2017 Session Wrapup Newsletter
The General Assembly’s 2017 legislative session came and went with relatively little drama. As I prepared to write this session wrap-up letter, I considered whether there was an overriding theme to this session. The 2015 session was defined by Dominion’s rate freeze bill. The fight over the Justice Roush nomination dominated the 2016 session, and the debate over Medicaid expansion hovered over both. This session was a bit like being in the eye of a hurricane: the skies were surprisingly calm and clear, but a strong storm 100 miles north of Richmond – in Washington – swirled around us the entire time.
2017 Legislative Package: I introduced legislation in a wide variety of areas (you can see my entire list of bills at http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?171+mbr+H269C), but my legislative package focused on three topics I believe are vital to the Commonwealth’s future: redistricting reform, voting rights, and energy.
- Redistricting Reform: I introduced a constitutional amendment that would have required that nonpartisan criteria be used when drawing legislative maps. I have long believed that voters should choose their elected officials, not the other away around. It is tempting—and politically effective—to surgically draw districts that make reelection for incumbents all but a certainty, and frankly both parties have abused the redistricting process. That has to stop.
My bill—along with a number of other redistricting reform bills—would have died a quiet, unceremonious death if redistricting reform had not become one of the hottest issues of the session. The reason people care is clear: voters are finally realizing that gerrymandering is one of the root causes of our legislative gridlock. Moreover, the maps the General Assembly drew after the 2010 census have been challenged—and defended with taxpayer money—in three separate lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down one map—the congressional map—and sent the House of Delegates map back to the trial court for reconsideration. I am hopeful for an outcome requiring that the maps be redrawn.
The path my bill and the others took this session was, as usual, frustrating. The House Privileges and Elections subcommittee tabled—i.e. killed—my bill and several others at a 7 a.m. committee hearing with a voice vote – all in an attempt to avoid a recorded vote. I agitated on the floor repeatedly to get a vote – a recorded vote – by the full House, so our constituents could see where each of us stands. I had no success. But several of my colleagues did succeed in forcing the first recorded vote in the full Privileges and Elections Committee. You can see the full vote here -- http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?171+vot+H18V0115+SJ0290.
Voting Rights: I have pushed every session for legislation that will make it easier to vote. This year I reintroduced a bill that would allow Virginia students who attend out-of-state colleges to use their college photo ID to vote. As of now only students who attend Virginia colleges can use their ID, though Virginians who work out-of-state can use their out-of-state employer ID. This creates an unintended anomaly: a Georgetown professor, for instance, can use his or her Georgetown faculty ID to vote in Virginia, but a Georgetown student cannot use a Georgetown student ID. Unfortunately, there is little appetite in the General Assembly to encourage young people to vote, or to pass any bill making it easier to vote. The bill died on a party line vote.
I also introduced a bill to expand our early voting system in Virginia. I believe that democracy is strongest when more people participate in the voting process, and allowing expanded, no-excuse early voting would encourage more people to make their voices heard. This sentiment is not shared by a majority of Delegates, so it unfortunately died in another early morning subcommittee meeting.
Energy Efficiency: Improving our efficient use of energy is the easiest, cheapest way to decrease Virginia’s negative impact on the environment. Virginia’s power providers regularly and proudly insist that Virginia has some of the lowest electricity rates in the country. That may be true, but it doesn’t capture the whole picture. The federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that Virginia has the tenth highest electricity bills in the country, due mostly to inefficiency. I am, however, happy to report that we made some progress on energy efficiency this session. I introduced a bill, which was also carried by Rosalyn Dance in the Senate, that requires the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DME) to annually report to the Governor and the General Assembly on how Virginia is progressing on its voluntary energy efficiency goal, shining some sunlight on our lackluster effort so far. The bill passed the General Assembly, and was signed into law by Governor McAuliffe. Our progress on efficiency has been frustratingly slow, but this renewed focus on energy efficiency is an important though incremental step forward, and I expect to build on this momentum next session.
Gun Safety: I introduced legislation which would have addressed a startling and sad issue facing Virginia: the growing rate of suicide by self-inflicted gunshot. HB 1758 would have established a procedure to temporarily recover firearms from a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others. Today, a family member or concerned friend has no legal recourse when concerned about the mental health of a loved one who owns a gun.
I see this primarily as a mental health and public health bill, not a gun bill. Over the last ten years, more people have committed suicide in Virginia with a gun than have died from an opioid overdose. And we just—appropriately—declared a state of public health emergency over the opioid crisis. Our suicide rate is a public health emergency, too. Not surprisingly, handguns are the most common tool for committing suicide. My bill—which is modeled on similar laws in Connecticut, Indiana, and California—would have saved lives. Unfortunately, but predictably, the bill became a proxy fight for the larger gun safety versus gun rights battle, so it did not pass. I think this issue is too important to not bring back next year.
Keith Harward: Over the last two sessions I have had the honor of carrying legislation that has compensated two innocent men who were wrongfully incarcerated for crimes they did not commit: Mike McAlister in 2016 and Keith Harward in 2017. Keith Harward spent 31 years in jail for a rape and murder in Norfolk that someone else committed. The Supreme Court of Virginia granted a writ of actual innocence to Keith in 2016. My legislation—known as a “claims bill”—brings some measure of financial relief to Keith, though it can never right a terrible wrong. The bill passed the General Assembly with zero no votes, and Governor McAuliffe signed it into law in March.
Budget: The budget process was relatively smooth this session. The budget surely is not perfect, though it does a reasonable job of funding initiatives to develop the new Virginia economy, and preserves much of Governor McAuliffe’s priorities in mental health, education, and compensation for teachers and state employees. But it predictably fell short in a few key areas, particularly when it came to addressing the economic security of Virginia’s working families.
- Solar: the budget cut $1.1 million in small business solar energy funding. As I said on the House floor, Virginia has made substantial progress on growing its solar energy industry, but still lags far behind its neighbors and competitors. With new momentum pushing us forward, now is not the time to neglect the small business sector of Virginia’s nascent solar energy industry.
Headturners: This session there were a slew of bills that many of us found to be exceptionally divisive and partisan. Some of the more memorable (and not in a good way):
- Day of Tears Resolution: The House voted in January on a Resolution that would annually designate January 22nd as a “Day of Tears” in Virginia. January 22nd might ring a bell for some of you: it’s the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision 40 years ago. The resolution encourages Virginians to fly their flags at half-mast on January 22nd. I voted against this demeaning resolution, but it unfortunately passed. As a House Resolution, the Governor had no ability to veto it.
- Bathroom bill: Del. Bob Marshall introduced a bill similar to North Carolina’s now infamous HB 2 that would prevent transgender individuals from using the bathroom of their choice. In addition to the enormous cost to justice and equality this would have inflicted on Virginia, studies have shown that HB 2 has already cost North Carolina billion of dollars, with businesses, sports teams, musicians, and others refusing to do business in the state. Thankfully, the Marshall bill never came up for a vote in the House of Delegates.
- Proof of citizenship bill: The House passed legislation—which I spoke against on the floor—which would have established yet another new barrier to the ballot box by requiring Virginians to provide proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote. Voters who could not provide a birth certificate or U.S. passport would not be allowed to vote in state elections, though they could vote in federal elections. The bill would have disenfranchised thousands of Virginia voters who are U.S. citizens but who do not have a passport or a copy of their birth certificate, rendering them second-class citizens. Thankfully the bill died in the Senate.
- Absentee by mail bill: the House also passed legislation requiring voters who vote absentee by mail to include a copy of their photo ID along with their ballot. This bill is misguided for many reasons, and one wonders what registrars are supposed to do with a copy of an ID when they receive it – no internal database for registrars to verify voters’ photographs exists. This would just be another roadblock to voting. The bill was vetoed by the Governor.
Veto Session: Veto Session is the day on which the General Assembly reconvenes to vote on whether to sustain or reject the Governor’s vetoes. The Governor also has the power to amend legislation – once amended, the General Assembly must vote to approve or reject the change. This year, the Governor set a record for the number of vetoes issued, causing either praise or frustration, depending on whom you ask.
- Medicaid: Probably the most widely covered issue of this year’s Veto Session was whether the Governor’s budget amendment to expand Medicaid to about 400,000 low-income working Virginians should stand. The Governor’s amendment would have allowed him to expand Medicaid on October 1, 2017 if the Affordable Care Act still stood in its current form with respect to Medicaid. The amendment was rejected along party lines, 66 to 34. With 31 states having expanded Medicaid thus far, however, it is likely that the issue will remain contentious in years to come.
Marriage Equality: Since Obergefell v. Hodges, attempts have been made to weaken our commitment to marriage equality.
One bill that passed has been dubbed in other states as the “Pastor Protection Act.” Although couched as a “religious freedom” bill, it would do nothing more than allow discrimination against same-sex couples. This is the second year in a row that this bill has been introduced, and the second year that it has been vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. This year, the majority did not even propose a vote to attempt to override the veto.
- The Governor also vetoed bills that were directed at weakening LGBTQ rights, defunding Planned Parenthood, and putting more guns in more places. I am pleased to say we sustained all of the Governor’s vetoes.
What’s Next: If you have read this far, I thank you!
Next year is hard to predict – this November’s elections will determine what priorities are pushed by both the Governor’s office and the General Assembly, though I expect many of the debates we heard in 2017 regarding health care, energy and the environment will reemerge with equal or greater fervor.
Please know that I will continue to fight for the issues that matter to my constituents in the 48th district, including energy efficiency, voting rights, gun safety, and reforming Virginia’s redistricting process.
February 25th, 2017 Update
After 46 action-packed days the 2017 General Assembly session is in the books. It was fast-paced and hectic, filled with early morning committee meetings and long days on the House floor. It was also the final session in the General Assembly building. Known colloquially as the “GAB,” the building is notorious for its mold/asbestos infestation, slow elevators, cramped hearing rooms, and many other…quirks. Members are moving into a building called the Pocahantas building at the bottom of Capitol Hill for next year, and will be there for the next four sessions until the new GAB opens.
Speaker Howell Retires: The big news this week was Speaker Howell’s announcement that he is not seeking reelection. Speaker Howell has served as Speaker of the House since 2002, and while I have disagreed with him on the vast majority of legislative issues, I respect the dignity, integrity, respect, and decorum he brought to the office. Delegate Kirk Cox will be the new Speaker of the House.
You can watch Speaker Howell’s retirement speech here.
Budget: House and Senate budget conferees ironed out the differences between each chamber’s budget, and delivered a conference report Wednesday night. We approved the final budget on Saturday. As I have observed in previous updates, this budget is not perfect. Among my disappointments,the budget defunds money for solar energy. And of course it does not fund Medicaid expansion.
Nonetheless, the budget does a lot right. It reflects Gov. McAuliffe's and the Democratic Caucus' priorities, and focuses on enhancing Virginians' economic security. It includes pay increases for state employees, teachers, faculty, and State Police and Capitol Police officers. It adds money for K-12 education, mental health, affordable housing and keeps Virginia on a solid fiscal footing going forward.
Vetoes: The Republican House and Senate passed a number of awful bills this session, so it should be no surprise that Governor McAuliffe is already using his veto pen. He’s vetoed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, the perennial “Tebow bill,” and a bill extending coal tax credits. The Governor has vowed to veto legislation aimed at new immigrants, and he has made it clear he will veto bills that are designed to disenfranchise voters, and an anti-LGBT bill that reaffirms an already constitutionally-protected right of religious officials to decline to solemnize any marriage. This bill sends a clear message to the rest of the nation that Virginia is not a welcoming state and is not open for business.
The General Assembly will reconvene on April 5th for its annual veto session. We have a perfect record sustaining Governor McAuliffe’s vetoes, and I am confident we will continue that trend in April.
And if you need any additional motivation for focusing on this year’s gubernatorial and delegate elections, just imagine what would happen if a Republican is elected Governor. All of these bills would likely become law.
Gun Safety: One of the troubling themes of this session is that the majority party keeps looking for ways to weaken any and all gun safety measures.
The General Assembly passed a number of bills making concealed carry easier, and on Thursday passed a bill that allows individuals providing child foster care services to store their firearms and ammunition together in a locked container. While this may sound like a great idea, what the sponsors did not explain is that the bill actually weakens current law, which requires foster care providers to keep firearms and ammunition in separate locked locations. Separating guns from ammunition is regarded by gun safety experts as the gold standard for storage of guns when a child or children are in a home.
I spoke on the House floor about the bill, making the point that this bill will make children in foster homes less safe. And watch for a veto of this bill.
Guns in the GAB-You Can’t Make this Stuff Up: The Richmond Times Dispatch published a story this week about a Senator—Charles Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake)—leaving his handgun unattended in a GAB hearing room. Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun) found the weapon, and returned it to Senator Cosgrove before anyone got hurt.
My colleagues on the other side of the aisle defend their arguments for unfettered access to guns by insisting that most gun owners are responsible. And no doubt they are. But it is episodes like this one that underscore my conclusion that more guns is not the answer.
Black History Month Speech: On Thursday I gave a speech highlighting the accomplishments of Leon Day. Mr. Day-- born in Alexandria in 1916--was one of the greatest pitchers in Negro League history. He is often compared favorably to the great Satchel Paige.
Leon’s dream was to make the Hall of Fame. He failed to make it by 1 vote in 1993, but he was finally elected in 1995--just 6 days before his death. You can watch my speech here.
The 2017 Election: With the 2017 session behind us, it is time for me and my House colleagues to turn our attention to this fall’s election. I will to spend the upcoming weeks and months getting my ballot petition signatures, filing for reelection, recruiting candidates to run for the House of Delegates, and raising money—my apologies in advance for some fundraising emails-- for my campaign, my Blue Dominion PAC, and for the House caucus. There is a huge amount of energy out there right now, and I look forward to channeling and focusing it on how we can elect more Democrats to the House of Delegates this fall.
February 17th, 2017 Update
This was the penultimate week of the 2017 session, and we spent the bulk of the week considering Senate legislation and beginning the process of reconciling bills that passed the House and Senate in different forms.
Next week will feature long days spent on the floor as conference committees meet and we wait on the Senate to act—or not act—on various bills.
Redistricting Reform: Regular readers of my session updates have surely noticed that I often focus on the House Democratic Caucus’ efforts to pass meaningful nonpartisan redistricting reform. It is a vitally important issue, and will affect Virginia politics and governance for the next decade.
I’ve reported on the House Republicans’ decision to kill redistricting bills in subcommittee in a block without a recorded vote, to ignore efforts to have a recorded vote in the full House Privileges and Elections Committee, to vote to stop a floor amendment that would have prohibited partisan redistricting maps, and to kill redistricting reform bills that overwhelmingly passed the Senate.
Today, dozens of people came to the final House Privileges and Elections Committee meeting of the session to watch us make one last ditch effort. Not surprisingly, the Republicans on the committee had no problem putting the final nail in the redistricting coffin this session, despite the overwhelming and growing support statewide.
With some fancy parliamentary maneuvering by my Democratic colleagues on the Privileges and Elections Committee, we were at least able to force the first recorded vote--"on the board"--on this issue. The committee first tabled (i.e. defeated) a bill establishing an independent redistricting commission, and then tabled the Senate version (SJ 290) of my nonpartisan redistricting bill (HJ 581). Both votes were straight party line votes.
You can watch the video of today's hearing here: https://youtu.be/IvBDn9grzuk
See the vote below. Green = for gerrymandering.
I cannot wait to talk to voters across the Commonwealth during this election season about this crucial issue, and to jump back into the redistricting battle next session.
Virginia’s redistricting reform effort is even getting international press attention. Check out an article about it in this week’s Economist.
Solar: As I mentioned last week, the House budget strips $1.1 million in solar funding from this year’s budget. I gave a floor speech objecting to the move, noting that this is a shortsighted decision that harms Virginia’s nascent solar energy industry. Ironically, on the same day I made my speech I came across a news story pointing out that Amazon’s data centers in Virginia gets its renewable energy from North Carolina, because we are dragging our heels here in Virginia. We can—and must—do more to promote solar energy in Virginia. Cutting solar energy funding out of our budget is the opposite of what we should be doing.
The Governor has written a letter to the budget conferees to specifically ask that the solar money be restored. It will be interesting to see if that happens.
Energy Efficiency: I am happy to report that the House passed the Senate version of my energy efficiency reporting bill. This bill requires the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy to report the Commonwealth’s progress on achieving its voluntary energy efficiency goals. We know we are way behind in our efforts to improve our energy efficiency, but the bill will enable us to track our efforts better and shine a light on how far we have to go. I hope—and expect—that we can make a real effort to promote energy efficiency in future sessions.
Conference Committees: With the two chambers having passed their own respective bills, we now turn to ironing out any differences between bills that passed both chambers. The process involves working with 5 other members of the House and Senate on a conference committee, and the members negotiate to try to reach a resolution. Speaker Howell appointed me to one such conference committee. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the bill.
What’s Next: The final week of session will be largely spent negotiating with the Senate. I suspect that we will wrap up our work a day early on Friday. Once we adjourn the Governor will have the opportunity to amend or veto legislation, and we will then reconvene on April 5th for veto session. It will be interesting to see what Governor McAuliffe vetoes, amends or signs into law. Watch out for lots of vetoes.
I will kick my campaign into gear once we adjourn, and I will continue recruiting candidates to challenge Republican-held districts across the Commonwealth. We have recruited candidates in every single “Hillary Clinton district”—districts currently held by Republicans that were won by HRC last November—and many other candidates in typically Republican districts. There is a tremendous amount of energy out there across the Commonwealth. I assure you that I am working with my colleagues in House leadership to tap into that energy and get us firmly on a path to 51 seats in the House of Delegates.
February 10th, 2017 Update
Budget week. As we reached crossover, our focused turned to the House budget, and we began considering bills that passed the Senate.
Crossover: Before reaching crossover the House worked through a marathon session—we considered over 200 bills on Monday. Can you imagine that happening in Congress?
Both chambers usually save the best bills—or worst, depending on your perspective— for the week before crossover, and this year was no different. Some of the greatest hits include legislation to prohibit sanctuary cities in Virginia, legislation requiring voters to provide a copy of their photo ID along with their absentee ballot when they vote absentee by mail, legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, legislation that would exempt fracking materials from FOIA requests, and a constitutional amendment that requires Virginia agencies to submit regulations to the General Assembly for approval before enactment.
Fortunately, Governor McAuliffe is likely to veto most if not all of these bills. If you need any more motivation to vote this fall and make sure we expand our numbers in the House and elect either Ralph Northam or Tom Perriello to the Governor’s mansion, think no further than the bill disenfranchising any Virginian who cannot produce a copy of their birth certificate or passport.
Budget: The House considered its budget amendments Thursday, and gave preliminary approval to the budget. It is not the budget we Democrats would have written, though for the most part it does a decent job of funding initiatives to develop the new Virginia economy, and preserves much of Governor McAuliffe’s priorities. But it predictably fell short in a few areas, particularly when it comes to addressing the economic security of Virginia’s working families.
· Solar: the budget cut $1.1 million in solar funding. As I said on the House floor, Virginia has made substantial progress on growing its solar industry, but still lags far behind its neighbors and competitors. With new momentum pushing us forward, now is not the time to neglect the small business sector of Virginia’s nascent solar industry.
· Budget Amendment Objections: Every objection the Democrats proposed to the budget was shot down by the majority, and every proposed amendment was summarily passed over—we didn’t even vote on them. Objections related to Medicaid expansion, gun safety, and several amendments focused on helping working families--all gone in the blink of an eye.
· Pay Equity: The House Republicans killed a monetarily insignificant—but politically significant—budget amendment that dealt with pay equity. The House Clerk makes $19,000 more than his female counterpart in the Senate, despite the fact that she has over 20 years more experience on the job. Delegate Jennifer Boysko offered an amendment to the budget which would ensure that the House and Senate Clerks are paid the same. I was disappointed—but not surprised—to see the House Republicans reject the amendment.
· Abortion Funding: The majority did pass a budget amendment proposed by Delegate Bob Marshall—he also introduced an HB 2-inspired bathroom bill this session—which inserted language into the budget prohibiting any funding for abortions “except otherwise required by federal law.” This language, thankfully, will likely be vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. It would not be a legislative session here in Richmond without an anti-abortion budget amendment.
Keith Harward Claims Bill: Some of you may remember that I introduced a bill last session which compensated Mike McAlister for being wrongfully imprisoned for almost 30 years. I introduced another claims bill this year for Keith Harward. Keith was wrongfully imprisoned for 33 years for a rape and murder in Newport News he did not commit.
HB 1650 provides approximately $1.5 million in financial relief for Mr. Harward, and I was happy to see it unanimously pass the House last week. The bill will now move to the Senate where it will hopefully sail through and land on Governor McAuliffe’s desk for his signature. While no amount of money can ever right this wrong, or truly remedy the injustice inflicted on Mr. Harward, I hope this will bring him some measure of relief.
What’s Next: The final two weeks of the session will be spent reviewing bills passed by the Senate and ironing out differences between bills passed in both chambers. This means long days on the House floor are ahead as we proceed to wrap up our work.
If you would like to visit the Capitol before we adjourn, or if you have any questions, please feel free to email or call my office at DelRSullivan@House.Virginia.Gov or 804-698-1048.
February 3rd, 2017 Update
The session barreled ahead in its fourth week as the General Assembly nears crossover next Tuesday. This week was a bit of a mixed bag. On the downside, it was a big—but very disappointing—week for redistricting reform and voter access. On the upside, Governor McAuliffe announced that Nestle is moving its U.S. headquarters (and 750 jobs) to Rosslyn.
Redistricting Reform: The week got off to an interesting—and tumultuous—start when a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee tabled (killed) several proposed constitutional amendments on redistricting reform, including mine (HJ 581). The subcommittee tabled the bills in an undifferentiated block, thus avoiding a recorded vote—again—on redistricting reform.
I took my concern about the repeated dodge of a recorded vote to the House floor on Tuesday. This is an issue that has bipartisan support, and is of significant interest to all Virginians. I urged the Speaker to let us have—and let Virginians see--a recorded vote on redistricting reform.
On Friday morning the full House Privileges and Elections Committee met. The Democrats on the committee attempted to get a redistricting reform bill that was tabled on Monday (introduced, by the way, by a senior Republican member of the House) back on the agenda—again, to get a recorded vote. I was disappointed—but unfortunately not surprised—to see the Republican members of the committee abruptly adjourn the meeting with no further action.
Voting Bills: As I’ve noted in previous updates, passing legislation to make it easier for Virginians to vote is one of my highest legislative priorities. Not surprisingly, the Republicans routinely kill legislation to establish an early voting system in Virginia, legislation to allow out of state college students to use their IDs to vote, and even legislation to allow caregivers to vote absentee.
The Republicans take a somewhat…different…approach to this issue. For instance, this week the House of Delegates passed legislation—which I spoke against on the floor—which establishes a new barrier to the ballot box by requiring Virginians to provide proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote. Voters who do not provide proof of citizenship would be allowed to vote in federal elections, but not state elections. This bill—which I expect Governor McAuliffe will veto, thankfully—would disenfranchise thousands of Virginia voters who may not have a passport or copies of their birth certificate, and render those voters second class citizens.
What’s more, a House committee also passed legislation requiring voters who vote absentee by mail to include a copy of their photo ID along with their ballot. This bill is misguided for many reasons, but the reason that stands out for me is that it is entirely unclear what registrars are supposed to do with a copy of an ID when they receive it. No internal database for registrars to verify voters’ photographs exists, so I can only think that this bill is intended to make it harder to vote absentee.
And just in case you thought only the House generates terrible voting bills, I have bad news for you: the Senate just passed a bill that allows people who carry a gun and are prohibited to bring the gun into a polling place because it is in a gun free zone--usually a school--to vote absentee. We’re making it easier for gun owners to vote, but not our students who attend college out of state.
Nestle Announcement: On Wednesday Governor McAuliffe announced that Nestle is moving its headquarters—and 750 high-paying jobs--to Rosslyn. This is great news for Arlington and the Commonwealth. Nestle will occupy a large portion of the currently vacant building at 1812 North Moore Street, and will generate significant revenue for Arlington and Northern Virginia. Additionally, as the flagship tenant Nestle will likely attract other tenants to 1812 and Rosslyn. Governor McAuliffe—as I highlighted in my floor speech praising the announcement—has done a great job building the new Virginia economy in challenging economic times. I look forward to welcoming Nestle to the 48th district.
What’s Next: Crossover is on Tuesday. After crossover the pace will pick up again as House committees consider Senate bills and vice versa. As we approach the end of session we will spend more time on the House floor as we negotiate with the Senate on budget amendments and differing versions of the same bill. It is sure to be a wild 3 weeks before we adjourn on February 25th.
January 27th, 2017 Update
As Kellyanne Conway might say, here are some…
I) Alternative Facts
It was another great week here in Richmond as the Democratic majority in the Virginia House of Delegates made progress on a number of bills to make it easier to vote, take the politics out of redistricting, promote renewable energy in Virginia, and enhance every Virginian’s economic security.
Redistricting Reform (HJ 581): My constitutional amendment to take the politics out of the redistricting process passed out of committee on a party line vote. The Democrats argued that now is the time—after years spent litigating gerrymandered districts—that voters finally get to choose their elected officials, rather than the other way around. The Republicans insisted that Virginia tradition allows politicians to draw maps that protect their own interests. Thankfully, our argument carried the day. Click here to see my floor speech on redistricting.
Renewable Energy Tax Credit (HB 1632): I have introduced a bill the last two sessions—which is based on North Carolina’s very successful renewable energy tax credit—to help promote and incentivize Virginia’s lagging renewable energy industry. My bill allows property owners to claim a tax credit if they install a solar, wind, or geothermal energy facility on their property. It finally passed this year. Virginia has fallen behind many of its neighbors—especially North Carolina—in renewable energy. I am confident my bill will help kick start Virginia’s renewable energy market.
Economic Security: The House Democratic Caucus’ legislative priorities this session have focused on making Virginians more economically secure: raising the minimum wage, closing the pay gap, relieving student debt, and promoting workplace training. All of the bills we introduced this session on these topics were passed in committee the last two weeks, and I look forward to voting to pass them on the House floor before crossover next week.
Republican Priorities: While we have been busy passing these bills, the Republicans have introduced a host of divisive, unnecessary bills that will thankfully never pass because the Democrats have a majority in the House. For example, the Republicans introduced a bill to gerrymander the Electoral College (which would have awarded Donald Trump 8 of Virginia’s 13 Electoral College votes, even though Hillary Clinton won the state), a bill to allow for the concealed carry of switchblades, a bill similar to North Carolina’s notorious HB 2, a resolution to designate the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision a “Day of Tears” in Virginia, and a bill that would make it much harder for Virginia to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. I would be really concerned that these bills would become law if the Republicans are ever back in the majority and if they control the Governor’s mansion again.
II) Back to Reality:
Everything you just read was, unfortunately, based on “alternative facts” (hopefully you've read this far, otherwise I am going to get a lot of surprised email responses!). Democrats do not have a majority in the House of Delegates (yet), which means that the Democratic bills I said passed did not--they died. And most Republican bills I said died in committee have, instead, a good chance of passing the House of Delegates.
III) How You Can Make Alternative Facts Real:
If you preferred my alternative facts, then I urge you to get involved with the statehouse races that are being held in Virginia this year. Hillary Clinton won 51 of Virginia’s 100 House of Delegates districts. Democrats currently represent only 34 districts, which means that 17 Republicans represent districts won by Hillary Clinton. This can change in November if we turn out to vote.
As the House Democratic Caucus’ Campaign Chair, I am doing everything I can to recruit talented candidates in these 17 districts and everywhere around the Commonwealth. But I need your help to get these candidates elected this fall. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be connected with the candidates who will need your help this fall.
IV) What’s Next:
The session continues to move at breakneck speed as we approach crossover on February 7th. Most committees will wrap up their work next week, and we will spend most of the following week on the House floor voting on the last batch of bills that will go over to the Senate for its review.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you are in Richmond at any point before session ends if you would like to schedule a meeting or a tour of the Virginia Capitol. You can reach me at DelRSullivan@House.Virginia.Gov or 804-698-1048.
January 20th, 2017 Update
It was another week at warp speed as committees rushed to consider thousands of bills before the crossover deadline on February 7th.
Legislation Update: Eight of my fifteen bills were considered in subcommittee this week, many of them before dawn. You might be surprised to learn that many subcommittee and committee hearings are held at very early times—as early as 7 a.m.—with little or no notice to members of the General Assembly, let alone the public. To put it mildly, committee meetings are not a model of accessibility or transparency.
I was disappointed that a number of my bills did not make it out of subcommittee this week.
My voting bills were all designed to make it easier to vote in Virginia.
· HB 1462: This bill would allow students who attend out of state colleges to use their college photo IDs to vote. In-state students can use their college ID to vote, but Virginians who attend college out of state cannot. In contrast, a voter can use an out of state employer photo ID card. This leads to absurd results: a student at Georgetown, for instance, cannot use their Georgetown ID to vote, but a Georgetown professor can. Republicans on the Privileges and Elections Committee invoked tired and patently false claims about voter fraud before voting to kill the bill. Disappointing, but not particularly surprising.
· HB 1603: This bill would allow a caregiver for an individual who is ill or disabled to vote absentee. Virginia’s absentee voting statute currently only allows family members who are taking care of an ill or disabled relative to vote absentee. You would think a simple bill like HB 1603 could bridge the partisan divide, but it unfortunately did not.
· HB 1631: This bill would have established an early voting system in Virginia. Over half of the states in the country offer no excuse early voting. Our current voting system dampens turnout, burdens registrars, and--maybe this is just the lawyer in me talking—makes the election code messy and incoherent. Republicans are always wary of legislation that might increase turnout, so I was not surprised when they tabled this bill.
Hate Crimes (HB 1702): As I mentioned last week, I partnered with Attorney General Mark Herring on legislation to combat hate crimes in Virginia. My legislation would have added sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to Virginia’s hate crimes statutes. I introduced this bill each of the last two sessions, and I was especially motivated to re-introduce it this year because hate crimes have increased at a distressingly fast rate in Virginia in 2016. The Virginia State Police already reports this data to the FBI, so the goal and intent of my bill was simple: have the Code of Virginia recognize the real world and match current practice.
The committee’s Republican leadership has an aversion to putting sexual orientation and gender identity into the Code, so I was unable to get the bill out of subcommittee. I will fight for this again next year.
Gun Safety (HB 1758): I introduced legislation this year that addresses a startling and sad issue facing Virginia: the growing rate of suicide by self-inflicted gunshot. HB 1758 would establish a procedure to temporarily recover firearms from a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others. Today, a family member or concerned friend has no legal recourse when concerned about the mental health of a loved one who owns a gun.
I see this primarily as a mental health and public health bill, not a gun bill. Over the last 10 years, more people have committed suicide in Virginia with a gun than have died from an opioid overdose. And we just—appropriately—declared a state of public health emergency over the opioid crisis. Our suicide rate is a public health emergency too. Not surprisingly, handguns are the most common tool for committing suicide. My bill—which is modeled on similar laws in Connecticut, Indiana, and California—would have saved lives. Unfortunately, but predictably, the bill became a proxy fight for the larger gun safety vs. gun rights battle, so it did not pass. I think this issue is too important to not bring it back next year.
Day of Tears: We voted this week on a resolution that recognizes January 22nd as a “Day of Tears” in Virginia. January 22nd might ring a bell for some of you: it’s the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision 40 years ago. The resolution also encourages Virginians to fly their flags at half-mast on January 22nd. I voted against this demeaning resolution, but it unfortunately passed. We have important work to do here in the General Assembly. It’s unfortunate that the House Republicans made it a priority to shame women and focus on divisive legislation right out of the gate.
Bathroom Bill: Another Republican delegate—Bob Marshall—introduced a bill strikingly similar to North Carolina’s notorious HB 2. Even a casual observer of the news knows that North Carolina embarrassed itself and lost a significant amount of business because of HB 2. Even worse, Bruce Springsteen refused to play in North Carolina because of it! When confronted with the damage inflicted on North Carolina by HB 2 at his press conference for the bill, Delegate Marshall dismissed it as “fake news.” Fortunately, we averted an economic calamity when the bill died in committee.
What’s Next: The House floor has been unusually quiet so far. I suspect things will ramp up next week as legislation that passed committees this week makes its way to the floor. Crossover is February 7th, so it will only get busier—and crazier—from now until then.
On Monday morning—at 7 a.m.--a Privileges and Elections subcommittee will consider one of my most important bills (HJ 581). HJ 581 would eliminate gerrymandering by taking the politics out of the redistricting process. You can make your voice heard and tell the Republicans on the subcommittee that voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around. Urge them to vote for my bill. Better yet, get anyone you know who lives in their districts to email or call them about HJ 581.
Click on the names below to contact the Republican delegates on this subcommittee.
If you have any questions or if you would like to visit Richmond at any point this session please feel free to email me at DelRSullivan@House.Virginia.Gov or call my office at 804-698-1048.
January 19th, 2017 Update
Beginning with my first campaign I have been pointing out that redistricting reform is one of the most important issues facing Virginia.
And I know you agree.
Democrats hold all 5 statewide offices in Virginia, and Hillary Clinton won 51 House of Delegates districts last November. Yet despite our success in statewide elections, Democrats only hold 34 out of 100 seats in the House of Delegates--largely due to gerrymandering.
Redistricting reform usually gets a cool reception at the General Assembly. But there are reasons for optimism this year.
I--again--have introduced legislation to take the politics out of the redistricting process. So, too, has a very senior Republican.
These bills will be heard by a subcommittee on Monday.
But as too often happens in the General Assembly, these important bills will be heard at a time that is inconvenient for everyone other than delegates and senators. The hearing will take place at 7 am on Monday, January 23rd.
Despite this inconvenient time, you have time to make your voice heard. Please reach out to the members of the committee who will vote on these redistricting reform proposals. Tell these delegates--or better yet, get your friends who live in their district to tell them-- that voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. You can find their contact info below.
Mark Cole (Spotsylvania)
Randy Minchew (Loudoun)
Jackson Miller (Prince William)
Tim Hugo (Fairfax)
Jason Miyares (Virginia Beach)
January 13th, 2017 Update
The 2017 General Assembly session kicked off at noon on Wednesday. No stretching and warming up--the session began at a full sprint as committees quickly began considering the thousands of bills the General Assembly will take up during this short 45 day session.
Governor McAuliffe’s State of the Commonwealth Speech: On Wednesday night Governor McAuliffe gave his final State of the Commonwealth speech. The Governor highlighted the many achievements his administration has had during his term, especially on the economic development and jobs front. He also set out his legislative priorities this session, and struck a cooperative tone. His message: let’s work together and focus on improving Virginians’ lives and our economy, rather than focusing on divisive social legislation.
House Democratic Caucus’ Legislative Priorities: The House Democratic Caucus unveiled its 2017 legislative priorities Thursday morning. The Caucus will spend this session focusing on promoting economic security and opportunity for all. Specifically, we will push for enhanced job training, a higher minimum wage, closing the gender pay gap, student debt relief, and promoting LGBT equality.
Meanwhile, at the exact same time we had our press conference, the House Republicans had a press conference in the Capitol building to push a bill nearly identical to North Carolina’s notorious HB 2 bathroom bill. The difference between each caucus’ priorities this session could not be more stark.
My Legislative Package: I introduced 15 bills this session with a focus on making it easier to vote and promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency in Virginia. My legislation includes an early voting system in Virginia, a constitutional amendment to prohibit partisan gerrymandering, a bill to require Virginia to establish a mandatory energy efficiency resource standard, and a bill to compensate a man who was wrongfully incarcerated for over 30 years. For a full list of all the legislation I introduced this session please click here.
Herring Press Conference: This morning I joined Attorney General Mark Herring at a press conference to launch his new initiative designed to combat hate crimes in Virginia: No Hate VA. My hate crimes reporting bill, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to Virginia’s hate crimes reporting statute, is part of Attorney General Herring’s hate crime package. I look forward to working with the Attorney General to pass this legislation and promote his new initiative.
Visiting RVA This Session: I would love for you to visit me while I am in Richmond this session. If you would like to visit or schedule a tour of the Virginia State Capitol—which was designated a National Historic Landmark on Wednesday—please call my district number: 804-698-1048 or send me an email at DelRSullivan@House.Virginia.Gov. I look forward to hearing from you this session.
I finished my week with a visit with Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. I heard about all the great things going on in Blacksburg. My son Joey is a junior at Tech--Go Hokies!