.
On Wednesday evening, the General Assembly gathered to hear Governor Northam's State of the Commonwealth address. In honor of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, we were joined by honor guards wearing historic garb -- a bit different than the uniforms we're used to seeing around here.
I was glad to hear Governor Northam include my gun safety bill in his address -- the full transcript of his speech can be found here.
On Wednesday we were also joined by a massive group of women and men in support of passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). As a copatron of both the Senate and House versions of the Amendment, I was glad to see that the Senate ERA, in a major and unprecedented step forward, passed the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee on Wednesday. If Virginia were to pass this important bill, it would become the 38th state to ratify the Amendment.
Today, I sent a letter to President Trump supporting full back pay for federal workers and federal contractors who are not receiving a paycheck because of the government shutdown. As I stated in the letter, "no one who works hard every day should serve as a political pawn with an uncertain financial future due to no fault of his or her own. Political disagreements should not plunge families into financial distress, potentially unnecessarily harming our economy as well." You can view a copy of the letter here.
Finally, I want to invite you to attend my Constituent Town Hall tomorrow at the McLean Community Center's -- located at 1234 Ingleside Avenue in McLean -- Community Room from 2:30 pm to 4 pm. I will be joined by my fellow Delegates Kathleen Murphy, Marcus Simon and Mark Keam, and by Senators Barbara Favola and Senator Janet Howell.
Stay tuned for updates next week – this session will be action-packed.