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2020 Session Updates

March 12, 2020

We gavelled out for the last time of the regular 2020 session earlier today after voting on one of the most important bills of the year -- the budget.

Championed by the first African-American man to head the House Appropriations Committee, Chairman Luke Torian, and the first woman to head the Senate Finance Committee, Chairwoman Janet Howell, our two-year budget is the most progressive in Virginia history and is balanced, which will allow the Commonwealth to maintain its AAA bond rating.

Highlights include:

  • A raise for public school teachers;
  • An in-state tuition freeze at public colleges and universities;
  • An increase in in-state financial aid;
  • Dental coverage for adults enrolled in Medicaid;
  • More slots in the Medicaid Developmental Disability Waiver program;
  • Increased funding for the Housing Trust Fund;
  • Gun violence prevention and intervention grants through the Department
    of Criminal Justice Services;
  • Full funding for eviction prevention and diversion programs;
  • Investment in and modernization of Virginia's transportation system; and
  • An expansion of early childhood education.

With passage of the budget, the House and Senate are now adjourned -- barring a special session -- until we reconvene on April 22nd.

As I noted in my previous email regarding COVID-19, I am closely monitoring the outbreak in Virginia. Members of the House of Delegates were briefed today by Dr. Norman Oliver, Commissioner of the Department of Health, and Dr. Lilian Peake, the Virginia State Epidemiologist.

Governor Northam, who has been working closely with federal, state, and local officials, health departments, emergency management personnel, and other experts, has declared a state of emergency in the Commonwealth to be in effect through June 10, 2020. To read Executive Order 51, click here. For more details on the ongoing state response, click here

I will continue to update you as the situation develops.

March 9, 2020

The final week of the 2020 General Assembly session capped a historic session, and included victories on issues ranging from criminal justice reform to the minimum wage. The entire session was replete with new legislation that would have been unimaginable just a year ago.

I am enormously proud of what our House Democratic team accomplished in the House of Delegates and the broader General Assembly this session.

I am equally proud to have served as Caucus Chair, and teamed with Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, the first woman to serve as House Speaker, and Majority Leader Charniele Herring, the first African-American woman to be elected to that role, as part of the House Democrats' leadership team.

Pictured above is the Democratic Caucus presenting thank you gifts to Speaker Filler-Corn, Leader Herring, and me for our work this session.

We also made history this year with the appointment of the first woman to serve as Clerk of the House, Suzette Denslow, who did an exceptional job. She is pictured above to the right of Leader Herring as we conferred on a bill during session.

Democrats' accomplishments include, but certainly are not limited to:

  • Raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour over the next three years, with the goal of $15 by 2026;
  • Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment;
  • Increasing access to the ballot box through no-excuse early voting, a roll-back of extreme voter ID laws, and same-day voter registration;
  • Passing several important gun safety bills, including my "Red Flag" bill (HB674);
  • Strengthening anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws and repealing the ban on same-sex marriage;
  • Promoting the development of clean energy and the phase-out of carbon-emitting, polluting energy sources (see below for more details on the Virginia Clean Economy Act);
  • Reforming the criminal justice system by, for example, decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana and increasing the grand larceny threshold;
  • Repealing anti-choice laws like those requiring mandatory waiting periods and ultrasounds;
  • Banning offshore-drilling in Virginia;
  • Reining in predatory pay-day lenders;
  • Supporting sexual assault survivors through, for example, increased access to sexual assault nurse examiners and rape kits.
  • Passing an omnibus transportation bill -- of which I was a chief copatron and conferee -- that will help reduce congestion, make our roads safer, modernize public transit, and prepare us for the transition to the electrification of our transportation network.

This is a small sample and overview of what we were able to achieve during this extraordinary session -- stay tuned for more details in my annual end-of-session newsletter.

My week began with House and Senate passage of HB674, a "Red Flag" bill to create a substantial risk order in Virginia (ERPO). The bill -- which includes extensive due process protections -- will allow for the removal of deadly firearms from someone deemed by a court to be a danger to himself or others.

As I noted in my press release upon House passage of the bill, this is as much an effort to curb the ongoing crisis of suicides by firearms as it is a homicide and mass shooting prevention tool. Two-thirds of gun deaths in Virginia are suicides, and scientific evidence from other states with similar laws have proven that this tool saves lives.

The highlight of my week was House and Senate passage of my bill, the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), on Friday morning. This legislation marks a transformative, historic leap forward on energy and environmental policy that will launch Virginia to being a national leader in the effort to combat climate change, develop a sustainable energy portfolio, and create jobs for the 21st century economy throughout the Commonwealth.

The VCEA is the culmination of months of hard work by an unprecedented number of stakeholders from the energy and environmental communities, legislators, and the administration. I was proud to partner with the Senate patron, my friend Senator Jennifer McClellan, to steer the bill to passage. This landmark bill would have been impossible a year ago with Republicans in control of the General Assembly, but it turns out elections really do have consequences.

Virginia is now on a path to reach zero carbon emissions by 2045, create job opportunities in former coal mining communities, expand offshore wind and solar energy, increase distributed clean energy generation, expand net metering, increase purchase power agreements, unlock clean energy competition, dramatically expand rooftop solar, and save ratepayers money through mandatory energy efficiency requirements for utilities.

I have always made progress on this issue a priority -- in fact, my very first floor speech in the House of Delegates after joining the General Assembly in 2014 was on Clean Energy Day, when I noted that "protecting the environment is not a partisan issue, it is a Virginia issue." Click here to watch my remarks.

It was gratifying -- and fun -- to have my commitment to advancing clean energy and progressive environmental policy recognized. On Saturday, the House continued its tradition of having some fun as the session approaches its end, with the awarding of light-hearted session awards. My dear friends and seatmates Delegates Delores McQuinn, Roslyn Tyler, and Jeion Ward -- Earth, Wind, and Fire -- dream up and give out the awards.

Turns out they awarded me the Clean Energy Award for my work on the VCEA and my role as Chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee's Energy Subcommittee. Click here for the full "awards ceremony" (video credit to Lowell Feld of Blue Virginia).

And it even came with a gag gift -- a bottle of Lysol Clean & Fresh.

We'll be back on Thursday to vote on the budget, so stay tuned for more updates next Friday.

February 28, 2020

It's been yet another very busy week as "sine die" -- when the General Assembly adjourns its session -- fast approaches. Each day was action-packed. On Wednesday, for instance, we gavelled in at noon and did not leave the floor until 1:32 am.

(Photo courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch)

A significant number of my bills have already passed both the House and Senate, including:

  • HB213: to allow students to use their out-of-state school photo ID to vote.
  • HB214: to make it easier to collect petitions on a political campaign.
  • HB275: to add an additional judge to help with the overwhelming workload in the Fairfax General District Court, so that people can have their cases heard faster.
  • HB276: to enhance reporting to State Police of hate crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
  • HB379*: to preserve historic African-American cemeteries in Arlington.
  • HB460: to compensate Mr. Winston Scott for his wrongful incarceration. 
  • HB674: to create a substantial risk order to remove firearms from someone deemed by a Court to be a threat to himself or others (ERPO).
  • HB832: to provide protection for college student athletes with regard to hiring an agent.
  • HB834: to make available online notices of orders of publication.
  • HB835: to better facilitate the transfer and sale of municipal water systems.
  • HB1425*: to eliminate the reporting of race in divorce and annulment reports.
  • HB1580: to replace the term "husband and wife" with "spouses" for purposes of the recordation tax exemption for certain deeds.
  • HB1615: to clarify recordation taxes for multi-jurisdictional credit facilities.

* indicates incorporation and engrossment into a similar bill that passed the House.

I am particularly pleased to report -- finally -- that my "Red Flag" bill (ERPO) has now passed both chambers. This bill to create substantial risk orders in Virginia is the product of years of hard work with stakeholders and fellow lawmakers, and its historic passage will help to save lives from gun violence.

This is not just a bill that will help stop mass shooters -- it is also a suicide prevention bill. Nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in Virginia are suicides, and suicide by firearm is the deadliest method. According to researchers who have studied similar laws in Connecticut and Indianafor every ten to twenty gun-removals from a person deemed to be a risk to him- or herself, ERPO laws have saved at least one life. 

I look forward to the Governor signing this landmark gun safety bill into law.

The following Senate bills are a sample of what passed the House this week with my support:

  • SB65: to return us to the practice of allowing voters to sign an affidavit if he or she forgets a photo ID when voting.
  • SB177: to continue operation of the Autism Advisory Council.
  • SB271: to encourage K-12 schools, colleges, and universities to provide hands-on training for students in wind and solar energy installation.
  • SB555: to repeal a number of "Jim Crow laws," including a state poll tax and the separation of voting records based on race.
  • SB666: to require registrars to notify within 5 days if a voter registration application has been denied.
  • SB718: to prohibit health insurers from requiring prior authorization for the inter-hospital transfer of a newborn infant experiencing a life-threatening emergency condition or the hospitalized mother of the newborn infant to accompany the newborn.
  • SB795: to prohibit the granting of new licenses for drilling off of the coast of Virginia.
  • SB818: to create Behavioral Health Dockets within Virginia's court system.
  • SB1071: to expand the number of labs that provide post-conviction testing of DNA evidence.
  • SB1089: to prohibit strip and cavity searches of minors at state correctional facilities. 

(With Majority Leader Herring to present a commendation to the Capitol Police, State Police, and Richmond Police for their diligence and hard work keeping us safe.)

Next week I will be a member of several bill "conferences." Conferences occur when different iterations of a bill pass the House and Senate. The bill's patrons and a few members of each chamber come together to try to reach a single, agreed-upon version, which then must be voted on by the House and Senate. 

I will be a conferee on the following bills:

  • HB888: a bill to establish a sales tax exemption for certain gun safes.
  • HB1414 & SB890: omnibus transportation bills.
  • HB1526 & SB851: the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

Stay tuned for more updates next week.

February 21, 2020

This week was full of bill presentations to Senate committees as seventeen of my bills "crossed over" after passing the House. 

(Photo courtesy of the Richmond-Times Dispatch)

In the photo above, I am explaining HB213, which would add out-of-state student photo identification cards to the list of acceptable IDs at the polls, to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. I have been promoting this bill for years with no success. With the new majority, the bill was reported out of the committee with bipartisan support and is finally moving toward passage.

I presented two of my energy bills to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources (ACNR) Committee on Tuesday. The first, HB1450, would create a mandatory energy efficiency standard for utilities. Energy efficiency is the fastest and least expensive way to help ratepayers save money on their electricity bills and reduce carbon emissions. Virginia unfortunately currently ranks as one of the worst states on energy efficiency (see Dominion's ranking in the graphic below) and my bill will help us move to the front of the pack.

(Image courtesy of Walton Shepherd of the Natural Resources Defense Council)

I have been focused on this critical issue since I was first elected to the House of Delegates and have become the General Assembly's resident "energy efficiency nerd." Republicans have killed every one of my energy efficiency bills in subcommittee in each of my previous sessions, but the conversation on this important topic has changed dramatically during my time in the General Assembly. HB1450 passed the House on February 11th with overwhelming bipartisan support, 75 to 24. Now that this game-changing bill has been reported from the Senate ACNR Committee, it is headed to the Senate floor for consideration.

I also presented my bill, HB1451, to create a mandatory renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) for electric utilities. If adopted, this bill will require that a specified percentage of the electricity that utilities produce comes from renewable resources, ramping up to 100 percent renewable by 2045 in Dominion territory. HB1451 will help promote clean energy sources like wind and solar, phase out fossil fuels, spur economic development of renewables here in Virginia, and reduce carbon emissions. 

The bill successfully passed the ACNR Committee and, like HB1450, is headed to the full Senate for a vote next week. Both bills are also part of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which will be heard in a Senate committee next week.

(Photo courtesy of Virginia Mercury)

Much of the action this week took place in the committees and subcommittees on which I serve. The House Courts of Justice Committee considered dozens of Senate bills on topics ranging from DNA testing in criminal cases to eminent domain. For example, I voted for:

  • SB1: to remove the requirement that the driver's license of a person convicted of a crime who fails to provide for immediate payment of fines or costs be suspended.
  • SB2: to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana.
  • SB499: to create a "Veterans Treatment Court Program."
  • SB546: to raise the age at which someone can be tried as an adult from 14 to 16 years old.
  • SB818: to allow localities to create "Behavioral Health Dockets."

In the House Labor and Commerce Committee, we considered bills on subjects like health insurance, spam telephone calls, students loans, and workers' compensation, including:

  • SB172: to lower costs of out-of-network emergency services for patients.
  • SB504: to reduce restrictions on solar energy device installations.
  • SB1031: to mandate that health care plans in the individual and small group markets cover autism spectrum disorder.
  • SB481: to require companies with over 15 employees to provide their employees with at least 40 hours of earned paid sick leave annually.

I also serve on the House Finance Committee. We voted on nearly twenty Senate bills, including:

  • SB11: to allow localities to impose a five cent tax on disposable plastic bags.
  • SB231: a bill to exempt menstrual products from sales and use taxes.
  • SB500: to establish an individual nonrefundable income tax credit of up to $250 for teachers who purchase materials for their classroom.
  • SB590: a bill to extend the sunset date of the income tax credit for the purchase of equipment for processing recyclable materials.

Perhaps the most important achievement in the House this week was passage of a balanced biennial budget that includes key Democratic priorities. 

The budget includes provisions to:

  • Give public school teachers a raise,
  • Fund at least 300 pre-kindergarten slots for at-risk three- and four-year-olds,
  • Help keep tuition flat at public universities and colleges,
  • Increase per-pupil K-12 funding,
  • Contribute to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington,
  • Increase funding for public defenders, sheriffs, and other offices in the judicial system to help it run more smoothly,
  • Preserve historic African-American grave sites in Arlington (this is a budget amendment I proposed to accompany my bill HB379),
  • Fund state enforcement of my "Red Flag" bill (HB674),
  • Provide compensation for Mr. Winston Scott for his wrongful incarceration (this is a budget amendment I proposed to accompany my bill HB460)
  • Increase the number of slots in the Medicaid Developmental Disability Waiver program,
  • Increase funding for the Housing Trust Fund,
  • Create a state-based health insurance exchange, 
  • Update and improve the outdated Virginia Election and Registration Information System,
  • Expand opioid treatment services for mental health patients, and
  • Increase funding for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

The moment when the bill passed was particularly historic, given that the budget bill -- which garnered broad bipartisan support -- was championed by Delegate Luke Torian, the first African-American in Virginia's 400-year legislative history to chair the powerful House Committee on Appropriations. The budget will need to be reconciled with the Senate version next.

I am also glad to report that an agreement has been reached between the House and Senate on my bill, HB674, to create substantial risk orders in Virginia (ERPO). You can read more about the  agreement here. Passage of this bill has long been a top priority for me and I look forward to advancing it to the Governor's desk for signing.

Stay tuned for more updates next week.

February 14, 2020

This week started with two very long days on the floor as Tuesday marked "crossover," the last day that the House could vote on bills that originated in our chamber. The House has now begun consideration of all of the bills passed by the Senate, and vice-versa.

Monday and Tuesday were remarkable days for Virginia, as the Democratic-led House and Senate passed numerous landmark bills whose success would have been unthinkable in past Republican-controlled sessions.

Those bills include:

  • HB201: to institute same-day voter registration.
  • HB395: to increase the minimum wage to $9 on July 1, 2020 and $15 by July 1, 2023.
  • HB572the Solar Freedom Act.
  • HB623to change "husband" and "wife" throughout Virginia's code to gender-neutral terms.
  • HB704: to establish the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice.
  • HB758: to create the Virginia Redistricting Commission.
  • HB972: to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana.
  • HB1132the Fair Energy Bills Act.
  • HB1428: to create a state-based health insurance exchange.
  • HB1499: to establish the Virginia Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention Fund.

Click here for a full list of bills that have passed the House.

Seventeen of my bills have passed the House so far this session. They include:

  • HB213: to allow students to use their out-of-state school photo ID to vote.
  • HB214: to make it easier to collect petitions on a political campaign.
  • HB275: to add an additional judge to help with the overwhelming workload in the Fairfax General District Court, so that people can have their cases heard faster.
  • HB276: to enhance reporting to State Police of hate crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
  • HB379*: to preserve historic African-American cemeteries in Arlington.
  • HB460: to compensate Mr. Winston Scott for his wrongful incarceration. 
  • HB462: to form a task force to study the shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners in Virginia.
  • HB674: to create a substantial risk order to remove firearms from someone deemed by a Court to be a threat to himself or others (ERPO).
  • HB832: to increase transparency for college student athletes regarding potential agents.
  • HB834: to make available online notices of orders of publication.
  • HB835: to better facilitate the transfer and sale of municipal water systems.
  • HB1425*: to eliminate the reporting of race in divorce and annulment reports.
  • HB1450: to create a mandatory energy efficiency resource standard in Virginia.
  • HB1451: to create a mandatory renewable energy portfolio standard in Virginia.
  • HB1526: the Virginia Clean Economy Act.
  • HB1580: to replace the term "husband and wife" with "spouses" for purposes of the recordation tax exemption for certain deeds.
  • HB1615: to clarify recordation taxes for multi-jurisdictional credit facilities.

* indicates incorporation and engrossment into a similar bill that passed the House.

 

Above: a photo with my seat-mates Delegates Jeion Ward, Roslyn Tyler and Delores McQuinn on an important day during Black History Month.

I am pleased to report that the Virginia Clean Economy Act passed the House on Tuesday. The VCEA is the culmination of months of negotiations and input from a historic number of stakeholders, and constitutes a transformative step in Virginia's effort to address the threat of climate change and modernize the way we look at our energy production and consumption, and will vault Virginia into the top tier of states in terms of climate and energy policy.

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • A plan to reach zero carbon emissions by 2045.
  • An energy efficiency resource standard for electric utilities to help households and businesses reduce energy waste and save Virginians money on their electric bills.
  • A renewable energy portfolio standard to ensure that Virginia makes the transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2045 while giving clean energy companies the certainty they need to create good-paying jobs throughout the Commonwealth.
  • A guarantee that all fossil fuel plants in Virginia will be closed by 2050 and a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects in 2030 if utilities are not reaching their carbon goals.
  • A path to build competitively sourced offshore wind facilities with ratepayer protection through cost control mechanisms.
  • The creation of the Percentage of Income Payment Program (PIPP) to cap the monthly electric utility payment of low-income participants.
  • A program to provide additional energy efficiency help for marginalized, low-income communities, including energy efficiency assistance for veterans and those living with disabilities.
  • Protections for Virginia workers by requiring that utilities prioritize local workers, particularly those from historically economically disadvantaged communities, when constructing offshore wind facilities.
  • An environmental justice mandate that the Commonwealth consider low-income areas and historically disadvantaged communities when planning new renewable projects, energy programs, and job training.
  • A plan to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
  • A six-fold increase in the cap on rooftop solar and a ten-fold cap increase on power purchase agreements in Dominion territory.

This is a complex and lengthy bill to be sure, but Virginia cannot afford to take piecemeal steps -- let alone take no action -- if we want to meet the urgent challenge of climate change and build a strong, clean economy.

Stay tuned for more updates next week.

February 7, 2020

This week started with two very long days on the floor as Tuesday marked "crossover," the last day that the House could vote on bills that originated in our chamber. The House has now begun consideration of all of the bills passed by the Senate, and vice-versa.

Monday and Tuesday were remarkable days for Virginia, as the Democratic-led House and Senate passed numerous landmark bills whose success would have been unthinkable in past Republican-controlled sessions.

Those bills include:

  • HB201: to institute same-day voter registration.
  • HB395: to increase the minimum wage to $9 on July 1, 2020 and $15 by July 1, 2023.
  • HB572the Solar Freedom Act.
  • HB623to change "husband" and "wife" throughout Virginia's code to gender-neutral terms.
  • HB704: to establish the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice.
  • HB758: to create the Virginia Redistricting Commission.
  • HB972: to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana.
  • HB1132the Fair Energy Bills Act.
  • HB1428: to create a state-based health insurance exchange.
  • HB1499: to establish the Virginia Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention Fund.

Click here for a full list of bills that have passed the House.

Seventeen of my bills have passed the House so far this session. They include:

  • HB213: to allow students to use their out-of-state school photo ID to vote.
  • HB214: to make it easier to collect petitions on a political campaign.
  • HB275: to add an additional judge to help with the overwhelming workload in the Fairfax General District Court, so that people can have their cases heard faster.
  • HB276: to enhance reporting to State Police of hate crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
  • HB379*: to preserve historic African-American cemeteries in Arlington.
  • HB460: to compensate Mr. Winston Scott for his wrongful incarceration. 
  • HB462: to form a task force to study the shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners in Virginia.
  • HB674: to create a substantial risk order to remove firearms from someone deemed by a Court to be a threat to himself or others (ERPO).
  • HB832: to increase transparency for college student athletes regarding potential agents.
  • HB834: to make available online notices of orders of publication.
  • HB835: to better facilitate the transfer and sale of municipal water systems.
  • HB1425*: to eliminate the reporting of race in divorce and annulment reports.
  • HB1450: to create a mandatory energy efficiency resource standard in Virginia.
  • HB1451: to create a mandatory renewable energy portfolio standard in Virginia.
  • HB1526: the Virginia Clean Economy Act.
  • HB1580: to replace the term "husband and wife" with "spouses" for purposes of the recordation tax exemption for certain deeds.
  • HB1615: to clarify recordation taxes for multi-jurisdictional credit facilities.

* indicates incorporation and engrossment into a similar bill that passed the House.

Above: a photo with my seat-mates Delegates Jeion Ward, Roslyn Tyler and Delores McQuinn on an important day during Black History Month.

I am pleased to report that the Virginia Clean Economy Act passed the House on Tuesday. The VCEA is the culmination of months of negotiations and input from a historic number of stakeholders, and constitutes a transformative step in Virginia's effort to address the threat of climate change and modernize the way we look at our energy production and consumption, and will vault Virginia into the top tier of states in terms of climate and energy policy.

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • A plan to reach zero carbon emissions by 2045.
  • An energy efficiency resource standard for electric utilities to help households and businesses reduce energy waste and save Virginians money on their electric bills.
  • renewable energy portfolio standard to ensure that Virginia makes the transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2045 while giving clean energy companies the certainty they need to create good-paying jobs throughout the Commonwealth.
  • A guarantee that all fossil fuel plants in Virginia will be closed by 2050 and a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects in 2030 if utilities are not reaching their carbon goals.
  • A path to build competitively sourced offshore wind facilities with ratepayer protection through cost control mechanisms.
  • The creation of the Percentage of Income Payment Program (PIPP) to cap the monthly electric utility payment of low-income participants.
  • A program to provide additional energy efficiency help for marginalized, low-income communities, including energy efficiency assistance for veterans and those living with disabilities.
  • Protections for Virginia workers by requiring that utilities prioritize local workers, particularly those from historically economically disadvantaged communities, when constructing offshore wind facilities.
  • An environmental justice mandate that the Commonwealth consider low-income areas and historically disadvantaged communities when planning new renewable projects, energy programs, and job training.
  • A plan to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
  • A six-fold increase in the cap on rooftop solar and a ten-fold cap increase on power purchase agreements in Dominion territory.

This is a complex and lengthy bill to be sure, but Virginia cannot afford to take piecemeal steps -- let alone take no action -- if we want to meet the urgent challenge of climate change and build a strong, clean economy.

Stay tuned for more updates next week.

February 7, 2020

While the national news has centered this week on the Iowa Caucus, the State of the Union, and impeachment, here in the Virginia General Assembly we have been focused intently on our work as crossover looms next Tuesday. Crossover is the day by which the House and Senate must act on all of the bills in their respective chambers before they "cross over" to the other side for consideration. As an example of how busy we are, the energy subcommittee I chair had a meeting on Tuesday that ran until nearly midnight, followed by a 7:30 am (and successful!) bill presentation the next morning. 

The House unanimously passed my bill, HB460, early this week. This bill provides compensation for Mr. Winston Lamont Scott, who was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1976 when he was 19 years old. He spent five years in prison for a crime he never committed, and in his words, it "ruined [his] life." Mr. Scott was granted a writ of actual innocence by the Virginia Supreme Court last year, finally clearing his name after 43 years.

I encourage you to click here to watch my presentation of Mr. Scott's story to an Appropriations subcommittee. No amount of money can make up for the five years of Mr. Scott's life, and the effect it had on his entire life, but I am glad to lead the effort in the General Assembly to try to rectify this injustice.

I also presented a bill to the Appropriations' Study Subcommittee that would create a task force to study the severe shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) in Virginia. Studies and news articles have shown that the Commonwealth's relatively few number of SANE nurses can result in sexual assault survivors being forced to drive hours to access staff who can properly administer a rape kit. It has also been found that a lack of SANE nurses may substantially reduce the number of women and men who choose to report their attacks to law enforcement. It is my hope that this task force will develop legislative recommendations so that we can provide better and much-needed support for victims of sexual assault in Virginia. The bill was reported out of the Study Subcommittee unanimously.

As Chairman of the Labor and Commerce's Energy Subcommittee, I was particularly pleased to see the following bills that I helped shepherd through my subcommittee pass the House this week: 

  • HB572: removes burdensome barriers for those who wish to install and use energy produced from their own solar panels.
  • HB234: creates a Virginia Offshore Wind Master Plan.
  • HB981: the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act.
  • HB547: creates the Virginia Energy and Economy Transition Council.
  • HB432: encourages utilities to contract with small, women-owned, or minority-owned businesses.

My omnibus bill to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency, the Virginia Clean Economy Act (HB1526), successfully passed the full Labor and Commerce Committee on Thursday. The VCEA is the product of months of hard work and determination, and it will mark a historic and unprecedented step forward for Virginia on energy policy if passed by the General Assembly.

With the climate crisis intensifying, the Virginia Clean Economy Act is our Commonwealth's best shot at shifting away from fossil fuels and reducing our energy consumption so that we can successfully reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 (in Dominion's territory, the required date is 2045), all while ensuring that traditionally under-served communities are not left behind by the transition. The landmark bill, supported by numerous businesses, large and small, and an unprecedentedly broad coalition of environmental groups, will also create thousands of jobs in the solar and wind sectors in which Virginia has lagged behind. It is headed to a vote on the floor next week.

Click here to watch my presentation of the Virginia Clean Economy Act to the Labor and Commerce Committee.

The House passed numerous bills this week that will tangibly improve Virginians' lives. HB395, for example, raises the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour. The hourly wage has not been raised in over a decade, and the current minimum wage is simply not high enough for many hourly workers given the cost of living in Northern Virginia.

We also passed a bill to cap co-pays at $30 per month for a 30-day supply of insulin. The price of insulin has skyrocketed over the last decade, leading many patients to skip taking their much-needed medication for periods at a time. This bill is a critical step forward to ensuring that Virginians do not have to choose between putting food on their table or taking this life-saving medicine.

Making access to the ballot box easier has always been a priority of mine, and has been a major priority for Democrats this session. A bill, HB108, that I strongly supported in the Rules Committee, passed the House this week which will remove Lee-Jackson Day as a state holiday, and instead make Election Day a holiday. This important bill accompanies a number of pro-voter measures recently passed by the House, including HB1, which allows for no-excuse early voting, and HB207, which allows voters to essentially enroll in a permanent “vote by mail” program without having to fill out the absentee ballot request year after year. 

Click here to read the House Democratic Caucus' statement in which I am quoted on the subject.

In addition to hundreds of other great bills, the House passed:

  • My bill HB1425, which was incorporated into HB180. Together these bills eliminate the requirement to identify one's race in marriage, divorce, and annulment records.
  • My bill HB276, to enhance reporting to State Police of hate crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
  • My bill HB214, inspired by my former Chief of Staff Matt Weinstein, to make it easier to collect signatures when running for public office.
  • A bill HB386, to ban "conversion therapy" for minors.
  • Two bills, HB7 and HB166, to ban discriminatory housing, credit, public accommodation and employment practices based sexual orientation and gender identity.
    • Click here to read the House Democratic Caucus' press release in which I am quoted. 
  • A bill, HB1042, to codify the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice.
  • A bill, HB582, to allow public employees in Virginia to collectively bargain.
  • A bill, HB706, to ban future offshore drilling off the coast of Virginia.
  • A series of bills (HB857, HB914, HB973, HB1325, HB1521, and HB1638) to remove Jim Crow-era, racist laws from Virginia's code.
    • ​Click here to read the House Democratic Caucus' press release in which I am quoted.

It has been a remarkable session so far. Stay tuned for more.

January 31, 2020

Greetings from Richmond. This week was enormously productive, with historic highlights including House passage of a number of gun safety reform bills and HB1, a voting rights measure that will finally allow no-excuse early voting in Virginia.

My bill, HB674, will create a substantial risk order that will enable law enforcement -- with extensive due process -- to remove a firearm from someone deemed by a court to be a danger to self or others. The Senate passed a similar bill, SB240, last week, and the House and Senate versions will now go to "conference" where the chambers will iron out differences between the two bills. I have worked for years on this life-saving bill, and I am glad that we are finally one major step closer to getting this piece of legislation on the Governor's desk for signing.

Click here to read my press release on passage of HB674, and here to watch my presentation of the bill on the House floor.

Other gun safety bills that passed the House include bills to:

  • Establish universal background checks,
  • Allow localities to ban firearms in government buildings,
  • Reinstate Virginia's one-gun-a-month policy,
  • Keep guns out of the hands of children,
  • Require reporting of lost or stolen firearms, and
  • Prevent those with a permanent protection order against them from owning a gun.

The House also passed HB980, which rolls back medically unnecessary restrictions on a woman's right to choose. Republicans had previously added needless burdens on a woman's access to a safe abortion, like mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds, 24-hour waiting periods, and Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws. This bill will empower women to make decisions about abortion in a safe, supportive, and private manner.

This week we also passed:

  • HB1490 to repeal the unconstitutional statutory prohibition on same-sex marriage,
  • HB207 to create a permanent absentee voter list,
  • My bill, HB275, to add another judge to help with the overwhelming workload in the Fairfax General District Court, so that people can have their cases heard faster,
  • My bill, HB276, to enhance reporting of hate crimes committed on the basis of disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity,
  • HB310 to continue operation of the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Commission,
  • and more (click here to see the full list of what the House approved this week).

I had several great meetings with constituents who came to speak about issues ranging from gun safety to taxes.

Meeting with the incomparable Steve Baker.

Meeting with Carla de la Pava, Arlington's Treasurer, Kim Rucker, and Kevin Appel.

Meeting with Deb Brennan and Donna Owens.

Meeting with my friend, Dr. Barbara Boardman, and her colleagues on pediatrician lobby day.

Visiting with my constituent Lilah in the House Chamber. Lilah was in Richmond for a couple of days interning with my office. My overworked team was grateful for her help.

And this happened: meeting the Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo, who came to Richmond with the team's World Series trophy and received a Commending Resolution from the General Assembly celebrating the Nats' victory!

Stay tuned for updates -- next week is set to be eventful as crossover quickly approaches.

January 24, 2020

Greetings from Richmond. This week was extremely busy, and I anticipate that the pace will only pick up as we approach "crossover," the date by which the House and Senate must pass all of their respective bills before they reach the other chamber for consideration.

I presented my bill (HB674) to create a "substantial risk order" in Virginia to the House Public Safety Committee today. Also known as a "Red Flag" bill or an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), this bill would give law enforcement the tools they need to remove firearms from someone deemed by a judge to be a serious risk to himself or others. Similar legislation has been enacted in 17 other states and the District of Columbia and it is time that Virginia finally take this important step forward to address the ongoing crisis of gun violence.

I have introduced this bill year after year since 2017, but it was routinely killed by Republicans when they held the majority. Undaunted, I continued to push for this important measure, which has bipartisan support among Virginia voters and is proven to save lives. 

I am pleased to tell you that HB674 was successfully reported out of the Public Safety Committee this morning and is headed to the floor next week. It advances alongside several other important gun safety bills, like those that would reinstate the one-gun-a-month limitation and establish universal background checks. 

Click here to watch my speech.

I have been chosen by Speaker Filler-Corn to serve as Chairman of the Energy Subcommittee on Labor and Commerce. I have long been focused on advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency in the General Assembly, and am excited to have the opportunity to help pass meaningful legislation on the subject this year as Chair of the key subcommittee. Click here to see what was on the docket for our first meeting -- and my first time chairing a subcommittee -- on Thursday evening.

Just ten hours after adjournment (at 10 pm) of my first energy subcommittee meeting, I chaired my first Finance subcommittee meeting (you can find the list of bills considered here) on Friday morning.  Time definitely moves fast in Richmond.

I also met with a young man named Valentine and his mother Margaret this week to discuss funding for childhood cancer research. I appreciate their activism on this topic, and I encourage you to visit my office as well if you are in Richmond to share what matters most to you.

I spoke on Thursday morning at the Virginia Chamber of Commerce's 2020 "Chamber Day" at the Capitol. I discussed the importance to our economy of a strong infrastructure and how the new Democratic majority will ensure that the Commonwealth is a great place to start or grow a business.

As I noted last week, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is traditionally the day when pro-gun groups come to Richmond to lobby against gun safety reform. While I strongly disagree with their position on the subject, I met -- as I do every year -- with members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League to hear their points of view on gun-related bills, and the conversations were civil and constructive. And as I had hoped, the day passed without incident thanks in large part to extensive preparation by our state and local law enforcement, to whom we are all grateful for their dedication and professionalism.

Stay tuned for updates -- next week is set to be eventful.

January 17, 2020

The second week of session here in Richmond has been as exciting as the first. Virginia made history this week by becoming the 38th state to pass, and the final state needed to ratify, the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. First proposed nearly 100 years ago, the ERA makes discrimination "on the basis of sex" unconstitutional.

The successful votes in the House and Senate are the culmination of decades of hard work by ERA supporters and lawmakers. Delegate Vivian Watts, for example, noted on the floor that she and her daughter demonstrated in support of the ERA 44 years ago in Washington, DC. Passage of the ERA is long overdue, and I am glad that I could be a part of, and witness to, this important moment in history.

I spoke at an event held by supporters of clean energy on Tuesday about my expectations for this session for energy policy. With Democrats having unified control of government, I anticipate unprecedented and exciting progress in this area as we work to move away from energy sources like fossil fuels and toward renewable, cleaner options like solar and wind power.

I have been appointed Chairman of the House Labor and Commerce subcommittee that examines all energy-related bills -- and there are a lot of them -- and determines what will advance to the full committee. As the resident energy efficiency "nerd" in the General Assembly, I am excited to have the opportunity to use my experience legislating in the energy space to help shape the way Virginia moves forward in this important policy arena. 

I have also been named the Chairman of the Finance Committee's third subcommittee. This subcommittee does not have one particular focus and is bit of a catch-all, but we plan to review all bills related to nicotine and vaping.

I presented several bills this week in House Courts of Justice subcommittees, including one (HB276) related to hate crimes reporting that I have been introducing for years. Check out my old posts and newsletters; I've always had to report defeat, and my resolve to try again next year. Well, next year is here. It finally passed out of subcommittee this week and is headed to the full Courts of Justice Committee.

HB276, which now includes parts of a bill by Delegate Kaye Kory, would require reporting to State Police of hate crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.

I also presented HB275, which will add a judge to the 12th general district court in the nineteenth judicial district (Fairfax County). This is a recommendation from the Committee on District Courts and will help cases move more smoothly through the judicial process, which is now terribly overburdened in Fairfax.

As you may have seen in the news, next Monday is poised to be an interesting day in the Capitol. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is also known in Richmond as "gun lobby day," when opponents and supporters of gun safety legislation come to the General Assembly to make their voices heard. I fully expect a robust and civil conversation with everyone who comes to my office on Monday -- it is an annual tradition, after all. I have had several security briefings over the last two weeks and am confident that law enforcement will ensure we have a productive and safe day.

Stay tuned for updates next week.

January 10, 2020

It has been a busy, history-making first week in the General Assembly. For the first time in a generation, Democrats hold both chambers of the legislative branch and the governorship, and we are poised to make significant progress during the 2020 session on the issues Virginians care about most. 

The first order of business in the House of Delegates was to swear in our new members. Having been the 2019 Campaign Chair, it was particularly gratifying to watch our freshmen Democrats, all of whom ran fantastic campaigns last year, officially take their seats as Delegates.

In a historic and moving moment, we unanimously elected Eileen Filler-Corn to be Virginia's first woman and first Jewish Speaker of the House. 

I am confident that Speaker Filler-Corn will be outstanding in her new role, and will lead the House to accomplish great things for all Virginians.

In another important and transformative moment, Delegate Charniele Herring became the first woman and the first person of color to become the Majority Leader of the House. 

I am honored to be a part of this leadership team as the House Caucus Chair, and I look forward to working hard this session to fulfill our promise to make our Commonwealth an even better place to work, live, and raise a family. 

I was thrilled to meet on Wednesday with members of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action. It is always a pleasure to see constituents while I'm in Richmond.

I am hopeful that we will make meaningful progress on gun safety legislation this year. I have introduced three bills on the topic. I proposed my Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO) bill (HB674) again this session. My bill would create a judicial process through which law enforcement can petition a judge to prohibit individuals deemed at substantial risk of harming themselves or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting firearms. Laws like this in other states are often called Red Flag Laws, Gun Violence Restraining Orders, or Extreme Risk Protective Orders, and are proven to save lives.

I have also introduced a bill (HB458) that would prohibit fugitives from possessing, transporting or purchasing firearms and a bill (HB459) to prevent those convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from possessing or transporting guns.

To view the full list of bills I am carrying this session, click here

On Wednesday evening the General Assembly gathered to hear Governor Northam's State of the Commonwealth address. He spoke about climate change, housing affordability, health care access, discrimination in Virginia's laws, gun safety, women's reproductive rights, and other important topics as he introduced his 2020-2021 budget. The full transcript of his speech can be found here.

Committee assignments were announced on Thursday, and I have been appointed to four committees: Labor & Commerce, Finance, Courts of Justice, and Rules.

  • Labor & Commerce handles bills related to a wide variety of topics, ranging from minimum wage to energy. I will be chairing the subcommittee on energy;
  • The Finance Committee is dedicated to financial issues, particularly taxes;
  • The Rules Committee is the governing body within the House of Delegates on both procedural matters and the direction of major pieces of legislation;
  • and Courts of Justice handles legal matters such as criminal justice and civil litigation.

​The Rules Committee met on Friday to pass a rule banning weapons from the Capitol and the Pocahontas Building unless one is an active-duty member of law enforcement. Democrats have long sought this important change in the rules, which will make visiting the General Assembly safer for constituents. 

Finally, I want to invite you to attend my Constituent Town Hall tomorrow at the McLean Community Center's Community Room, located at 1234 Ingleside Avenue in McLean, from 10am to noon. I will be joined by Delegate Kathleen Murphy and Senator Barbara Favola to hear your thoughts on the 2020 session.

Stay tuned for updates next week. With over 1,500 bills filed so far (and counting), this session will be action-packed.