We are now in our second week of the 2015 General Assembly session and we are rapidly working our way through 2,169 pieces of legislation. The days are long as we struggle to attend all full committee and subcommittee meetings at the same time we present our own bills and meet with constituents. Sometimes we are expected in three or four places at once!
The Senate reorganized this week and committee assignments were announced. My committees are unchanged: Finance, Courts of Justice, Education and Health, Privileges and Elections, and Rules. Because the Republicans are now in control, I no longer chair a committee. However, I must commend them for the businesslike way they are managing the dockets.
This year I introduced twenty two pieces of legislation. They cover a broad range of topics. You can follow them all at http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?151+mbr+S17C. Here are a few of the most important:
· Voting and redistricting bills are a large segment of my portfolio. I have a bill to put redistricting criteria (including not considering incumbents' addresses in redistricting) in the constitution.
· Another bill says voters do not have to give an excuse when voting absentee in person. Eliminating the requirement that voters state their religious obligation has passed subcommittee. My bills to stop requiring the last four digits of your social security number on absentee ballots and disqualifying absentee ballots that did not have full addresses on envelopes have not fared well in subcommittee on party line votes.
· Two of my bills deal with discrimination. The first strives to remove the anti same sex marriage language from our state constitution. The other allowed second parents to adopt their children if it is in the best interest of the child. Equality Virginia and I have worked on this for two years. Unfortunately it failed on a party line vote in full committee. There is a lot of hypocrisy from people who claim to be pro-family on this issue.
· Gun safety is very important to me. I have been appalled that Virginia has been going backwards in recent years. The worst example was repealing the one gun a month law. And we have not been able to pass universal background checks, despite wide public support.
· This year Governor McAuliffe asked me to carry his bill prohibiting those subject to protective orders from possessing firearms. These are usually very volatile domestic situations that do not need the dangerous ingredient of guns. In fact, states that restrict firearm access to those with restraint orders against them have 25% fewer intimate partner firearm homicides.
· I am working with Virginia Sheriffs to provide more funding for courthouse security by increasing slightly court fees paid by those convicted of offenses.
· Cigarette trafficking continues to be a concern to me and to the Crime Commission. Several of my bills are addressing this serious problem that has ties to organized crime and terrorists. Virginia is the target of traffickers because our tax on cigarettes is thirty cents a pack while New York City has a $5.85 a pack tax.
Of course, I am co patron on numerous other bills. And I am speaking out forcibly on yet many others.
As we zip through huge dockets over the next few weeks, I encourage you to email me with your views on upcoming legislation. I do read all your emails!