These days I feel like the old lady in the nursery rhyme who "had so many children she didn't know what to do!" Each of my bills and budget amendments has a life of its own in the General Assembly and just keeping track of them is a challenge. I want each to thrive and make it through the legislative process -- but that is a difficult and lofty goal.
Student Loan Refinancing Authority. Over one million Virginians are carrying over $30 billion in student loan debt. The average student loan debt of a student graduating from a Virginia college is $24,780. The debts are causing borrowers to delay starting families, businesses, and home purchases. Delegate Marcus Simon and I have introduced two bills.
SB 52 sets up a student loan authority to refinance student loans. It would be similar to existing authorities for housing and small businesses. About 630,000 Virginia borrowers would benefit from refinancing. Other states are already doing this.
SB604 would establish a Borrowers Bill of Rights to establish basic consumer protections from predatory and abusive practices. It would also create a Student Loan Navigator to provide students and borrowers impartial information on taking out and paying back student loans.
Growth and Opportunity Virginia (GoVA). A major initiative of enlightened business and higher education leaders across the state, GoVA will provide a catalyst for public-private initiative and collaboration among localities, businesses, and educational institutions to boost economic development, job creation and job readiness in every region of the state. Virginia urgently needs private sector growth and a more diversified economy. SB 449 is designed to encourage these efforts.
Firearm Safety. My SB 49 is one of several introduced to prevent tragic deaths by firearms. Currently persons subject to a protective order are not permitted to purchase or transport a firearm. This bill will prevent them from possessing a firearm.
While this is obviously an important bill to protect people threatened by family violence, it is not likely to pass. The legislature is totally split on the issue of guns. As a vivid example of that divide, here are two pictures of signs taken outside Senators' offices last week.
Meanwhile I am maintaining my record of supporting responsible gun legislation and my "F" rating from the NRA.
Voting and Redistricting. I am introducing two major bills that have failed in the past. They are very important to me and also, I think, the public.
SB 603 allows people to vote absentee without having to specify an acceptable reason. This bill is a little different from those in the past because it only applies 21 days before the election. That means it is after the deadline for registering to vote. I hope this will break the logjam on the concept. People should not need to tell little white lies to be able to vote absentee.
SB 59 is an attempt by Sen. Jill Vogel (R) and me to change Redistricting. Personally I want a nonpartisan Redistricting Commission to draw the boundaries. It seems impossible to get the House Republicans to ever agree to that concept. So our joint bill would put in code the criteria that the General Assembly would have to follow. Supported by Virginia2021 and much of the business community, this is an attempt to take some of the politics out of redistricting.
Local Bills. Three bills will help the localities I represent. SB 50 will allow Arlington and Fairfax Counties to increase court fees to $20 on persons convicted of violating statutes or ordinances. The fees must be used for courtroom or courthouse security.
SB57 will add a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge to the Fairfax County bench. The Supreme Court of Virginia supports this bill.
SB 160 will allow Arlington County to raise its tax on hotel rooms by .25 percent to be used for promoting tourism. This is an initiative of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
I hope you're staying safe and warm through Snowzilla.