January 15, 2016 Update
The 2016 session kicked into gear Wednesday this week in Richmond. It feels like jumping onto a moving freight train, as all 140 members of the General Assembly filed bills, got assigned to committees, and began navigating what is sure to be a fast-paced 60 days of session.
Session began Wednesday night when Governor McAuliffe gave a rousing State of the Commonwealth speech .
That was followed the next day, unfortunately, by an ill-advised and historically inaccurate floor speech linking abolitionists to the pro-life movement. I have a feeling this will be an…interesting…session now that last year’s election is behind us, and with the Presidential primary and general election looming.
Despite the old adage that a sequel is never as good as the original, I will send an update email each Friday during session detailing what happens—or doesn’t happen—in Richmond this winter just like I did last year.
I) Legislation: I filed 18 bills—as of today—on issues ranging from voting rights to providing financial relief for a man sent to prison for 29 years for a crime he did not commit. A summary of some of my bills is provided below. For a full list of the bills I filed this session please click here.
· Redistricting (HB 26): I reintroduced my nonpartisan redistricting criteria bill from last session. My bill simply requires the General Assembly to use nonpartisan criteria—like compactness and contiguity—when drawing legislative maps. The bill explicitly prohibits the General Assembly from using partisan criteria, which includes election results and where the incumbent resides, to draw legislative maps. Considering the endless redistricting lawsuits slowly making their way through federal court--even the U.S. Supreme Court--and state court in Virginia, it is evident that Virginia’s redistricting process is fundamentally broken. I am optimistic that members on both sides of the aisle will make an effort this session to address this crucial issue.
· Out of State College ID for Voting (HB 32): I also reintroduced my out of state college ID bill. The bill allows students from out of state colleges to use their ID to vote in Virginia. Currently, Virginia allows students from in-state colleges, but not out of state colleges, to use their ID to vote. Virginia does allow residents who work outside of Virginia, however, to use their employee ID to vote. This means—perhaps unintentionally—that a Georgetown professor, for instance, could use his or her ID to vote in Virginia, while a Georgetown student could not. I believe we should make it easier for everyone to vote, especially young people, so I will urge my colleagues to pass this bill.
· Energy Efficiency Revolving Fund (HB 493): This bill incentivizes localities and institutions of higher education to invest in energy efficiency by providing interest free loans for these institutions to finance energy efficiency projects. The fund would use 40% of revenue collected from the recordation tax in excess of $325 million in any fiscal year. Energy efficiency is the cheapest, most effective way for Virginia to comply with the Clean Power Plan and it is time for the General Assembly to start emphasizing efficiency over new, expensive power generation sources.
· Claims Bill for Mike McAlister (HB 700): In 1986 Mike McAlister was convicted of raping a woman in an apartment complex in Richmond. At the identification lineup, the police asked Mr. McAlister to wear a flannel shirt, which happened to be what the victim’s assailant wore when committing the crime. The assailant and Mr. McAlister also both had beards. In a tragic case of mistaken identity, the victim identified Mr. McAlister largely because he was the only person in the lineup with a beard wearing a flannel shirt. Mr. McAlister was subsequently sentenced to 50 years in jail. The actual perpetrator of the crime admitted his guilt in 2015, and Governor McAuliffe subsequently exonerated Mr. McAlister in May.
My bill awards Mr. McAlister compensation for his wrongful incarceration. While nothing can ever right this tragic wrong, this legislation enables the Commonwealth to ease the burden on Mr. McAlister caused by spending nearly his entire adult life in prison.
II) Justice Roush: The General Assembly is expected to remove Justice Jane Marum Roush from the Virginia Supreme Court this session for purely political reasons. Justice Roush is a distinguished, supremely qualified candidate for the bench—nobody denies that on either side of the aisle—but she unfortunately got caught in the middle of a political fight instigated by Speaker Howell and Senate Majority Leader Norment.
This week I sent a letter to every attorney in the General Assembly asking them to look at this unfortunate saga as an attorney, not a politician. We will undermine the integrity of the General Assembly and Virginia’s judiciary if we end up removing Justice Roush. We demand that courts not inject politics into their decisions, and we should not—and must not—inject politics into the selection or removal of someone from the bench.
III) Contacting Us This Session: Please feel free to contact my office throughout session to let me know your views on any of the thousands of bills making their way through the House of Delegates this winter. You can also share your views with me by filling out my survey. If you plan to visit Richmond this session, we would be happy to arrange a tour of the Virginia Capitol. You can contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or 804-698-1048.
January 22, 2016 Update
The first full week of the 2016 session moved at warp speed, until Winter Storm Jonas ground everything to a halt. Committees and subcommittees met throughout the week to begin considering the thousands of bills filed this session (including five of my bills) which meant that I -- and many members -- often were juggling overlapping events on their schedule. I am still mastering the art of being in two or three places at once.
Predictably, many good bills died this week, and many misguided bills successfully moved through committee. The House Courts of Justice Committee, for example, declined to make flamethrowers illegal in Virginia, while the Senate Courts of Justice Committee passed a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. I have a feeling that, unfortunately, this won't be the end of the GOP's through-the-looking-glass legislative priorities this session.
I) Legislative Update: 5 of my bills were considered by various subcommittees this week. Information about what happened to each bill is provided below.
Early Voting (HB 68): I was disappointed to have the House Privileges and Elections Committee kill my early voting bill on Tuesday. My bill would have established 21 days of no excuse absentee voting in Virginia starting this year. The Republicans on the committee claimed that this would be an unfunded mandate on localities because it would, in their view, require local registrars to hire additional staff. This, of course, does not square with the fact that Virginia already has 45 days of in person absentee voting before Election Day so my bill, if anything, would decrease the burden on local registrars. It's time we make voting easier in Virginia, not harder. I will be back again with this bill next year.
Wrongful Conviction Statute Fix (HB 701): I introduced a bill that would have clarified a statute designed to provide wrongfully convicted individuals with a $15,000 transitional assistance grant upon their release from prison.
Under the current law, someone seeking the grant must first waive all other claims against the Commonwealth before receiving the grant. But waiving his/her claim at that point makes no sense -- and cannot be what the legislature intended -- because a different statute provides such a person with a separate and additional opportunity to seek full compensation from the Commonwealth for his/her wrongful incarceration, or to sue the Commonwealth. Requiring a waiver before receiving the assistance grant potentially deprives the individual of those subsequent rights.
My bill would have fixed the problem by removing the waiver requirement for the grant. Unfortunately, the Courts of Justice subcommittee politicized this nonpolitical issue, with the Chairman quipping that Rob Bell -- who is a Republican Delegate running against Mark Herring for Attorney General -- would interpret the law differently than the current Attorney General when Bell becomes the AG. Disappointing.
Infill Development Notice (HB 647): I did manage to get HB 647 out of subcommittee. It allows a locality to post a sign on property that is proposed to be redeveloped with a single family home, which notifies the neighborhood that an infill lot grading plan is pending for review by the County. The bill is a good government sunshine bill. It alerts the public when an infill development is under review.
Sales Tax Refunds (HB 398): I also got HB 398 out of subcommittee. A bill that only a lawyer or accountant could love, HB 398 prohibits organizations exempt from sales tax from accumulating interest on any sales tax refund from the date of purchase. Instead, it limits them to interest beginning when their refund claim is filed. This bill would save the Commonwealth several million dollars over this biennium -- money we could spend in other important areas.
Withholding Tax Deadline Penalties (HB 399): Another tax-geek bill, HB 399 would have imposed a de minimis penalty on employers who fail to submit their employees' W-2 information by the January 31st deadline. The bill would have helped taxpayers receive their refunds sooner, and would have helped the Tax Department better protect taxpayers from identity theft and refund fraud. Unfortunately, this bill did not make it out of subcommittee.
II) Shift Technologies: I was delighted to announce on the House floor that Governor McAuliffe has persuaded Shift Technologies--which uses an app-based business to help people buy and sell used cars--to establish its East Coast operations in Crystal City, right in the heart of the 48th district. Shift will create 100 new, high-tech jobs when it moves to Arlington later this year. I look forward to welcoming Shift to Arlington.
III) Winter Storm Jonas: Governor McAuliffe declared a state of emergency yesterday in preparation for Winter Storm Jonas. The snow is falling at a steady clip as I write this, so I hope all of you are home safe and sound. I am providing some resources below for you to use should you need to over the next few days.
Public Safety Non-Emergency: (703) 691-2131, TTY (703) 204-2264
Fairfax County Weather Page
Arlington's Weather Emergency Page
Washington Gas: 1-800-752-7520 or (703) 750-1400, TTY 711
Columbia Gas: 1-800-544-5606, TTY 1-800-231-3238
Dominion Virginia Power 1-866-366-4357, TTY 711
NOVEC (Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative) 1-888-335-0500 or (703) 335-0500, TTY 711
Pepco Outages: 1-877-737-2662
Oh, and I got a visit last week from Patrick Henry! Only in Richmond......
January 29, 2016 Update
The 2016 legislative calendar moved full speed ahead this week despite last weekend’s historic snow storm. Bills continue to make their way through (or die) in committee, and some controversial bills are beginning to get onto the House floor.
The House of Delegates’ Unclean Power Plan: A bill to prohibit Governor McAuliffe’s Administration from implementing a plan to comply with the Clean Power Plan (HB 2) was a particularly bad bill that passed the House this week.
I spoke against the bill on the floor. In my remarks I pointed out to my colleagues that the Clean Power Plan is a tremendous opportunity to develop and grow Virginia’s clean energy economy. One study found, for instance, that Virginia could create 6,800 new jobs a year between now and 2030 by reducing its electricity imports and investing in clean energy sources instead. That would be a total of 122,400 over that 18 year period, or 27 times the amount of all coal jobs in Virginia in 2013, and about half of all jobs in the manufacturing sector in Virginia.
HB 2 is clearly intended to set up a roadblock to the Clean Power Plan in Virginia.
I hope and expect that, should the Senate pass the bill, Governor McAuliffe will veto it.
Renewable Energy Property Tax Credit (HB 480): I reintroduced a bill this session which would allow Virginians to claim a tax credit for investing in renewable energy. Virginia is losing clean energy jobs to its competitors—including North Carolina and Maryland—because the General Assembly has done little to encourage the industry. My bill, which received support from the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, and numerous industry associations, would have helped Virginia’s energy industry move into the 21st century. North Carolina, meanwhile, created 3300 clean energy jobs last year alone. We simply have to do better.
A Finance Committee subcommittee unfortunately tabled the bill. I will continue to work to get Virginia to embrace clean energy.
Justice Roush: The ongoing saga over Supreme Court Justice Roush continued this week with no clear resolution in sight. The House and Senate Courts of Justice Committees certified both Justice Roush and Judge Rossie Alston on Wednesday, with the goal of voting on both candidates Thursday. That didn’t happen. My understanding is that the Senate does not have the votes to elect either Judge Alston or Justice Roush, which creates the real possibility that the Virginia Supreme Court will only have 6 justices when Justice Roush’s term ends in February. This is a shameful situation for the General Assembly and the Virginia Supreme Court. Unless we do the right thing in the next few weeks—elect Justice Roush—we will do inestimable damage to both institutions.
Bipartisan Gun Agreement: News broke yesterday that Governor McAuliffe and Republican Leadership have agreed to an accord on a very contentious issue: guns. The deal will reinstate our longstanding rules on reciprocity for concealed carry permits in Virginia. Republicans in the General Assembly had set a strategy to restore universal reciprocity this session. They remained, of course, vehemently opposed to legislation that became part of this agreement, including legislation to prohibit people subject to a protective order for domestic violence from possessing a gun for the duration of the order, and legislation to allow the state police to conduct voluntary background checks at gun shows, something Democrats have pushed for years, with little hope for success.
This agreement is surely not perfect. Do I wish we could have gotten more, and stood firm on changes to our concealed carry reciprocity laws? Of course. The fact that we had to negotiate to keep guns away from domestic abusers subject to a protective order is a sad indictment of Virginia’s lax gun laws. Nonetheless, progress is made incrementally in Virginia. It is unlikely that we could have passed either of these bills without this accord, and it was quite possible that legislation allowing for universal reciprocity would have passed with a veto proof majority.
I commend Attorney General Herring for starting the discussion that ultimately led to this deal with his concealed carry reciprocity decision last month. He has been a fierce advocate for common sense gun safety and for keeping Virginians safe. Without his efforts, we would not have made any tangible progress on gun safety this session.
I look forward to making further progress on this issue in the future.
Snow: I received many emails and phone calls over the last week about streets and sidewalks that needed to be plowed. While the process to clear all the snow we got last weekend is moving slower than we all would like, I am working with VDOT to make sure Fairfax’s roads are cleared and I am working with the Arlington County government to make sure Arlington’s roads are cleared. Please click here to track VDOT’s plowing schedule and contact Arlington here. This weekend’s forecast calls for unseasonably warm weather, so hopefully everyone can return to work and school next week with no problems.
And after meeting Patrick Henry last week, I had a chance to meet General George Washington this week.
February 5, 2016 Update
Another week is in the books here in Richmond. This may have been the most hectic week yet: committees continue to meet during every available moment before and after our floor sessions to work through over one thousand bills before we hit crossover on the 16th.
The House floor was relatively sedate this week, although we did have an interesting debate about Thomas Jefferson and the Statute for Religious Freedom. Only in Virginia.
Some controversial bills will make their way onto the House floor in the coming weeks.HB 781, for example, requires the Director of Virginia’s Department of General Services and local school boards to require every public school restroom to be used only by individuals based on their “biological sex,” not gender identity, and imposes a fine of $50 for violating the statute. The bill passed out of subcommittee yesterday. We should be focusing on Medicaid expansion, climate change, and voting rights, not needless and divisive social legislation like HB 781. HB 781 is a classic example of the majority’s misplaced priorities. I hope it does not get to the floor, but I look forward to voting against it if it does.
Legislative Update: Several subcommittees considered 4 of my bills this week. 2 of the 4 got out of committee, and are headed to the House floor. And one of my bills that was previously defeated in committee was brought back from the dead this week, and will receive another hearing on Tuesday. An example of “never give up” being the right approach.
Redistricting Reform (HB 26): I patroned a bill this year which would require the General Assembly to use nonpartisan criteria to draw the next round of legislative maps in 2021. The Richmond Times Dispatch published my op-ed this week about my bill, in which I noted that there might be—for the first time in recent history—bipartisan progress on this unfortunately partisan issue. A senior Republican member of the House of Delegates introduced a nonpartisan criteria bill very similar to mine, and another Republican introduced a different redistricting bill.
I was disappointed when the Chairman of the Privileges & Elections Committee, Delegate Mark Cole, made the motion to kill every redistricting reform bill—there were a total of 5--justifying it by suggesting that we are still too far away from the next round of redistricting in 2021. Every redistricting bill died by a vote of 4-3. It was ironic when, just two days later, the House passed Delegate Cole’s bill, which re-draws Delegate Cole’s district by moving one precinct out of his district and putting it in Speaker Howell’s district. I will bring my bill back next year. Never give up.
Mike McAlister Relief Bill (HB 700): A House Appropriations subcommittee unanimously passed my relief bill for Mike McAlister. As I’ve mentioned in previous emails and social media posts, Mike was wrongfully incarcerated for 29 years for a crime he did not commit, and was exonerated earlier this year with a full pardon and a finding of actual innocence. My bill will help right that wrong as best we can. The full Appropriations Committee will hear the bill next week.
Hate Crimes (HB 35): My bill sought to codify existing reporting practices used by the Virginia State Police to investigate hate crimes. Currently, Virginia law--unlike federal law--does not require the state police to report hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity to the FBI. In practice, however, the state police do report hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. My bill simply sought to have Virginia law reflect reality.
Prior to the hearing, I spoke to some of the bill’s traditional opponents. I suggested some changes which actually overcame their objections to the bill. Unfortunately, this still was not enough to overcome the subcommittee members’ knee-jerk opposition to anything dealing with LGBT rights, and the bill was tabled—killed—by the subcommittee. Very disappointing.
Energy Day: On Tuesday the House and Senate Commerce & Labor Committees will consider every energy-related bill for this session. Several of my clean energy bills will be considered, including my energy efficiency resource standard bill (HB 576). I hope these two committees will pass bills to help Virginia’s new energy economy, emphasize energy efficiency, and lower our carbon footprint. Stay tuned for updates next week.
What’s Next: Each chamber is required to finish considering its respective bills by the crossover deadline on February 16th. We will spend many hours in committee and on the House floor over the next 11 days to make sure we finish our business on time. I expect many of the most controversial bills to make it onto the House floor over the next two weeks.
After February 16th the House will consider bills passed by the Senate, and the Senate will consider bills passed by the House. We will also begin the important work of passing a budget for the next biennium.
Enjoy the Super Bowl.
February 12, 2016 Update
The House of Delegates careened this week toward next Tuesday’s crossover deadline. It was a particularly eventful week on several fronts, including transportation and clean energy.
Governor McAuliffe’s I-66 Agreement: On Wednesday, Governor McAuliffeannounced an agreement on I-66. The agreement will allow tolling to begin inside the Beltway starting in 2017. Environmental assessment and planning will start this year for widening the road between the Dulles Connector and Fairfax Drive. It will be widened only within the existing right of way. Construction will begin in 2017 and the new lane will open to traffic as early as fall 2019.
Although I commend Governor McAuliffe for finding common ground on this important issue, I am nevertheless somewhat disappointed with the agreement. Widening should have been pursued only after all other options had been tried and exhausted. It is clear that widening, by itself, does little if anything to reduce traffic congestion over the long term. The original plan, which would have delayed widening while tolling and more multimodal solutions were given a chance to work, would have been far preferable.
But the political reality was that there was strengthening momentum this session to widen I-66 and prohibit tolling. And there was a growing risk that we would finish this session with no plan at all for I-66. In that context, the agreement makes sense and is likely to help Northern Virginia commuters. In fact, since widening will be financed with revenues from the recently passed FAST Act and improved state revenues, even more toll money will be available for projects in the I-66 corridor inside the Beltway. Some of those will include enhancing bus service and carpool service, and improving secondary roadways like Washington Boulevard, Lee Highway, and Route 50.
Stay tuned for more details in future session updates.
Clean Energy Day: Tuesday was the House of Delegate’s annual “Energy Day,” which is when the House Commerce & Labor Committee’s Special Subcommittee on Energy considers every energy-related bill introduced in the House of Delegates. You might think cramming over 20 complicated energy bills into one afternoon would inhibit serious, thoughtful consideration. You would not be far off. Fortunately, the big news to come out of Energy Day was that the House and Senate will convene a Joint Special Committee this summer to thoroughly analyze an array of renewable energy and energy efficiency bills introduced this session. I was the patron or copatron on several of those bills, and I have told Chairman Kilgore that I would like to serve on that Special Committee.
A number of my energy-related bills were considered on Energy Day. HB 1174 requires the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy to produce an annual analysis on Virginia’s progress toward meeting its voluntary energy efficiency goal. Currently, Virginia has a goal of reducing energy consumption by 10% by 2022. Believe it or not, though, nobody knows whether we are making any progress toward that goal. My bill fixes that problem, and passed with no opposition.
Another one of my energy-related bills (HB 576) would have required Virginia utilities to set and achieve very aggressive energy efficiency goals. The legislation would incentivize utilities which meet or exceed their goals. Virginia is far behind its neighbors in promoting energy efficiency. And although Virginia does have low electricity rates, it has the nation’s 9th highest residential electricity bills, in large measure because our utilities do not emphasize energy efficiency. The Commerce & Labor Committee carried my bill over until later this year when the Joint House and Senate Special Committee convenes.
Opower: Governor McAuliffe announced this week that Opower—the global leader in cloud-based software for the utility industry--will remain in Arlington, create 70 new high-paying jobs, and retain over 350 existing jobs. Opower will move from its current location in Courthouse to 2311 Wilson Boulevard, right in the heart of the 48th district.
Opower had been aggressively courted by DC and Maryland, but it decided to stay in Arlington. Arlington's highly educated workforce and great quality of life are a perfect fit for Opower.
Opower delivers proactive digital communications to help utilities engage with customers to manage energy demand and lower customers' costs.
It is precisely the kind of company Virginia needs to attract and retain to grow our clean energy economy. You can read the Governor's announcement here.
What’s Next: We will be officially at the halfway point of the 2016 legislative session when we hit the crossover deadline next Tuesday. After Tuesday, I will work to get my bills that passed the House through the Senate, and we will consider Senate bills in committee and on the floor. We will then begin negotiating the budget, and conference committees will iron out differences between bills that pass both chambers. It should be an exciting—and grueling--final 30 days.
As always, stop in to see us if you are in Richmond, and feel free to write, email or call with comments, concerns or encouragement!
February 19, 2016 Update
The 2016 General Assembly session reached its halfway point this week. Tuesday was crossover, which is when both chambers are required to complete work on all bills originating in their chamber. House committees are now busy churning through bills that passed the Senate, and the Senate is likewise considering our bills. I was able to get five bills (HB 234, HB 398, HB 647, HB 700, and HB 1174) through the House, so I will spend the next few weeks working to get them through the Senate and onto the Governor’s desk.
Legislative Update: The session has been a mixed bag so far. Predictably, many good bills died, particularly voting rights and gun safety bills. And some misguided—and likely unconstitutional—bills passed. Fortunately, the Senate sent over some good legislation, but if past is prologue the House will unfortunately be the final resting place for many of the Senate’s bills.
I set out below a short list of the good bills, the bad bills, and the particularly bad bills that passed before crossover.
HB 834 - Establishes the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board to administer grants for regional economic and workforce development projects. This is an important part of the Governor’s program to continue to re-shape Virginia’s economy.
SB 12 - Prohibits discrimination in public employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, as defined in the bill. Duh.
But I don’t expect my House colleagues to pass the bill, unfortunately.
SB 67 - Extends the protections of Virginia's fair housing statute to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation.
HB 1348 - Provides that any person who smokes in a motor vehicle, when a child under the age of eight is in the motor vehicle, is subject to a $100 fine.
HB 560 - Makes it more difficult to convict someone of brandishing a firearm by requiring proof that the person pointing, holding, or brandishing a firearm or similar weapon had the intent to induce fear in the mind of another. And why else would you brandish your weapon?
HB 766 - Allows any protective order to be used as a de-facto concealed carry permit, without requiring the holder to receive any training in the safe handling of a firearm, or show any proficiency with a firearm. This is part of a continuing narrative from gun safety opponents that the way to reduce gun violence is to arm more people.
HB 815 - Reinstates the use of the electric chair for executions in Virginia when the chemicals used for lethal injections are unavailable.
HB 3 - Charter Schools Constitutional Amendment - Provides for a referendum on the November 8, 2016, ballot to approve or reject an amendment to grant the State Board of Education the authority to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth. Fortunately, the Senate defeated its version of this bill, so the charter school amendment will not be on the ballot this fall.
HB 4 - Right to Work Constitutional Amendment provides for a referendum on the November 8, 2016, ballot to approve or reject an amendment that would enshrine the Right to Work in our Constitution.
HB 1096 - Reverses the Governor's executive order barring firearms from state buildings controlled by the Executive Branch, and prohibits future Governors from doing the same thing. This is the “guns in every DMV” bill.
HB 131: Prohibits public schools from joining an organization governing interscholastic programs that does not deem eligible for participation a student who is home schooled. This bill--commonly known as the "Tim Tebow Bill"--is introduced every year and is either killed in the General Assembly or vetoed. The bill wrongly makes public school an "a la carte" option for home school students. I expect the Governor to veto the bill if it passes the Senate, as he did last year.
The Really Bad:
HB 1090 - Defunds Planned Parenthood. Sigh.
Fortunately, the Governor will veto this one
HB 2 - Clean Power Plan - Requires the Department of Environmental Quality to receive approval from the General Assembly for the state implementation plan to regulate CO2 emissions from existing power plants prior to submitting the plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval. I spoke about this issue on the floor. This is simply an attempt to short-circuit the Clean Power plan and derail our efforts to move to a clean energy economy.
HB 773/SB 41 - Prevents the state government from taking any action against a person or organization that discriminates, claiming a religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, that the terms "man" and "woman" refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics of the individual at the time of birth, or that sex should not occur outside of marriage. This is a terrible bill that sanctions discrimination. The day it passed was a particularly sad one on the floor. Governor McAuliffe will have to veto this bill, and prevent Virginia from labeling itself an intolerant, unwelcoming state.
What’s Next: The budget process kicks off this weekend when the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee release their proposed budgets Sunday afternoon. We will then have until the middle of next week to offer budget amendments, and the House and Senate will vote on their respective budgets later in the week.
This is Governor McAuliffe’s first—and only—two year budget during his one term as Governor. It will reflect many of his priorities, and will establish a legacy which will carry over to the beginning of the next Governor’s term.
The Governor of course included Medicaid expansion in his budget as a top priority. Not surprisingly, the Republicans have made it clear they will strip it out of the final budget. This is an unfortunate, myopic, and politically-motivated decision. Over 400,000 people would benefit from Medicaid expansion, many of them in Republican districts. To consistently send Virginia tax dollars to Washington and deny affordable health care to our own neighbors is almost beyond comprehension.
When we are done with the budget we will enter the conference committee portion of session, which is when the House and Senate try to iron out any differences in legislation passed in both chambers. We will then rapidly approach the end of session—which is supposed to be March 12th—and then we’ll head back home before coming back to Richmond for veto session on April 20th.
Stay tuned for more updates as we continue moving through session.
And don’t forget that March 1 is Virginia’s Presidential Primary. Don’t forget to vote
Finally, session is always made more interesting by the weather. Once I slogged down I-95 thorough Monday’s snow storm, I caught a beautiful picture of the snow covered Capitol from the 9th floor of the General Assembly building.
February 26, 2016 Update
The 2016 session is nearing the finish line with only two weeks to go. The House continues to consider all the Senate bills that passed prior to crossover, and we are starting the conference committee process. We also cleared a major hurdle this week: our initial consideration of the House budget.
2016 Budget: The 2016 budget is the first—and only—two year budget of Governor McAuliffe’s term. The budget totals over $100 billion dollars and features important, even historic, investments in K-12 education, higher education, economic development, health care, and transportation.
The budget is not perfect. Far from it. The most important missed opportunity, and the most disappointing, was that the House leadership passed up yet another chance to expand Medicaid as the Governor had proposed in his budget. We continue to leave millions of dollars on the table, and thousands of our neighbors are without the health care they need.
The House budget foregoes the over $100 million in savings that Virginia would realize in the Governor's budget from expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. As a result, the House budget cut other vital programs.
Solar energy was one of the investments in the Governor’s budget that ended up on the House’s chopping block. Despite many of my colleagues' professed desire to move the ball forward on solar energy in Virginia, the House budget cuts $2 million in solar energy investments over the next two years. I objected to the cut, but was outvoted 65-34. We need to do more in Virginia to encourage solar investment in the future.
I will keep fighting.
Another objection I made to the budget is the fact that it strips over $300,000 in funding for the process of restoration of voting rights. The Governor included this funding in his budget because there has been a dramatic increase in the number of former nonviolent felons who have paid their debt to society and want to restore their voting rights and participate again in Virginia’s political process. The House’s decision to remove this funding is shameful. The right to vote should not be a political issue, but unfortunately it has become one. You can watch my floor comments here.
Legislative Update: Five of my bills (HB 234, HB 398, HB 647, HB 700, and HB 1174) are making their way through the Senate right now. Two of them (HB 398 and HB 234) passed the Senate yesterday and are on their way to the Governor’s desk. I look forward to getting the remaining three bills through the Senate next week.
Bad bills continue to pass the House and Senate. As I mentioned in a previous weekly update, the House passed the “Government Nondiscrimination Act” (HB 773), which gives private organizations a license to discriminate against the LGBT community. This bill passed the Senate yesterday on a party line vote. Fortunately, Governor McAuliffe has already made clear he will veto the bill, and there are not enough votes in the House or the Senate to override his veto. Virginia should be an inclusive place for everyone. It’s a shame so many of my colleagues in the General Assembly think otherwise.
Black History Month Speech: On Tuesday I gave a speech as part of our participation in Black History Month about Annie Harper. Although little is known about Ms. Harper, she had a tremendous impact on democracy in Virginia and the United States.
Ms. Harper—a native of Gum Springs in Fairfax--was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Harper vs. Virginia State Board of Elections. The case struck down Virginia’s 90 year old poll tax under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
Presidential Primary: The Presidential Primary is next Tuesday. Are you ready to vote? Here is what you need to vote on Tuesday:
Additional voter info can be found here.
Arlington’s Dog Delegation: We were visited by Arlington’s distinguished dog delegation last week. Teddy the Scottish Terrier—my LA Matt Weinstein’s dog--represents the mighty 48th district. Chelsea the West Highland White Terrier represents the 47th, and Bandit the Beagle represents the 49th.
The Arlington delegation has truly gone to the dogs this session.
March 4, 2016 Update
One week to go. This was another compelling week in the General Assembly as we continued to consider bills, voted on several of Governor McAuliffe’s vetoes, and took a historic—for all the wrong reasons—vote on a supremely qualified Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court: Jane Marum Roush.
Legislative Update: The House and Senate continued consideration of each other’s bills this week. Several of my bills got across the finish line (HB 234, HB 398, and HB 700), and one of my bills (HB 1174) unexpectedly hit a roadblock in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
Energy Efficiency Reporting Bill: HB 1174 would have required the State Corporation Commission (SCC) and the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) to issue an annual report updating the Governor and the General Assembly on the Commonwealth’s progress toward achieving its voluntary energy efficiency goal of a reduction by 10% of Virginia’s 2006 electricity sales by the year 2022. Currently, there is only anecdotal evidence of any progress, and we have no way of knowing whether we are on track to reach our goal.
The Republican members of the committee voted against the bill, claiming they were concerned that it could raise Virginia’s electricity rates and ultimately lead to mandatory efficiency goals (perish the thought). Setting aside the fact that my bill simply mandated a report and had nothing to do with rates, the committee members ignored the underreported fact that Virginians have the 9th highest electricity bills in the country, despite its low electricity rates because we are so energy inefficient. I hope my colleagues will soon learn that energy efficiency should be a priority in Virginia.
McAlister Relief Bill: I was happy to see the Senate pass my relief bill (HB 700) for Mike McAlister. Mike was wrongfully convicted in 1986 for an attempted rape he did not commit. He spent 29 years in jail, and—thankfully—Governor McAuliffe pardoned himlast year with a finding of actual innocence. HB 700 provides Mike with financial relief under the Commonwealth’s wrongful conviction statute. No amount of money can ever right this wrong, but hopefully this will give Mike some measure of relief.
Transient Occupancy Tax: Delegate Hope and Senator Howell led an effort by the entire Arlington delegation to restore Arlington’s transient occupancy tax (TOT). The tax is a small surcharge on people who stay in Arlington’s hotels, usually from out-of-town, of course, and the proceeds are used solely to promote tourism in Arlington. The TOT expired in 2011. The TOT will help Arlington compete with DC and Maryland for tourism dollars. I applaud Delegate Hope, Senator Howell, and all of my Arlington colleagues for the great work they did this session to restore the TOT.
Justice Roush: The House of Delegates and the Senate made a surprise move on Wednesday by voting on Justice Roush’s dormant Supreme Court nomination. The Senate voted 22-0 to elect Justice Roush, while the House—in an unprecedented demonstration of disrespect and breach of protocol—voted down her nomination 38-55. For as long as anyone here can remember, it has been the tradition that members leave their seats or the chamber if they do not want to vote for a particular judge, rather than voting “no.”
That is why the Senate vote was 22-0. But the 55 “no” votes in the House were a public poke in the eye to Justice Roush, and served only to underscore the unfortunate and very troubling partisan nature of this dispute. Our courts, our Commonwealth, and our legislature should be above this sort of thing. The vote in the House was also the first time in over a century that the General Assembly refused to elect a Governor’s recess appointment to the Virginia Supreme Court. Yet, Justice Roush is superbly qualified, and even those who voted against her acknowledge that. This was all about partisanship. The General Assembly and the Commonwealth deserve better.
Governor McAuliffe’s Vetoes: We are now at the point in the session at which we begin to vote on whether to sustain Governor McAuliffe’s vetoes. This week we sustained several important vetoes, including the “Tebow bill” (HB 131) and a redistricting bill (HB 254). The Senate also, fortunately, sustained the Governor’s veto of a bill (SB 21) which would have effectively halted Virginia’s implementation of the Clean Power Plan by giving the General Assembly veto power over any implementation plan submitted by the Department of Environmental Quality.
I was particularly happy to vote to sustain Governor McAuliffe’s veto of Delegate Mark Cole’s redistricting adjustment bill (HB 254). I have introduced redistricting reform bills the last two sessions—HB 26 this session—only to have Delegate Cole (who also chairs the Privileges and Elections Committee) kill the bills because, in his view, “it’s too soon” to take on redistricting reform since the next redistricting cycle is not until 2021.
Delegate Cole’s bill, though, would have accomplished a redistricting of its own by swapping a precinct in his district with a precinct in Speaker Howell’s district. I found Delegate Cole’s simultaneous rejection of comprehensive redistricting reform and embrace of redrawing his own district before 2021 to be—I’m trying to be gentle here--inconsistent. Hopefully we can make real progress on this important issue next year.
What’s Next: We will continue to finish voting on bills, reconcile differing House and Senate bills, and vote on the final budget before we are scheduled to adjourn on March 12th. It has been a productive session thus far. Hopefully we will thoughtfully wrap up this session’s work next week. There are some important budget issues still to decide, though. Stay tuned.
March 11, 2016 Update
Sine die. With those two words—which people in Richmond pronounce at least four different ways—the 2016 legislative session came to an end.
It was a busy and productive week. We finished considering over one thousand bills, numerous vetoes, several judgeships, and some Governor’s recommendations. We made progress on several important issues this session, and we unfortunately missed some opportunities on others.
The final week was perhaps the most dramatic one of the session. We wrangled over the nearly year-long drama regarding a vacancy on the Virginia Supreme Court, and the process devolved into a complete circus. We passed a two year, $100 billion + budget late Friday evening. The budget is not perfect—in fact, it is appallingly shortsighted on Medicaid expansion and the Clean Power Plan—but it does make some important improvements and puts Virginia on a solid financial footing for the next two years.
Supreme Court Vacancy: As I’ve noted in previous emails, the Republican leadership in the General Assembly picked a fight with Governor McAuliffe over a Virginia Supreme Court vacancy dating back to last year. Governor McAuliffe appointed Jane Marum Roush. Justice Roush is superbly qualified for a spot on the Supreme Court bench. Nobody ever denied that, not even the Republicans. The Republicans attempted to remove then-Justice Roush from the Court during special session last year, and they made it a priority to remove her this session.
Events turned surreal this week when the Republicans nominated former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon. The rumor around Richmond was that they wanted to elect Cuccinelli to the bench to keep him from running for Governor next year. What was particularly disturbing was that the Republicans repeatedly insisted that removing Justice Roush had nothing to do with politics, yet they went ahead and nominated perhaps the most partisan Republican in the Commonwealth to replace her.
Fortunately, Cuccinelli removed himself from consideration at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning in a text to a Republican legislator. But it was not until 3 p.m. Wednesday that the Republicans announced that Cuccinelli had declined the nomination. In the intervening 12 hours, the Republicans tried to leverage various Democrats with the threat of a Cuccinelli nomination. No politics, indeed.
The General Assembly ultimately elected Stephen McCullough to the Virginia Supreme Court. McCullough had been on the Court of Appeals.
I spoke on the floor Tuesday about how the entire process had gone off the rails. I took to the floor again Thursday as we were about to vote on Judge McCullough. We kicked a highly qualified Justice off the Court after she went through an extensive vetting process, and instead elected someone who had not applied for the job, had not been vetted for the job, and was not even approached about the job until early this week. There was no public input. With all due respect to Judge McCullough, this became—for the Republicans—about electing someone—anyone—other than the person nominated by Governor McAuliffe. It became, sadly, completely political. The General Assembly, the Court, and the people of the Commonwealth deserve much better.
Budget: Earlier this week the budget conferees—12 members from the House and Senate tasked with ironing out the differences in each chamber’s budgets—released their committee report.
The report, like so much here, was a mixed bag. It included funding for a vacant judgeship in the Arlington Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, and increased funding for K-12 education as well as for much needed transportation funding. On the negative side, the report did not include Medicaid expansion, cut $2 million for solar energy, and includes language prohibiting the Department of Environmental Quality from implementing the Clean Power Plan.
On the whole, I was pleased with the final budget, although I hope the Governor can use his veto power to cut out the Clean Power Plan language and add the solar money back in. I will know more about the Governor’s actions sometime before veto session on April 20th.
What’s Next: What is known as “the long session” is well-named. I look forward to coming back to the 48th district now that session is over. For the next few weeks I will be reintroducing myself to my family, friends, and my colleagues at Bean Kinney & Korman.
I will send a more detailed session overview in the next week or two with the highlights—and lowlights—of the 2016 session.
In the meantime, I am happy to hear from you if you need any help with a constituent service issue, or if you have any questions or comments about the 2016 legislative session. Please feel to contact my office at DelRSullivan@House.Virginia.Gov. I look forward to hearing from you.
March 18, 2016 Update
I have had a week to reflect on the 2016 session since we adjourned last Friday night. As I thought about what happened—or did not happen—this session, I concluded that the session proceeded on two distinct tracks.
The first track—which was widely covered in the media—was defined by partisan wrangling. Richmond, at times, seemed like it was Washington, DC on the James River. The second track--which received less attention from the media--focused on making steady progress on several vital issues, including K-12 funding, gun safety, and economic development.
1. DC on the James: At times the 2016 session resembled the blindly partisan legislative body north of the Potomac River, especially on judicial nominations, Medicaid expansion, and voting rights.
Supreme Court of Virginia Drama: Much as Congress is embroiled in a bitter battle over a U.S. Supreme Court nomination, the General Assembly spent much of the 2016 session locked in a stalemate over a vacancy on Virginia’s highest court.
In 2015 Governor McAuliffe had appointed Jane Marum Roush—a supremely qualified judge on the Fairfax Circuit Court—to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Virginia. Republican leadership objected to the appointment because Governor McAuliffe did not, so they claimed, sufficiently reach out to them about his decision. Nonetheless, Justice Roush served on the Supreme Court with distinction until her term ended shortly after the 2016 session began.
The Republican leadership turned the process into a circus over the next several months as they desperately tried to put anyone on the Court other than Justice Roush—even Ken Cuccinelli. The General Assembly ultimately elected Stephen McCullough—who was Cuccinelli’s right hand man when he was Attorney General—in the final hours of the 2016 session, even though Judge McCullough had not applied for the job, had not been vetted, and had not been subjected to any public scrutiny or input.
Nobody questioned Justice Roush’s qualifications for the job. The Republicans objected to her simply because she was the Governor’s pick. And they removed her simply because they could. This is the sort of partisanship we have come to expect in DC. It is unfortunate that it has spread 100 miles south to Richmond.
Medicaid Expansion: In an effort to provide health care for over 400,000 uninsured Virginians, Governor McAuliffe included Medicaid expansion in his proposed two year budget. Predictably, and unfortunately, the first thing the Republicans did this session was strip Medicaid expansion from the budget purely for partisan reasons.
Expanding Medicaid would have saved Virginia hundreds of millions of dollars. Removing it from the budget meant that the General Assembly had to cut other important items so we could balance the budget, including—an issue very important to me--funding to develop Virginia’s solar industry.
Much like their colleagues in Washington, DC, Republicans in the General Assembly oppose Medicaid expansion simply because they see it as supporting the Affordable Care Act. Moreover, they worry that expanding Medicaid would be seen as a victory for Governor McAuliffe, and that is simply something many Republicans refuse to allow--regardless of the merits of any particular policy. This hyper-partisan mindset only weakens Virginia’s health care system, wastes our tax dollars, and makes it impossible for many of our neighbors to access affordable health care. Shameful.
Voting Rights: Republicans in the General Assembly have also politicized an issue that I wish could be above partisanship: voting rights.
Time after time this session the General Assembly killed bills that would make it easier to vote. Instead, we passed bills that make it harder to register and harder to vote on Election Day. Many Democrats, including me, introduced bills that would allow no excuse absentee voting and would expand the list of acceptable voter IDs, only to see these bills die on unrecorded votes at early morning subcommittee hearings.
Republicans insist that our bills will burden local registrars and increase “voter fraud.” The real reason for their consistent opposition, of course, is that Republicans only win elections when turnout is low, and tend to lose elections when turnout is high. Expanding the voter pool imperils the Republican’s power in Richmond. Self-preservation should not trump our duty to encourage voters to participate in the democratic process.
2. Steady Progress: There is some encouraging news. The General Assembly—when it took a timeout from partisan gridlock--made progress this session on some important issues.
K-12 Funding: The budget includes much needed funding for Virginia’s public schools. The budget provides significantly increased direct aid to localities. And it includes $173.5 million in additional support for school divisions with no local matching requirement.
Economic Development: The General Assembly built on Governor McAuliffe’s efforts to build a new Virginia economy by passing several important economic development bills. The budget includes $21.0 million to increase the existing R&D tax credit, and provides $35.5 million to create GO Virginia, which will encourage regional collaboration on economic development between business, education, and government organizations.
Gun Safety: Governor McAuliffe forged an important gun safety deal with the General Assembly this session. Republicans agreed to legislation prohibiting persons subject to a permanent protective order from possessing guns, as well as legislation establishing voluntary background checks at gun shows. These were bills many of us had been pushing for a long time, and which unfortunately had no chance of passage when the session began. In exchange for these important and unprecedented concessions from the NRA, the Governor agreed to sign legislation establishing universal reciprocity for concealed carry permit holders.
This deal is not perfect. Far from it. The fact that we had to negotiate to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers is itself an indictment of Virginia’s terrible gun laws. The fact is, however, that Democrats were able to get important gun safety bills signed into law that had no chance of passing at the beginning of the 2016 session. I hope we can build on the progress we made in future sessions.
3. What to Expect Next Session: Although it is hard to know what the next 10 months will bring—especially since a week can be a lifetime in politics—I am hopeful that we are at a tipping point on two important issues: renewable energy and energy efficiency. I expect to make significant progress next session.
I introduced several renewable energy and energy efficiency bills the last two sessions. Two of these bills, for example, sought to provide incentives for Virginia’s renewable energy industry by establishing a renewable energy tax credit—which I based off of North Carolina’s wildly successful program—and would have required Virginia to establish an energy efficiency resource standard.
Although these bills died last year and were carried over this session, I sensed a shift in messaging and tone this session. In 2015 Republicans were clearly skeptical of incentivizing renewable energy and energy efficiency, and they were not afraid to say so at committee hearings and on the House floor. This session, however, I noticed that Republicans offered tacit support for renewable energy and energy efficiency, even if the bills in those areas did not pass. More Republicans patroned clean energy bills in 2016 than in 2015, and some even patroned solar energy bills.
The House Commerce and Labor Committee and the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee agreed to form a special joint committee to consider energy bills this summer. I view this step as an encouraging sign that we could be on the verge of bringing Virginia’s energy policy into the 21st century, possibly beginning as soon as next session.
Thank you for reading this to the end (if you have!) and for your input and support during session. Please always feel free to call me at (571) 210-5876 or email me email@example.com.