Having won re-election without opposition, Dels. Mark Keam (D-35th) and Rip Sullivan (D-48th) are crafting legislation for the 2018 General Assembly session and both are encouraged by the parity – near or exact will be determined soon – that Democrats will enjoy in the House of Delegates.
“I’m an eternal optimist,” Keam said. “We’re in a good, positive position for collaboration. Republicans will have to work with us. It’s a way for us to collaborate to solve problems in way that’s not partisan, but gets things done.”
Sullivan, who led Democratic efforts to pick up a slew of House of Delegates seats in the Nov. 7 election, also was upbeat about the prospects for success in the next session.
“I’m just ready to get back to work,” Sullivan said. “It’s going to be an interesting session, hopefully productive. The dynamics have dramatically changed.”
If Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds wins the draw in the tied 94th District race in Newport News and takes the seat away from incumbent David Yancey (R), the House of Delegates would be split 50-50 between Democrats and the GOP.
“You would need a majority to pass a bill,” Sullivan said, noting that unlike in the state Senate, where the lieutenant governor can cast deciding votes, there is no tie-breaker in the House of Delegates.
Keam, who first was elected in 2009, has drafted several bills, but has not filed them formally yet. As always, Keam will press for some legislation on behalf of the town of Vienna, which in 2018 will include bills that would:
• Allow towns or counties to take advantage of online legal advertising, as opposed to running such ads in newspapers, provided they contacted every resident within the locality and asked for their permission to receive e-mails with those ads or waive that option.
• Require developers to replace the tree canopy at building sites within 10 years instead of the current 20.
“We’re trying to make it a statewide effort,” Keam said. “The idea is to keep as many old and maintained trees as possible.”
• Allow localities the opportunity to ride other jurisdictions’ contracts worth up to $500,000. The General Assembly in recent years curtailed localities’ ability to ride such contracts, which allowed them to take advantage of economies of scale.
• Allow smaller communities to pull together and obtain solar power, as opposed to getting it only from the larger carriers.
“It would provide more options for communities that can’t afford to build their own” solar facilities,” Keam said. “The idea is to bring more balance in how we bring solar power to Virginia.”
Keam also will press for Metrorail reforms and sustainable funding for the transit service.
Sullivan, who won a special election in 2014 to succeed former Del. Bob Brink (D) and was re-elected unopposed in 2015, already has filed several pieces of legislation for 2018, including:
• House Bill (HB) 32, which would include in the hate-crimes definition acts against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identification. Such crimes would have to be reported to the Virginia State Police.
“We already report all kinds of hate crimes to the FBI,” Sullivan said. “There has been some concern nationwide that we haven’t been compiling data as accurately as we should. This will codify that requirement.”
• A proposed constitutional amendment providing criteria for the General Assembly’s redrawing of electoral districts. The amendment would require that districts be contiguous and compact; drawn using existing political boundaries (for example, not splitting towns into multiple districts); and as nearly equal to other districts in population as is practical.
The objective is to “squeeze the politics out of how we redistrict every 10 years,” Sullivan said.
• HB 92, which would permit primary caretakers of people who are ill or disabled and confined at home to cast absentee ballots. Current law only allows caregivers to do so if their charges are family members.
• HB 74, which would allow any registered voter to vote early in any election without giving a reason or making a prior application for an absentee ballot.
Sullivan also will submit a bill to permit Virginia students attending out-of-state schools to use those schools’ student-identification cards as proof of identification when voting.
“I’m trying to expand voting rights to make it easier, rather than harder, to vote,” Sullivan said of his various election-related bills.
• HB 54, which would establish a 35-percent tax credit, up to $15,000, for the cost of placing renewable-energy equipment into service on properties.
“I’m interested in working to make Virginia a leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency,” he said. “Improving energy efficiency is one of the fastest and least expensive ways of reducing our carbon footprint.”
Another of Sullivan’s bills would create the Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety and Media Literacy Advisory Council, which would advise Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction on ways to help students become skilled and active consumers of information.