The second week of session was as busy as the first. And it will only accelerate.
This week started with the inauguration of Governor Youngkin. I enjoyed running into U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and my colleagues Senators Jennifer McClellan and Jennifer Boysko
We gathered in good faith Saturday, with a nod to tradition and to wish Governor Youngkin well. While listening to his speech, his "Day One" agenda rang hollow. Starting by signing Executive Orders that try to ban any discussion of race in our schools, ban masks in schools, and attempt to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) was surely not the unifying theme I had hoped he might try to strike.
On Monday the Governor delivered his first State of the Commonwealth Address, outlining his plans for his administration. No unity there, either.
On Tuesday the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses held a press conference responding to the Governor's speech. There was a lot to talk about, but most urgent was his threat to use state resources to defund and punish Virginia schools after school divisions across the Commonwealth rejected his illegal Order purporting to eliminate mask requirements in schools. His Executive Order rejects the science, and violates Virginia law. Senate Bill 3101 was a bipartisan bill we passed (and I voted for) last year. It ensures that students are kept safe while receiving the maximum amount of in-person instruction time. It mandates that local school systems follow CDC guidelines, which require students, teachers, and staff to wear masks. Now--predictably--concerned parents are suing.
Governor Youngkin campaigned on listening to parents, yet he is not listening to them now. Simply put: masks keep our children and the teachers who support them safe.
It is my hope that Governor Youngkin rethinks his "Day One" agenda. As I noted last week, however, fireworks have already started.
With respect to RGGI, it is a similar story. Governor Youngkin cannot unilaterally withdraw from RGGI. I was pleased to see that the Governor seems to have realized that he cannot undo statutory law by fiat. His Executive Order calls instead for emergency regulations to go before the State Air Pollution Control Board for consideration. But as one commentator observed: "Since Virginia's participation in RGGI is required by law, it cannot be repealed through regulation alone, whether labeled as 'emergency or otherwise," said Nate Benforado, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in an article in the Richmond Times. To see the article please click here.
It is vital that Virginia remain a part of RGGI. 50% of the revenue we receive from RGGI goes to help low-income Virginians improve the energy efficiency of their homes, saving them money on their electric bills. Can you say "kitchen table issue?" 45% of the revenue goes to the statewide Community Flood Preparedness Fund, helping localities across the Commonwealth mitigate the effects of climate change. Money well spent, for sure.
With respect to all of the historic climate legislation we have passed over these last two years, Democrats will hold the line. Please click here to see an article highlighting Republican efforts to roll back our climate legislation--including the Virginia Clean Economy Act and RGGI--and how my colleagues and I intend to defend our progress.
Governor Youngkin's first week may have excited his base, but anyone who thought he was going to be a moderate has begun to learn the truth about who he is and how he will govern. I was particularly frustrated in committee this week, when I had the opportunity to question several of his Cabinet nominees. While they were well-versed in the "Day One" mantra, when I asked about any details for Day Two and beyond, they were unable to enlighten us. Or unwilling. With appointees with extreme views who won't answer straightforward questions from the legislature, our new Governor is showing himself to be anything but "moderate."
Last week, I outlined a glimpse of the Republican bills that are pilling up aimed to repeal the progress we have made over the last two years. More are coming. A few bills heard in the Commerce and Energy subcommittee yesterday. HB320, HB296, and HB171 all focused on repealing the increase of the minimum wage. I was proud to stand with my democratic colleagues and vote no on all three of these egregious bills.
Speaking of being proud: I would like to introduce you to my team and two particularly important House Pages. Each year the Speaker of the House selects (it's a very competitive process) a group of 13- and 14- year olds from across the Commonwealth to serve as House Pages during the session. These bright young people assist the members of the House of Delegates, the House Clerk's staff, and other legislative staff in the daily duties required for the successful operation of the House of Delegates. They also get a chance to witness how our government works. This year, my constituents Chandani Rathod and Michele Liu are serving as Pages. I could not be more proud to have such exceptional students represent the 48th district. I am also grateful to have Mary Bowers on board as a Legislative Assistant during the session. She has been a tremendous help to the team. And many of you already know John Daniels, my Chief of Staff.