The Legislature is Hard at Work
Most of my time in Richmond is spent on the budget. As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee and a longtime Senate budget conferee, I must know the budget inside out. Given that it is 632 pages long, that is not easy! In the Senate the Finance Committee deals with both tax policy and appropriations. In the House, those topics are divided into two major committees.
This year I have introduced 24 bills. The ones likely to attract the most attention are the Early Childhood Success Act (SB 1095) and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Act (SB 1651). The Early Childhood Success Act results from the work of First Lady Pam Northam, the Early Childhood Foundation, and the Chamber of Commerce. It strives to streamline Early Childhood programs, set up a rational organizational system, and set benchmarks for success. The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Act also strives to streamline how we run programs in Virginia. Our state is not living up to its potential in attracting, retaining, and commercializing startups. This bill addresses those issues. However, it is a work in progress and I expect several changes before we finish!
Most of my bills protect Virginians in one way or another:
- SB 1257 adds clergy to mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect. Long overdue, I first started working on this issue during the last century!
- SB 1103 protects pieceworkers by requiring that they be paid at least the minimum wage. The only other state that does not insure pieceworkers receive minimum wage is New Mexico. This is personal for me - my mother was a union organizer for pieceworkers in the early 1940's. Even other southern states do better than Virginia.
- SB 1077 requires Homes for Adults to have emergency generators. We have seen recent tragedies in Puerto Rico and Texas. It is time to protect vulnerable Virginians before a tragedy happens.
- Two of my bills deal with gun safety. SB 1078 expands those with permanent protective orders against them who cannot possess guns. An earlier bill of mine prohibited those with family and abuse orders against them from possession of firearms. This bill makes that applicable to ALL permanent protective orders, including stalking. SB 1096 dealt with child access to guns. It would have increased the penalty for leaving a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner to endanger a child under 18. It also eliminated the "reckless" standard. Leaving loaded firearms around teens is a major instrument of suicides in Virginia. Unfortunately, the bill was defeated on a party line vote.
- Protecting student borrowers from unscrupulous student loan servicers such as Navient is the purpose of SB 1112. This bill requires servicers to be licensed by Virginia to insure they meet at least minimal ethical standards.
- And, finally, I want to protect voters with SB 1075 which permits no-excuse in-person absentee voting. No voter should be threatened with a fine for exercising their legitimate right to vote.
Last Saturday I held the last of five town meetings to listen to constituents and find out what they want me to do in Richmond. More than 450 people have attended these meetings this session. The last town meeting meeting was designed for McLean and Tysons. More than 70 folks turned out in iffy weather to share their views. Senator Favola and Delegates Sullivan, Murphy, Simon, and Keam joined me. Once the session is over, we plan to hold neighborhood meetings again to let you know what happened.
Please continue to let me know the issues and bills you are concerned about. I can't begin to tell you how much I value input from voters like you. Also, if you are having a problem with state government, please contact Karol Straub or Edyta Wiesner for assistance.