Eileen's Latest eNews - May 6, 2019

May 6, 2019

Just a few days ago, people around the world commemorated Yom HaShoah.  We remembered the 6 million Jews and more than a million other persecuted individuals who perished in the Holocaust. In Northern Virginia this past Sunday, I joined many people in our community in a Memorial service that honored survivors, victims & heroes of the Holocaust. The commemoration included recollections from local Holocaust survivors and reflections on the responsibilities of memory and legacy for future generations.

It is alarming just how many acts of violence towards those of different religions we have witnessed even in the past few months. It is more important than ever to always speak out against hatred of any kind. We must “never forget,” and I hope we can commit ourselves to never again allow such horrors to occur.

 

Fairfax County Labor Coalition

I appreciated the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Fairfax County Labor Coalition. My colleagues and I heard from many leaders in the labor community about their legislative priorities and how the corresponding legislation fared during the 2019 session as well as their goals for the 2020 session and beyond. Many speakers also gave suggestions as to how we, as elected officials, can continue to support working families in Fairfax County. I am grateful to the work that FCLC does and for further educating so many throughout Northern Virginia.

 

Northern Virginia Association of Realtors Reception

Last week, I enjoyed catching up with members of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors at their annual Legislative Reception. It was a pleasure to meet with so many members of the Realtor community here in Northern Virginia and visit with longtime friends. NVAR represents over 13,000 members in the region and I consider myself fortunate to call many members constituents and friends.

 

Pyramid Art Shows

Over the past two weeks, I had the pleasure of visiting two pyramid art shows in the 41st District. Two weeks ago, I stopped by the Lake Braddock Pyramid art show (which includes the following schools in my district: Burke School, Cherry Run ES, White Oaks ES and Lake Braddock Secondary). I had the opportunity to congratulate many young talented artists. Then this past Wednesday, it was great to stop by the Robinson Pyramid show (which includes Bonnie Brae ES, Fairview ES, Laurel Ridge ES, Terra Centre ES and Robinson ES) and see the fabulous works of art by those students. I consider myself fortunate to represent so many talented young artists. 

 

ICYMI: Washington Post on Mantua

I am so privileged to count Mantua, Virginia as one of the great communities I represent in the 41st District. Between the trails, the winding paths of Accotink Creek and Crook Branch, the gorgeous homes and the canopy of trees that seems to blanket the sky over the neighborhood, Mantua, like the many other neighborhoods in the 41st District, is a special place.  Recently, the Washington Post profiled the neighborhood as well. Click here to read the article.

 

Road Repaving Schedule and What to Expect When a Road is Repaved

Substantial paving will take place in and around the 41st District this summer. I would like to provide you with some information from VDOT about what to expect during the repaving of residential streets, including Prosperity Avenue (finally!). You can click here to see which roads are scheduled to be repaved this summer. If you have further questions about how paving will work, you can also contact directly with the Construction Manager in the field by calling them at the phone number listed on the paving web site: http://www.virginiadot.org/novapaving. If you click on the affected road, it will list the construction manager's email and contact information.

Lake Braddock Recognition

Congratulations to Lake Braddock Secondary School for achieving recognition as one of the 100 Best  High Schools Teaching Personal Finance. This distinction is given to schools in recognition of excellence in financial education. I am proud to see that the students in the 41st District are engaging in responsible financial literacy! Click here to read more.

High School Plays

Check out the upcoming high school plays in the 41st District

April 22, 2019

I hope those of you who celebrated the beginning of Passover or Easter this past weekend had a lovely celebration with those who mean the most to you. 

At the same time, I was also stunned and saddened by the tragic news from Sri Lanka—where eight coordinated bomb attacks happened at churches and hotels across the small country, killing nearly 300 and injuring many more. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their loved ones. I am also grateful for the efforts of the first responders who put themselves in harm’s way to treat those injured. This attack comes not long after the horrific massacre at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Far too often, we see hate filled acts of violence. However, I remain hopeful that instead we can come together as an international community, united in peace, tolerance and acceptance.

 

Fairfax County Parkway/Burke Center Parkway Update

As I mentioned in my previous enews, VDOT held a meeting on April 10th to discuss options regarding the widening of the Fairfax County Parkway from four to six lanes between Lee Highway and Ox Road. The overall project will also include building an interchange that will consolidate Popes Head Road and the future Shirley Gate Road extension. Additionally, the project aims to improve the Route 123 interchange and the Fairfax County Parkway/Burke Centre Parkway intersection, as well as the existing trail on the Fairfax County Parkway right of way and build a new shared-use path to make the trail continuous within the project limits. As the plan for the Fairfax County Parkway took shape, one major concern emerged: finding a solution for Burke Centre Conservancy residents leaving and entering their neighborhood, while also relieving traffic bottlenecks along this stretch of Fairfax County Parkway.

In light of that issue, I appreciated the opportunity to join members of the Burke Centre Conservancy, as well as my colleague, Senator Dave Marsden to learn more about the plans, view displays and learn more about the project and its preliminary design.

My office has been monitoring this issue for several months, and I am cautiously optimistic about “Option C,” which VDOT presented that evening. Option C will only restrict left turns onto Burke Centre Parkway from the Fairfax County Parkway during the morning peak rush hour. You can find more information about it and the overall widening program by clicking here.

 

Scouts BSA Troop 1345G Inaugural Court of Honor

I enjoyed joining the founding members of Burke Centre's new all-female BSA Troop, Troop 1345G, as well as the Burke Centre boys, Troop 1345. Since their founding in February, Troop 1345G has embarked on an adventurous journey toward the Eagle Scout rank, joining the long history of service that Troop 1345 holds. 

As a quick aside, attending Eagle Scout honor courts and Gold Award ceremonies, as well as speaking to Girl Scout and BSA Troops in general, is one of my favorite parts of being a Delegate. If you would like to invite me to a scouting meeting or ceremony, please click here to email my office.  

 

Braddock District Council Meeting

I enjoyed attending the annual Braddock District Council Legislative Forum. Senator Marsden, Delegates Bulova, Kory, Watts and I provided updates on the legislative accomplishments of the 2019 session and answered questions from constituents.  If you would like me to provide an update to your HOA or other local organization, please do not hesitate to contact me. Click here to send a scheduling request.

 

Shelter House Changing Lives Breakfast

I attended the moving, annual Shelter House Changing Lives Breakfast. Shelter House is a community-based, non-profit organization serving homeless families in Fairfax County, Virginia. Among their many achievements, they are the first non-profit to operate Artemis House, Fairfax County’s only 24-hour Domestic Violence Shelter. As always, at their annual breakfast, there were inspiring testimonies and a packed room. I am proud to support this organization and I am grateful for all of their efforts in assisting members of our community who are experiencing domestic abuse and/or are homeless.

 

Equality Virginia Dinner

I enjoyed a wonderful evening at Equality Virginia’s 16th Annual Commonwealth Dinner last weekend. It was truly inspiring to see so many elected officials and community leaders join in solidarity to support equality for all in the Commonwealth. Thank you and Congratulations to all of the OUTstanding Virginian honorees for your vital work in this Commonwealth. 

Equality Virginia continues to be a valuable partner in our community. While I consider it unfortunate that none of our housing equality bills were even granted a hearing this year, Equality Virginia's efforts and hard work did not go unnoticed. It is my hope that next year we can bring out LGBT sisters and brothers real equality through legislation.

 

Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability

I was in Richmond last week for a meeting of the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability, on which I serve. During the meeting Deputy Secretary of Transportation, Nick Donahue gave an update on the status of SMART Scale in Virginia. 

SMART Scale is a program by the Virginia Department of Transportation. The goal of SMART Scale is to pick, “the right transportation projects for funding and ensuring the best use of limited tax dollars.” The program does so by scoring planned transportation projects, “based on an objective, outcome-based process that is transparent to the public and allows decision-makers to be held accountable to taxpayers.” Once SMART SCALE scores and then prioritizes the projects,  the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will select projects for funding. You can find more information about SMART SCALE here.

 

ServiceSource AWARE Art Show

Last Thursday, I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon at ServiceSource’s 2nd Annual AWARE Art Show along with Delegate Ken Plum and Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith. ServiceSource and Blossom Daily, a local cafe that catered the event, work to support inclusive employment for individuals with special abilities in Northern Virginia.  I have seen first-hand the positive effect that the arts have on those with different abilities. I am pleased that ServiceSource has this program and look forward to supporting it for years to come.

 

High School Plays

Check out the upcoming high school plays in the 41st District

April 8, 2019

Last week, I was in Richmond for the reconvened/veto session. We have much to be proud of coming out of the reconvened session this year on behalf of all Virginians, including upholding the Governor's vetoes on potentially harmful legislation. Interestingly enough, very few of the bills vetoed (click here to view them all) were actually contested by the bill’s patrons.

We deliberated over many recommendations from the Governor for nearly 8 hours on the Floor. Though there were some bills and budget items that I wished had a different final outcome, we have a lot of successes to point to:

  • Approving $4 Million in increased funding for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund to assist in the creation of affordable housing and reduction of homelessness
  • Securing funding for transportation improvements to I-81, I-95 and I-64, as well as $20 Million in additional funding for the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority
  • Eliminating the practice of suspending driver’s licenses over unpaid court costs and fees
  • Providing temporary relief from legal penalties for late mortgage or rent payments for Virginians who were furloughed during the Federal government shutdown
  • Expanding paid family leave to state employees who are foster parents.
  • Establishing a Balance Billing workgroup which will evaluate options regarding prohibiting the practice of balance billing by out-of-network health care providers for emergency services rendered. The work group will also establish equitable and fair reimbursement for health care providers

After a long and tiring, but productive day, I was glad to return to the 41st District late Wednesday night.

Northern Virginia Training Center Site (in the 41st District)

Additionally, I wanted to provide an update on what is currently happening at the Northern Virginia Training Center Site on Braddock Road. While most of the land is undergoing the comprehensive plan amendment process, the Department of Motor Vehicles also purchased a 3.9 acre parcel of the land in October 2015 at a cost of $2 million. The site already consists of a 150 vehicle parking lot and an undeveloped building site. It can accommodate a building between 15,000 and 16,000 square feet. DMV issued a solicitation for design services and six proposals were received. Evaluation of each of those proposals is currently underway. The building and site design and required approvals will take approximately one year and cost approximately $200,000. However, the start date of construction is yet to be determined.

 

VDOT Meeting Regarding Burke Centre Parkway

VDOT will hold a meeting, this Thursday, April 10th to update Burke Centre Conservancy residents on the widening of the Fairfax County Parkway from four lanes to six lanes between Lee Highway and Ox Road. You can find out about the plans, view displays and learn more about the project and its preliminary design, including Popes Head Road interchange options under consideration. Project staff will be available to answer your questions.The presentation will start at 7:00 p.m. You can also click here to read more about the widening.

 

Brain Injury Association of Virginia Award

It was such an honor to receive the Legislator of the Year Award at the Brain Injury Association of Virginia’s Legacy Dinner this past Saturday. I have enjoyed working and collaborating with the BIAV throughout the years, especially on my legislationwhich requires the Board of Education to include  “Return to Learn” protocols in their policies and procedures for student-athletes who have suffered concussions.  Thank you to the Brain Injury Association of Virginia and their Executive Director Anne McDonnell, for her impressive leadership!

 

Fairfax Little League Opening Day

Saturday was a great morning for the Fairfax Little League opening day! The sun was even shining. It was fun to ride in the parade led by so many little league players and their coaches. and to throw out a first pitch during the ceremony with many friends as well as state and local elected officials. This is an event that I look forward to attending every year. Play ball! 

 

Richmond Committee and Commission Meetings

 

PANS and PANDAS Council

I was in Richmond this afternoon to chair a meeting of the PANS/PANDAS Advisory Council. We had an engaging and substantive discussion on documents created by the Council. We also discussed the future steps that we can take to continue to raise awareness of these insidious diseases. I am proud to Chair this distinguished council of impressive professionals, physicians, medical experts and parents in search of relief for these young people inflicted with PANS or PANDAS (and those caring for them). I truly appreciate everyone’s time and energy, including my General Assembly colleagues who serve on the Council.

 

Joint Commission on Technology and Science

Prior to the reconvened session, I was also in Richmond for a meeting of the Joint Commission on Technology and Science, on which I serve. We heard an update on Blockchain from JCOTS Vice Chair, Delegate Glenn Davis. We discussed what issues we can look into out of session, while also planning our future meetings in Richmond, as well as visits and tours of Virginia Tech and Wallops Island.

 

Department of Motor Vehicles Women’s History Month

I was pleased to address the fabulous, hardworking employees at the Virginia DMV for their annual Women's History Month Celebration. The topic this year was "Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence". Thank you to Commissioner Rick Holcomb and the DMV Cultural Committee for hosting a wonderful event. I enjoyed speaking about Virginia women who inspired me and sharing my own personal story. 

I also appreciated the opportunity to salute a really wonderful employee of the DMV. If you have ever contacted my office about an issue with DMV, my office has more than likely reached out to Vivian Cheatham on your behalf. Vivian is the Special Assistant to the Commissioner for Constituent Services and has a proven track record of being incredibly responsive and helpful. It is not often we get to recognize unsung heroes, but I was proud to show Vivian just how much all of us in the General Assembly appreciate her efforts.

 

Virginia21 Luncheon

I so enjoyed attending the Virginia21 Leadership Luncheon and awards in Richmond a couple weeks ago. Virginia21 works with colleges and universities to equip the next generation of leaders with the skills and knowledge to engage their communities. These young individuals make me incredibly proud and hopeful for our future. Thank you as well to our incredible U.S. Senator Tim Kaine for delivering an empowering keynote address!
 

Arc of NoVA Breakfast

It was truly wonderful to join the Arc of Northern Virginia's "A Life Like Yours" Breakfast. The ARC promotes and protects the rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, supporting community inclusion and participation. Great to see so many friends, including advocates and friends: Craig Heizer, Conner and Sharon Cummings at this inspiring breakfast. The Arc has been a wonderful stakeholder for so many pieces of great disability-related legislation over the years and I look forward to continuing to work with them in the future.


Alexandria Commission for Women

I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the Alexandria Commission for Women's reception on “Civic Activism: Women Leading the Way” on March 25th. There was so much energy inside the spectacular Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum. It was fun to reconnect with so many friends and many women leaders coming together!

March 25, 2019

Preparing for the Reconvene Session

The last two weeks have been filled with many events around the community as well as preparation for the reconvene (“veto”) session back in Richmond. After the General Assembly adjourned sine die on February 23rd, the Governor has until tomorrow night to sign, amend or veto all legislation passed by the House and Senate during the 2019 Regular Session. We will meet on Wednesday, April 3rd to discuss, debate and vote on all legislation that the Governoramended or vetoed. While the acceptance of the Governor’s amendments requires a simple majority, two-thirds of the members of both legislative bodies must vote to override a Governor’s veto.

 

Bills of Interest that the Governor Signed

I am pleased that the Governor has signed two of my bills over the past two weeks: HB 2205, which will require the law and meaning of consent to be taught in high school Family Life Education courses and HB 2282, which will allow the Board of Counseling to create regulations for the issuance of temporary licenses to individuals engaged in a counseling, marriage & family therapy counseling, or substance abuse counseling residency. In layman's terms, it makes it easier for postgraduate counseling residents who are training in the three aforementioned specialties to get their required training hours in a much more efficient way. Most importantly, it increases access to both mental health and substance abuse professionals.

Additionally, I wanted to share with you a few other bills that I co-patroned which the Governor recently signed as well:

HB 1732 will require each school board to develop training on safety procedures in the event of an emergency situation on school property. The bill also will require such training to be delivered to each student and employee in each school at least once each school year.

HB 1753 (Delegate Mark Sickles) will prohibit school employees from opening or closing an electronic room partition in any school building except under certain limited circumstances. The bill also will require any annual safety review or exercise for school employees in a local school division to include information and demonstrations, as appropriate, regarding the operation of such partitions. Lastly, the bill also will require the Department of Education to make available to each school board model safety guidance regarding the operation of such partitions.

HB 1804 will add cancers of the colon, brain, or testes to the list of cancers that are presumed to be an occupational disease covered by the Virginia Workers' Compensation Act when firefighters and certain employees develop the cancer. The measure will become effective if reenacted by the 2020 Session of the General Assembly. The measure also will direct the 2020 Session of the General Assembly, in considering and enacting any legislation relating to workers' compensation and the presumption of compensability for certain cancers, to consider any research, findings, and recommendations from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission's review of the Virginia Workers' Compensation program.

HB 2020 (Delegate Matthew James) will require the Virginia Community College System, in consultation with the Department of Labor and Industry, to develop and deliver uniform, related instruction for registered apprenticeships in high-demand programs, as determined by the Virginia Board of Workforce Development and the Virginia Employment Commission, and for which coursework is not otherwise available. The bill will require such instruction to be available statewide and to be delivered in a face-to-face, online, or blended format.

HB 2577 will require health insurers, health care subscription plans, and health maintenance organizations to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in individuals of any age. Currently, such coverage is required to be provided for individuals from age two through age 10. The provision will apply with respect to insurance policies, subscription contracts, and health care plans delivered, issued for delivery, reissued, or extended on or after January 1, 2020. I am so excited that we finally have  "crushed the cap" on coverage. This process was a long time coming. I have been proud to support this measure for years and even served as chief co-patron on a similar bill in a previous year. What has been particularly special is to watch the drive and advocacy of so many advocates, in particular, Mark Llobell and Teresa Champion who were down in Richmond year after year advocating for this legislation.

You can see the hundreds of other bills approved by the Governor by clicking here.

 

Students Demand Action Meeting

I was pleased to join Students Demand Action-NoVa earlier this month as we commemorated the one-year anniversary of their walkouts demanding legislative action on gun violence prevention. One year later, these impressive students continue to lead in the fight for a safer Commonwealth. These students give me so much hope for our future. I know that with their advocacy, we can make Virginia and the country as a whole, a safer place.You can click here to read an article about the meeting.

 

Valor Awards

Last week, I enjoyed attending the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 41st Annual Valor Awards, hosted by NBC4's Leon Harris. This is always a moving event with tremendous involvement from the community including leaders from business, federal, state, and local government--all supporting and honoring our impressive First Responders. Earlier this year, I was proud to work with Fairfax County Fire Rescue on legislation that would have created a PTSD Presumption in Worker's Compensation for first responders. While neither my legislation nor a similar bill moved forward this year, I look forward to bringing the bill back next year. I remain grateful to our public safety officials for their sacrifices every single day.

 

Paving Plan in the 41st District for 2019

VDOT has released the paving schedule for 2019 and I will post the link to the map as soon as possible. I am pleased to see several major arteries on the list including:

  • Braddock Road between Roberts Road and Red Fox Drive
  • Braddock Road between Roberts Road and Burke Lake Road
  • Burke Centre Parkway/Lee Chapel Road between Old Keene Mill Road and Burke Lake Road
  • Burke Centre Parkway between Powell Landing Road and Oak Leather Drive
  • Little River Turnpike between Elizabeth Lane and the Fairfax City Limits
  • Roberts Parkway between Burke Centre Parkway and Fairfax County Parkway
  • Roberts Parkway between Burke Centre Parkway and New Guinea Road
  • Prosperity Avenue between Little River Turnpike and Arlington Boulevard.

Please continue to email me about concerns, particularly regarding roads that did not make this list this year. I will advocate for those to be added as priorities for 2020 repaving and at the very least—to be patched in the interim. I will keep you posted as well about when repaving will start on the roads mentioned above.

March 11, 2019

March has come in roaring like a lion, but like you, I am looking forward to warmer temperatures soon. For those looking forward to Cherry Blossom season, we are only a few weeks away. The National Park Service announced last week that peak bloom will take place between April 3rd and 6th this year.

Additionally, I am excited to spend more time in the 41st District, now that the 2019 session has ended. Please let me know if you are interested in having me speak to a group you are associated with to discuss all that transpired throughout the 2019 session.

 

George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government Panel on Women in Politics

I was pleased to participate on a panel alongside Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, former Secretary of Education Anne Holton, and my colleagues, Delegate Charniele Herring, and Delegate Ken Plum. The panel was titled, "Can Women Save Democracy?". (The answer is a resounding yes!) It was particularly special for me to be seated next to a woman who encouraged me to run for the House in the first place, Anne Holton. Most importantly, we had an active discussion as to how we can overcome the barriers to entry women face in the political sphere. I think I speak for so many of my colleagues when I say that we cannot wait for the newest group of women leaders to step up and run in 2019!

 

Equal Rights Amendment

I was pleased to join colleagues and friends at the Virginia Equal Rights Coalition awards reception thanking many for their work on the Equal Rights Amendment this past session. I appreciated receiving an award myself but was even more thrilled to present an award and gift to the Virginia Equal Rights Coalition leaders: Julia Tanner and Kathy Stewart Shupe. While we were unsuccessful in passing the ERA this session, I am confident that Virginia will ratify this amendment next year when we capture the majority. Equality under the law should be a right, not a privilege.

 

Disabled Veterans Constitutional Amendment Featured in the Connection

I am pleased that last week’s Connection featured the passage of my resolution HJ 676, which would create an amendment to Virginia’s constitution, providing that one motor vehicle of a veteran who has a 100 percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability shall be exempt from state and local taxes. The amendment would also clarify that only automobiles and pickup trucks qualify for the exemption. This legislation is a major priority of Virginia’s Joint Leadership Council of Veterans Services Organizations and was a bipartisan effort, with Senator Bryce Reeves carrying a companion resolution in the Senate. I look forward to reintroducing this legislation next year (constitutional amendments require passage in the General Assembly two consecutive years) and hope that it will be on our ballot in the November 2020 election. Click here to read more about the prospective amendment.

 

 

Our Amazing FCPS Schools

Frost Middle School

Earlier this morning, I was proud to join the students of Frost Middle School to celebrate their Unified Champion School banner presentation! Frost is one of only six schools in the Commonwealth, Robinson Secondary School being another, to be named a Unified Champion School by Special Olympics for making its community more inclusive of individuals with intellectual disabilities. As an advocate for people with disabilities, I am so pleased to see this inclusion in our schools. It was especially meaningful to have  Rick Jeffrey, President of Special Olympics Virginia in the 41st District. 

 

Woodson High School

Congratulations to Woodson High School’s Academic Bowl Team for qualifying for the National Academic Bowl Competition in April at Gallaudet University (which hosts the Academic Bowl for deaf and hard of hearing high school students). Woodson students competed against 20 teams at Mississippi School for the Deaf and came in second to Maryland School for the Deaf, last year’s national champions. This is not the first time that Woodson’s Team has had this kind of success. In fact, in 2016, I was proud to present them with a commendingresolution for efforts in 2016. Wishing them all the best for the national competition in DC!
 

Upcoming Paving and Restriping Meetings

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding streets in our district that need to be repaved. I am in touch with VDOT on a regularbasis and am hopeful that we can get these streets repaired. Please know in the event we cannot get these roads repaved this year, I will push to get them patched in the interim. You can also submit your concerns by visiting: https://my.vdot.virginia.gov/.

Below are two meetings about the upcoming paving in and around the 41st District:

On March 13th, at 6:30 p.m. VDOT will be hosting a public meeting at the Providence Community Center on proposed paving and restriping changes in the Providence District. Community members are invited to join the discussion and provide feedback.Click here for more information.

On March 18th, at 6:30 p.m., VDOT will be host a public meeting in Braddock Hall (part of the King Parks Library) on proposed paving and restriping changes in the Braddock District. Community members are invited to join the discussion and provide feedback. Click here for more information.

General Assembly Week 7

Sunday, a day later than usual, was Sine Die (Latin for "without day"), signifying the final day of the 2019 General Assembly Legislative Session.  The short session always passes quickly, and this year was memorable to say the least. Despite the intense news cycle, there were a lot of successes this session on many levels as we passed significant legislation to improve the everyday lives of Virginians. Though the days were long, it was an honor and privilege to lead the House Democratic Caucus this year.

Like most sessions, the bills that passed and that did not pass were a mixed bag of good news and bad news. We had a lot of good pieces of legislation including:

  • removing the cap on autism insurance coverage
  • creating no-excuse absentee voting in 2020
  • increasing access to school counselors
  • several bills that would combat Virginia’s high eviction rate.

At the same time, we also came up short in certain areas, when it came to:

  • ratifying the ERA
  • protecting LGBT rights
  • raising the minimum wage
  • promoting common-sense gun safety

The GOP majority blocked those efforts at every turn.

The Budget

Just as any budget the General Assembly has passed in previous years, this one is not perfect. That said, I was proud to vote for it as I believe it does a lot of good. This “caboose” budget dealt more with amendments as well as how Virginia can manage the influx of revenue coming in from federal tax code changes. In my opinion, voting on the budget is one of the most important parts of my job as your Delegate. Here are just a few highlights of what is included:

 Education (K-12)

  • We will put in $85.7 million in net new funding for K-12 education. At our local level, Fairfax County Public Schools will see an increase in state aid of roughly $7 million.
  • While the biennial budget already included an increase in teacher salaries by 3%, the amendments in the budget passed on Sunday will increase this to 5%. Making teacher pay closer to our national average is part of our effort to address the Commonwealth’s growing teacher shortage.
  • The budget will also allocate $12.2 million to increase the counselor-to-student ratio in public schools as well as $5.7 million for other recommendations of the Select Committee on School Safety.

Higher Ed

  • Our colleges and universities will receive $57.5 million in additional funding for in-state undergraduate affordability under the condition that they freeze tuition rates at FY 2019 levels. The budget will include $15.5 million in new in-state undergraduate financial aid.
  • The budget includes $168 million for Virginia’s share of an innovation campus that Virginia Tech proposes to build in Alexandria. This would be located near the new Amazon campus and would include expanded graduate programs in high-tech fields.

Housing

  • The budget includes $3 million for the Housing Trust Fund – which will raise the total for the biennium to $14 million. This fund is used to increase access to affordable housing and homelessness prevention efforts.

Environment

  • $10 million for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which is used to help urban areas meet Chesapeake Bay restoration requirements.

Fiscal Responsibility

  • We will increase our cash reserves from $565.5 million to $1.45 billion by the end of the biennium. This will equate to roughly 6.7% of general fund revenues. Our long-term goal is at least 8%. Ensuring we have a solid “rainy-day fund” is critical to keeping our AAA bond rating and will help ensure the Commonwealth can weather economic downturns.

While these are just a few of the good things provided in the budget, I was disappointed that it also includes cuts to women’s health, ensuring an accurate count for the 2020 census and arts funding.

That said, final action on the budget is an “up or down” vote. Overall this budget did move the ball forward on a lot of important issues, which is why I voted yes. The budget bill passed the House on a 97-1 vote.

My Legislation

With my new responsibilities as Leader, I introduced a smaller legislative package this year. Though I have spoken of the outcomes of most of my bills in prior editions of my enews, I also want to highlight the following bills I patroned

· HB 2205 would teach high school students about the law and meaning of consent in an age-appropriate and evidence-based manner. This bill has been a process in the making--four legislative sessions, starting with my safe relationships bill in 2016. I am grateful for the work of tireless advocates to ensure the bill’s passage. The bill now sits on the Governor’s desk.

· HB 2282 would allow the Board of Counseling to promulgate regulations for the issuance of temporary licenses to individuals engaged in a counseling, marriage & family therapy, or substance abuse counseling residency for the purpose of meeting the Board's licensure requirement for postgraduate counseling practice during a supervised residency period. The goal of this bill is to increase access to mental health professionals in Virginia. The bill now sits on the Governor’s desk.

· HJ 676 would create a constitutional amendment that one motor vehicle of a veteran who has a 100 percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability would be exempt from state and local taxes. The amendment would also provide that only automobiles and pickup trucks qualify for the exemption. As this is a constitutional amendment, it does not go to the Governor’s desk, rather, I will introduce again next year. Should it pass a second time, it will then be on the ballot for the 2020 election. I am grateful for the support of the Joint Leadership Council (the council of veterans associations in Virginia) as well as the Commissioners of the Revenue Association for all of their support.

 

Equal Rights Amendment

As the Senate resolution in support of the ERA languished in the House Privileges and Elections Committee, which I mentioned in my previous enews, we attempted to bring forward a rules change that would have made it possible that we could discharge the resolution from the committee and bring it to the House Floor. Prior to the rules change vote, I spoke on the House Floor, telling the body, “we can vote to bring the ERA to this floor, this session, so that Virginia can take its rightful place in history as the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA. Every member of the House Democratic caucus is ready to vote for it. And, as we saw in the body down the hall, I am confident that with votes from the other side of the aisle, a majority in this House would vote to pass it. But without a vote…we will never know.” (click here to watch my full speech)

Unfortunately, by a 50-50 tie, the Republican majority blocked attempts to bring the ERA to a full vote on the House Floor. 81% of Virginians support ratification of the ERA. As a Delegate and Leader of the Virginia House Democrats, I feel we have a moral obligation to listen to our constituents. That did not happen. We may not have been able to move the ball forward this session, but House Democrats will not stop fighting until we achieve full equality for all Virginians.

 

Redistricting Reform

After years of advocating for an end to partisan gerrymandering, the House finally got to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that will make real changes to how we draw our legislative boundaries.

The compromise versions of HJ 615 and SJ 306 would establish the Virginia Redistricting Commission. It would be comprised of 16 members tasked with establishing legislative districts every ten years. The membership would consist of eight legislative members (with equal representation from the two major parties—and each member appointed by their own party’s leadership) as well as eight citizen members. The citizen members would be selected by a committee of five retired Virginia judges. Any redistricting plan must have the vote of at least six of the eight citizen members and six of the eight legislative members. If the commission cannot come to a deal, or the General Assembly would fail to adopt the plan recommended by the commission, then districts would be drawn by the Virginia Supreme Court. The plan itself was backed by OneVirginia 2021—an organization dedicated to redistricting reform.

I voted yes on this measure. A fairly common phrase heard throughout Richmond is, “do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” To be frank, I would have preferred a truly independent redistricting commission, but I believe this is a good start. As mentioned in reference to my constitutional amendment, the resolution must pass in identical form next year, and then go to the voters for ratification in November 2020.

Thank You to Team EFC

Thank you to my fabulous, hardworking 2019 session team: my new Legislative Assistant, Tyler Javonillo, Administrative Aide, Betty Moore, Chief of Staff Leigh Nusbaum, Senior Advisor Adam Zuckerman as well as wonderful interns,
Tre Fredrick, Ben Arp, Esther Bouquet. I so appreciate all of their time, energy and tremendous support this session!

General Assembly Week 6

Tomorrow starts the final week of the 2019 General Assembly Session. Despite the ups and downs of the session, I consider it an incredible honor and privilege to lead the House Democratic Caucus. While we have made a lot of progress this year on a variety of important issues, we still have much work to do in this final week. 

 

The Budget

Late last week, the House and Senate both approved budgets. As in the past, both are different and will need to be reconciled. Several members of each body have been appointed to the conference committee to resolve differences between the measures.

One of the most impacted parts of the budget is K-12 funding. The proposed budget from the governor lifts the state share of an initially budgeted 3 percent raise to a 5 percent pay increase for teachers and school staff for the 2019-2020 school year. While both the House and Senate budgets include the teacher salary raise, both bodies cut a lot of other substantial funding that the Governor had included. Virginia still struggles to bring inflation-adjusted school spending back to the levels that existed prior to the 2007-08 recession.

I believe that the House and Senate missed a significant opportunity to close that gap. While the House funding does fund more school counselors, a key priority of the House Select Committee on School Safety, it also cuts $35.6 million from the Governor’s plan to provide additional money to school divisions with higher at-risk populations. The House budget also includes more money than the Senate for higher education spending, but the House refused to fund the Governor’s proposal to increase spending on the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

The large cuts to education funding are what led me to vote against the initial House budget. That said, I am confident in the abilities of House and Senate Democratic Conferees, Delegates Luke Torian and Mark Sickles, as well as Senators Dick Saslaw and Janet Howell to negotiate more funding for education and so many other important programs to our Commonwealth. We continue to fight for additional funding for pre-K for at-risk children, affordable housing and the 2020 census. I remain hopeful that the final budget that comes out of conference can be one that I can support and that all Virginians can be proud of.

 

Tax Conformity Compromise Update

As I mentioned last week, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have worked on a compromise on the tax conformity issue. This deal has the potential to benefit many hardworking Virginians, including those most impacted by the new federal tax structure. Additionally, this bill will provide conformity with the new federal tax law. Without it, Virginia would have needed to make significant changes to our financial systems, which in turn would have caused confusion and delays for Virginians receiving their tax refunds. Passing conformity in a timely manner is something my Democratic colleagues and I have insisted upon all along.

The conformity bill gives $390 million to 2.5 million taxpayers this year, including $110.2 million to more than 900,000 Virginians who earn less than $50,000 per year. Many will start seeing these refunds this fall, which could be as high as $110 for individuals and $220 for joint filers. Additionally, the bill boosts the standard deduction by half (from $3,000 to $4,500 for individuals and from $6,000 to $9,000 for married couples). This will provide some additional tax relief to Virginians who do not itemize deductions.

The bill also capped the total amount of itemized deductions high-income taxpayers can claim. This inturn, averts a “double dip” that the Trump tax plan gave to the wealthiest taxpayers at the federal level.

This week, the House and Senate passed the bill above the 80% threshold needed to enact the emergency clause to create immediate conformity.  This past Friday, the Governor signed the bill. This means that the Department of Taxation can now start processing tax returns, allowing Virginians to receive refunds. 

 

Redistricting Maps and Reform Bills

Last Wednesday, the Court issued an order to finalize new maps for certain House of Delegates districts in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas of Virginia (the 41st District and Northern Virginia, in general, are not affected by the ruling). The maps create fairer districts that are free of gerrymandering. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, “the plan would move at least 370,000 voters to new districts.” Barring further intervention by the courts, this plan will be in effect for elections this year. You can see more information about the partisan shift in districts by clicking here.

Additionally, the debate over redistricting reform continues within the General Assembly. Both the House and Senate have constitutional amendments that deal with redistricting reform. The Senate’s plan would create a commission with substantial citizen participation, making it so legislators would have total control over the process. While I recognize that the bill is not perfect, I believe it is much better than the House plan that I detailed in last week’s enews. As I mentioned before, that idea would put the control in the hands of a 12 person committee composed of legislators. I voted against that bill as I do not believe this is redistricting reform. Both bills have gone into conference and it is my hope that the final product is something that represents true reform and not just window dressing.

 

The Equal Rights Amendment

Though the ERA continues to be stuck in legislative purgatory in the House Privileges and Elections Committee, I continue to be proud of my colleagues, Delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy and Hala Ayala for patroning the bill that would ratify this important amendment. I also commend and support both of my colleagues, Delegate Hala Ayala and Delegate Marcus Simon for introducing two House rules changes this past week. Passage of these changes would bring the measure to the House floor for a vote.

We will encounter opposition from the other side in the form of a dueling rules change. That said, we also know that a few House Republicans have not only spoken publicly about their support for the ERA, but that one even introduced a resolution ratifying the ERA last year. I am confident that should the measure be brought to a vote on the floor, we will pass the ERA in the House. 81% of Virginians support the ERA and the Senate has already passed an ERA resolution with bipartisan support. This resolution deserves a vote on the House floor. You can follow the debate on the rules change this Wednesday.

 

Remembering Parkland

On Thursday, we honored the precious lives of those lost in the Parkland shooting one year ago. Firearms are still the second leading cause of death among children and teens. I spoke on the floor about my caucus’ frustration with the fact that time and time again, this body has done nothing to combat this issue. Between the work of the Safe Virginia Initiative and the Administration, our caucus introduced seventeen gun safety bills this session. These included creating an extreme risk protective order, requiring people to report lost or stolen guns, requiring universal background checks as well as my bills, HB 2206 and HB 2797. Unfortunately, all of these measures failed.

As I stated on the floor, "The time to pass common sense gun safety measures is long overdue. Doing nothing is NOT an option." (Click here to watch my speech).

General Assembly Week 5

The past week has been another incredibly difficult and painful one for the Commonwealth of Virginia. I remain extremely disappointed in our Governor and Attorney General and deeply concerned about the allegations towards our Lieutenant Governor. As our House Democratic Caucus statement issued on Thursday, February 7th (click here to read the full statement) says, “Much of the discussion has, rightfully, centered around who we are as Democrats, as we continue to stand against racism and sexual assault. We respect all survivors and believe they should be rightfully heard…this is not a partisan problem, but a problem for all Virginians and all Americans.” The following Friday, the House and Senate Democratic Caucus also issued the tough but, we believe appropriate, statement (click here to read) asking the Lieutenant Governor to step down. Both statements were made after many long and difficult conversations on what the best next steps for our Commonwealth would be.

Just as I wrote last week, please know that I remain by your side, fighting for the issues that matter to us - fairness, inclusivity and equality for all, while standing up for those most vulnerable in our communities.

 

Tax Conformity Compromise

Earlier this week, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have been working on a compromise on the tax conformity issue. This deal has the potential to benefit many hardworking Virginians, including those most impacted by the new federal tax structure. Additionally, this bill will provide conformity with the new federal tax law. Without it, Virginia would need to make significant changes to our financial systems, which in turn could cause confusion and delays. Passing conformity in a timely manner is something I and my Democratic colleagues have insisted upon for months.

This bill needs to be enacted as emergency legislation so that it can go into effect before July 1st. Therefore, it requires an 80% vote by both the House and the Senate to pass. The bill passed out of the House Finance Committee on Friday on a 20-1 vote, with my support (and one Delegate abstaining). The earliest we would likely vote on the bill would be tomorrow.

We also owe a particular debt of gratitude to our caucus policy chair and ranking member of the Finance Committee, Delegate Vivian Watts, as this compromise bill is largely based on her well thought out tax plan.

 

Crossover

We have now moved past Crossover Day. Last Monday, we spent over 9 hours on the House floor debating over 300 pieces of legislation to ensure it was all acted on in time for the Crossover deadline the following day. Generally, this requires long days in considering bills that can significantly affect the Commonwealth, but Tuesday was surprisingly brief. Nonetheless, I am again reminded of how much I value the opportunity to represent my community in the House of Delegates. I was pleased to have several pieces of legislation cross over to the Senate as well. I will have more details on my bills and a breakdown of the budget in next week’s edition of my enews.

 

Update on Key Pieces of Legislation

I also want to give you an update on some other key bills that passed from the House.

 

Redistricting Reform

As I have mentioned in my previous enews, I believe that constituents need to choose their representatives—not the other way around. A so-called redistricting bill came out of the House Privileges and Elections Committee (HJ 615). What gave me a lot of pause was how the bill dictated the makeup of the Commission. This comission would, “consist of twelve commissioners, four to be appointed by the Governor, four to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates, and four to be appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules.” HJ 615 claims that “Equal representation shall be given to the two major political parties.” What if one party controlled the Governor’s mansion, the House and Senate? How can we truly guarantee that those appointed by these bodies are a fair representation of both political parties? Delegate Mark Sickles offered a floor amendment that would have made this bill a true redistricting bill, but the Speaker ruled it out of order. HJ 615, which I believe does not give us non-partisan redistricting, passed the House on a 51-48 (party line) vote, without my support.

 

Casino Gambling and Sports Betting

Several bills were filed this year to legalize both gambling and sports betting in Virginia. This is a decision that will have long standing ramifications for our Commonwealth moving forward. I believe we need to weigh all options and outcomes before rushing to judgement. HB 2321 would create the Gaming Study Commission to analyze the Commonwealth's existing gaming industry and proposals to expand gaming in Virginia. Specifically, this includes the following: commercial casino gaming, in-person and online sports wagering, online and internet gaming, tribal gaming, historical horse racing, and electronic devices approved by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to be placed in establishments licensed by the Authority. The bill passed both the Rules Committee (on a 13-3 vote) and the full House Floor (with an 84-15 vote) with my support and now heads to the Senate.
 

Floor Speech

On Thursday, as we prepared to debate the budget, I gave a floor speech reaffirming the values and mission of the House Democratic Caucus. I will always advocate for all Virginians. You can read my full remarks here and watch a video of the speech here. I closed my remarks by saying, “Where we can, we will continue to work diligently to find common ground with our colleagues on the other side. And where we cannot, we will continue to fight, unapologetically, for those values and principles we hold dear.”


Jewish Advocacy Day

On Wednesday, I had the distinct honor to recognize visitors in the gallery for Jewish Advocacy Day, as well as Rabbi Tom Gutherz of Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) in Charlottesville, who gave the invocation. Additionally, I was also pleased to address the statewide Jewish community earlier that morning before they met with their legislators at the Capitol. Rabbi Gutherz, who presided over his congregation when it was targeted by anti-semitic groups in August of 2017, offered timely words in his remarks. His closing lines, quoted from an ancient Rabbi, particularly struck me. I feel they ring true particularly this past week:

"You are not obligated to complete the task

But neither are you free to desist from it."

There are only two weeks left in the 2019 Legislative Session. I look forward to making progress in creating a Virginia that works for everyone. 

General Assembly Week 4

This was a difficult week for Virginia. Friday afternoon, I was shocked to hear the news about Governor Ralph Northam. I find it very difficult to reconcile that image with the man with whom I worked closely with for so many years. That evening, I joined the House Caucus and the Legislative Black Caucus in making the difficult, but I feel appropriate, decision in calling for his resignation. Unfortunately I feel the Governor has lost the trust of Virginians. Having said that, I appreciate Governor Northam's tremendous service and dedication to the Commonwealth of Virginia over so many years, which included providing health insurance for over 400,000 working Virginians. By stepping aside, this will allow the Commonwealth to begin healing.

As Leader of the House Democratic Caucus and the Delegate for the 41st House District, I remain by your side, fighting for the issues that matter to us - fairness, inclusivity and equality for all, while standing up for those most vulnerable in our communities.

 

Update On Legislation I Presented This Week

 

HB 2282--Temporary Licenses for Counseling Residents

I am pleased that HB 2282 passed the House unanimously on Wednesday. This bill would allow the Board of Counseling to promulgate regulations for the issuance of temporary licenses to individuals engaged in a counseling, marriage & family therapy, or substance abuse counseling residency for the purpose of meeting the Board's licensure requirement for postgraduate counseling practice during a supervised residency period. This legislation now heads on to the Senate.

 

HB 2203-Removing the Sunset of Fingerprint Background Checks for Child Care Providers

On Tuesday morning, I presented HB 2203, which I carried on behalf of the Governor’s Administration. This bill would have repealed the expiration date on the requirement that childcare providers undergo fingerprint-based national criminal history background checks. Unfortunately, the bill failed to report on a 3-2 vote. The irony is, support for the sunset on the background checks is something that only a small fraction of House Republicans support. The Senate unanimously supports these background checks.  At the federal level, only one Senator voted against these background checks being in place and a Republican-dominated House adopted the law by unanimous voice vote in 2014. Allowing this sunset to stand will risk Virginia losing millions of dollars in child development grants. My bill would have prevented this from happening, not only ensuring that federal funds remain accessible to Virginia small businesses, but more importantly that child care would remain more safe and secure.

 

HB 2206-Making Gun Safes Tax Exempt

On Wednesday, I presented HB 2206, which would have exempted the purchase of biometric and dial-locking gun safes under $1,000 from state sales tax, encouraging safe storage of existing firearms, before Finance Subcommittee 2. This is the fourth session that I have introduced this bill and I am pleased to say that each year, support for this bill has grown. This year, the following groups supported the bill:

  • Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
  • Virginia Citizens Defense League
  • Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Virginia College of Emergency Medicine
  • Virginia Retail Merchants Association
  • Virginia Manufacturers Association
  • Virginia Sheriffs Association
  • Police Benevolent Association

In addition to the above, we also heard compelling testimony from Dr. Sam Bartle, a pediatric ER physician. He shared gripping stories of two young children he treated for self-inflicted gunshot wounds just that week because the guns in their house were not locked up in a safe. Unfortunately, this bill died for lack of a second. Though the opposition to this bill seems to be based on partisanship, I will never stop fighting for common sense gun safety.

 

Tax Conformity Update

On Monday, the Finance Committee met to vote on several bills related to our changing tax code. As I stated last week in my floor speech, I share the concerns of millions of Virginians. If we do not pass a bill conforming Virginia’s tax code to the federal code, we risk serious consequences. I am disappointed to report that the majority party failed to bring a clean conformity bill to the floor in a timely manner. As Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne stated in his response to my letter to him last week, “deconformity may result in increased complexity and expense for many Virginia taxpayers.” It is my hope that we can promptly rectify this issue to ensure all Virginians can receive their tax refunds in a timely manner.

 

Arts Advocacy Day at the Capitol

It was a privilege to address Virginians for the Arts earlier this week at the beautiful Carpenter Theatre. I spoke about the importance of the Commonwealth’s role in promoting the arts and what Virginians can do to ensure that it stays vibrant. As a co-founder of the General Assembly’s Arts Caucus, it has been my distinct pleasure to serve as its co-chair and later chair for the past six years. This year, I am proud to pass the baton off to my very capable colleague, Delegate Cheryl Turpin from Virginia Beach. Even though my role has changed, I will always be an outspoken advocate for the Arts in Virginia.

 

Visitors to Richmond

Another week passed with many great visitors including representatives from the Virginia Education Association, the NoVA District PTA, George Mason University, SEIU and the Medical Society of Virginia. I look forward to visitors and constituents stopping by this week as well!

General Assembly Week 3

Another week of session has flown by and we have started more actively voting on bills on the floor. That said, I think some of the best news all week came on Friday, when the President finally agreed to re-open the Government for three weeks. This petty power play significantly impacted my district and the Commonwealth of Virginia as a whole. While I am relieved that many of my constituents can now not only get back to work, but get paid to do so, this shutdown accomplished nothing other than to lower our nation’s standing in the world and attack our federal workers and contractors. Shutting down the government as leverage does not work. Democrats and Republicans of prior administrations can attest to that. Furthermore, temporary three-week fixes are not sustainable for our country’s long-term financial health and national security. It is my hope that we can find a long-term solution that does not harm the livelihoods of so many Virginians and Americans in general.

 

Update on Redistricting Reform

As many of you may know, there has been an ongoing court case related to the drawing of House of Delegates districts in the Richmond and Hampton Roads Area. The litigation focuses on eleven racially gerrymandered districts. This week, federal judges selected a redistricting map from the appointed special master (in charge of redrawing the map). The court ordered the special master to complete a final plan by this Tuesday. Furthermore, either side can submit objections by Feb. 1. Following this, the judges will plan on implementing the new map soon after.

Caucus Chair Charniele Herring and I (as the Democratic Leader), issued a joint statement on the issue, “When a federal court rules that eleven Virginia legislative districts are racial gerrymanders in violation of the U.S. Constitution, it is incumbent upon our legislature and judicial system to ensure Virginians are represented in constitutional districts. A consequence of undoing gerrymandered maps is that the partisan make-up of some districts may change, but we cannot place partisan politics above the U.S. Constitution. We are pleased that Virginians will have constitutional districts for the November elections.”

Please know that I support the goal of creating independent entities to establish congressional and state legislative districts in Virginia that functionswith transparency and prohibits gerrymandering. Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.

 

Tax Conformity

As tax season approaches, I share the concerns of millions of Virginians that if we do not pass a billconforming Virginia’s tax code to the federal code this week, we risk serious consequences. To that end, Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw and I jointly sent a letter to Virginia’s Secretary of Finance, Aubrey Layne requesting an estimation from his office about when Virginians will be impacted by the disruption of the current non-conformity of the Virginia tax law to the federal tax code. This is a key priority for both House and Senate Democrats. You can click here to read the full letter.

Secretary Layne responded by saying (click here to read the full letter) that, “the Internal Revenue Service announced that taxpayers may begin filing tax returns effective January 28th. On this date, Virginia tax will receive electronically-filed state tax returns for tax year 2018. However, while they will accept returns, the agency will not be able to process returns or issue refunds. Past experience indicates that by February 6, Virginia Tax could receive about 650,000 returns.” He further added that because returns will not be processed this year until the conformity issue is resolved, taxpayers will not receive refunds as promptly as they have come to expect. In addition, the “Where’s My Refund” website application, may not be able to provide information on the status of individual returns, unlike in prior years. He closed by warning that, “deconformity may result in increased complexity and expense for many Virginia taxpayers.”

I also spoke about these letters and why we need to act now on tax conformity, on the floor. You can view my speech here.

 

Martin Luther King Day

MLK Day is always very busy at the General Assembly. Nearly all local, state and federal offices are closed while the Capitol is full of advocates, lobbyists and visitors. MLK Day is the major lobbying day for those on both sides of the gun issue.

I was proud to yet again to join hundreds of Virginians at the Bell Tower by the Capitol to rally in support of commonsense gun safety laws and to remember the victims of gun violence. This annual gathering was meaningful, powerful and well attended this year, as always. We were privileged to hear from all three of our statewide office-holders who share our concerns about the scourge of gun violence.

I am proud to have consistently introduced bills that I believe constitute commonsense gun safety. This year, it was also a privilege to co-chair the Safe Virginia Initiative, which took place across the Commonwealth with listening sessions about how we can do better to prevent gun violence. Though most of our SVI bills did not move forward, one of mine is still alive will be heard on Wednesday afternoon. This particular bill that has the backing of both the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Virginia Citizens Defense League. The bill,
HB 2206, would exempt the purchase of biometric and dial-locking gun safes under $1000 from state sales tax, encouraging safe storage of existing firearms. This bill represents an incredibly rare moment for both sides of a contentious issue to come together. In addition to the Virginia Sheriffs Association, Police Benevolent Association, the Virginia College of Emergency Medicine and the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I am pleased to announce that the Virginia Retail Merchant Association is also supporting this bill. It is my hope that this legislation will make it to Governor Northam’s desk later this year. If you are interested in supporting the bill, it will be heard on Wednesday afternoon in Finance Subcommittee #2, you can email the members here.

Additionally, I presented another common sense gun safety bill last Thursday. HB 2797 would have barred high school students (aged 18-21), from purchasing semi-automatic assault-style weapons with exemptions for those who are in the military, public safety officials or have received a high school diploma or GED. In other words, the bill would have kept high school students, age 18-20 from purchasing these weapons. Although the bill was incredibly narrow in scope (it did not affect private sales), it was passed by indefinitely on a 4-1, party-line vote (which means the bill is dead for the session). 

 

Budget Amendment Presentations

On Monday, I presented Budget Item #485 1 h, which would help Virginia 529 fund a marketing position to help encourage more Virginians with disabilities to sign up for Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Accounts. This builds upon my work in 2015, when I carried the bill to initially establish ABLE Accounts in Virginia and ensured they were free from state means testing in 2016. I am appreciative to have the support of Mary Morris, Virginia 529’s CEO, long time disability advocate Matthew Shapiro and former Senator (and former co-Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee), Walter Stosch who carried the Senate companion to my 2015 bill in support.

On Wednesday, I presented Budget Item 134 12h, which would provide fund my bill, HJ 675. This bill would request a study of experiential learning and workforce development opportunities for high school students in high-demand fields including STEM by the Virginia Department of Education. The bill itself has the backing of the Virginia Education Association, the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, the Prince William County Chamber, the Northern Virginia Chamber Partnership and the statewide Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

The Appropriations Committee does not generally vote on budget amendments until later in the session, so if you feel strongly about these or any other budget amendments, please click here to contact members of the committee.

 

Equal Rights Amendment

I was extremely disappointed to see that HJ 579 which would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and on which I am a co-patron, was defeated in a Privileges and Elections Subcommittee earlier this week and then defeated again after Democrats attempted a procedural motion to bring it back in full committee.  Despite public polling showing that 81 percent of Virginians support the ERA and the presence of dozens of advocates, House Republicans quickly moved to lay all ERA resolutions on the table, procedurally killing them.

I was proud, however, of the incredible floor speech that my colleague, Delegate Delores McQuinn gave in response to these actions. She referenced the claim that women do not need “a piece of paper” to achieve equal rights. My colleague rebutted this claim by saying, "In this place that we often call Mr. Jefferson's House, we typically tend to value words written on a piece of paper. And although God made us equal, the Constitution that was written on a piece of paper did not. While the men who wrote it did some great things, there were countlessnumber of things that were not so great… Now Mr. Speaker, [the 13th and 15th] amendments are words written on a piece of paper. They are significant to me as a woman and to millions of other women. Mr. Speaker, words are indeed powerful, whether they are written or spoken aloud."

At the end of the day, we know that the ERA resolution has bipartisan and bicameral support in Virginia and it deserves to be voted on by the full House. It merely takes political courage.

 

Visitors to Richmond

It is always a treat for me to see so many friends and dedicated individuals representing many groups and organizations in Richmond advocating for their causes. I truly appreciate visitors from the 41st District, as well as others from throughout the Commonwealth taking the time and effort to stop by my office. This past week I was proud to have many groups and individuals stop by including advocates for gun safety, the Arc of Northern Virginia, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the Fairfax County Retired Educators and FEA-Retired (including my predecessor, Former Delegate Jim Dillard!) among others. I look forward to more constituents, friends and groups this week!

General Assembly Week 2

The first full week of session flew by. We are clearly now in the full swing of committee meetings, bills and voting.

I have outlined my legislative agenda below:

HB 2203 would repeal the expiration date on the requirement that childcare providers undergo fingerprint-based national criminal history background checks. Allowing this sunset to stand would risk Virginia losing millions of dollars in child development grants. My bill would prevent this from happening, not only ensuring that federal funds remain accessible to Virginia small businesses, but also that child care would remain more safe and secure.

HB 2204 would clarify that a voter can either give their name and address out loud or in writing, and that giving an election officer a form of identification that contains his full name and current residence address would satisfy this requirement. Furthermore, the bill would end the practice of an election officer repeating the voter’s address out loud.

HB 2205 would expand upon legislation from 2016 and 2017 by strengthening education around consent in Family Life Education.

HB 2206 would exempt the purchase of biometric and dial-locking gun safes under $1000 from state sales tax, encouraging safe storage of existing firearms.

HB 2207 would require health insurance carriers to provide coverage, under any health insurance policy, contract, or plan that includes coverage for prescription drugs on an outpatient basis, for any prescribed contraceptive drug, contraceptive device, or contraceptive procedure.

HB 2281 would establish a presumption for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for certain firefighters, law-enforcement officers, hazardous materials officers, animal protection police officers, or 9-1-1 emergency call takers, dispatchers, or similarly situated employees.

HB 2282 would allow the Board of Counseling to promulgate regulations for the issuance of temporary licenses to individuals engaged in a counseling residency for the purpose of meeting the Board's licensure requirement for postgraduate counseling practice during a supervised residency period.

HB 2454 would require a court to permit an adult chosen by a minor victim in a criminal case to be present in the courtroom during any proceedings in addition to or in lieu of the minor's parent or guardian. Under current law, a court has discretionary authority to permit such person to be present during any proceedings.

HB 2797 would bar high school students (aged 18-21), from purchasing assault weapons or handguns with exemptions for those who are in the military or have received a high school diploma or GED.

HJ 675 would request a study of experiential learning and workforce development opportunities for high school students in high-demand fields including STEM.

HJ 676 would create a constitutional amendment that one motor vehicle of a veteran who has a 100 percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability would be exempt from state and local taxes. The amendment would also provide that only automobiles and pickup trucks qualify for the exemption.

Additionally, I am also carrying two budget amendments, one is to fund HJ 675, my workforce development study and the other helps Virginia 529 fund a marketing position to help encourage more Virginians with disabilities to sign up for Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Accounts. This builds upon my work in 2015, when I carried the bill to initially establish ABLE Accounts in Virginia.

 

House Democratic Caucus press conference

Earlier this week, I was proud to open the Virginia House Democrats Caucus’ press conference where we announced our legislative priorities for the 2019 Session. Last year, we showed what could be accomplished with more House Democrats fighting for the rights of all Virginians, most notably by voting to expand Medicaid. Our legislative agenda this year aims to build on last year’s progress. We will continue to show that House Democrats are fighting for greater opportunity and for the rights of all Virginians. My colleagues shared our proposals which include:

  • Investing in Virginia’s schools
  • Making voting easier and more accessible
  • Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment
  • Addressing the housing crisis
  • Reforming our criminal justice system including ending the practice of driver's license suspensions for non-payment of court fees
  • Addressing the dangers of coal ash and modernizing our electrical grid
  • Tackling the Opioid Crisis

The overall theme for our legislative agenda is "A House for All Virginians." I look forward to advocating for these important issues during the 2019 Session. You can view the entire press conference by clicking here.

 

Committee Meetings

This week was filled with several committee meetings already, as this is the short session and things move very quickly. My first full Finance Committee meeting (click here to view the livestream) took place this past Monday. In addition to voting on several bills, we heard a presentation from Virginia’s Department of Taxation on the impact of the federal tax changes and the Wayfair decision (related to state sales tax and internet sales). Whether and how we conform to the tax code this year is an issue that in the past was fairly non-controversial (in fact, it is usually one of the first bills we voted on each session and would pass out of both the House and Senate unanimously or near unanimously) but in light of the changes to our tax code at the Federal level is undergoing some controversy. 

I also have the privilege to serve on the House Rules Committee—a committee that both majority and minority floor leaders serve on. The Speaker chairs the committee. Rules generally considers bills that pertain to the operation of the General Assembly, resolutions that declare a day/week/month, and creations of studies.  

I will also serve on the Joint Rules Subcommittee which deals with the governing rules of the House and Senate. 

 

State Corporation Commission Appointment Debate

Nearly a year after, Judge James Dmitri stepped down as one of three judges from the State Corporation Commission, the Speaker called a recess on Wednesday afternoon during the floor session, so the Commerce and Labor Committee, on which I serve, “could hold an unusual, 30-minute meeting to interview the SCC candidate who had emerged with full approval of the Senate Republican Caucus.”

My concern, as well as that of our caucus throughout this entire process, is that a candidate for the SCC needs more than 30 minutes of review before being appointed. The SCC is an integral part of our Commonwealth and sets rates for public utilities (electricity), insurance and helps incorporate businesses. Appointees to head the SCC deserve serious and careful vetting, and should not be pushed through by the will of a slim majority of one party. You can read several articles about the debate on the left-hand side, but as I said to the Virginia Mercury, "sunlight did not shine in the Capitol" on Wednesday.

 

Military and Veterans Caucus

I attended the first Military and Veterans Caucus meeting of the session. We started by reviewing proposed legislation. I am proud that my previously mentioned bill, HJ 676, which would create an amendment to Virginia’s Constitution (allowing disabled veterans to claim a personal property tax exemption on one motor vehicle) was included in the Caucus’ legislation.  We also received a presentation by MG Timothy Williams, The Adjutant General of Virginia’s National Guard. As someone who represents a district with a high population of military and veteran families, I am grateful to continue to advocate on their behalf this session.
 

Equal Rights Amendment

Though we have yet to vote on the Equal Rights Amendment here in the House, I am so pleased that the ERA has passed the Senate—and by a wide, bipartisan margin! Virginia once again stands on the precipice of history. If we pass this bill in the House, our Commonwealth becomes the crucial 38th state to ratify the ERA and enshrine it in the US Constitution.  I hope that this is the year we can make that a reality.

 

Visitors to Richmond

Another week passed with many great visitors including representatives from the Fairfax County Professional Firefighters, VOICE, SEIU, Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Fairfax County Democrats. I look forward to visitors and constituents stopping by this week as well!

Democratic Leader Filler-Corn in the News

 

General Assembly Week 1

It has been a whirlwind first week of the 2019 General Assembly Session. I remain optimistic that this will be a session marked with significant, bipartisan gains for all Virginians. Just as we had in 2018, with our historic vote on Medicaid Expansion, it is my hope that the General Assembly can once again come together this session, passing bills which create a Virginia where all can prosper.

The Federal Government Shutdown

That said, the government across the Potomac River could learn a lesson from Virginia’s vote on Medicaid last year. I am deeply distressed that we continue to be in the middle of the longest federal government shutdown in American history. Thousands of families in the 41st District are directly affected by the intransigence coming out of Washington. These furloughs are directly affecting so many Virginians, including many of my constituents’ ability to pay their bills, put food on the table and provide for their families. It hurts Virginia business and throws our country’s financial markets into disarray. While I am grateful that many of our Virginia representatives (such as my congressman, Gerry Connolly and our newest members of Congress, Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria) have been hard at work at re-opening the Government, I urge President Trump to end yet another unnecessary shutdown and let Virginians get back to work.

If you are a resident of Fairfax County currently impacted by the shutdown, Fairfax County has put together a number of resources to help. Please click here for more information.

 

Opening Day of Session

Wednesday, January 9th, was the first day of the 2019 General Assembly Session. Walking into the halls towards the House of Delegates chamber truly reinforces what an honor is to serve as Delegate for the 41st District and as the new Leader of the Virginia House Democrats. Though we will make history in this body with the laws we pass, we are also celebrating history itself.

2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the House of Delegates. Dating back to Jamestown’s establishment of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the House is the oldest English style legislative body in the Western Hemisphere. Per the General Assembly’s new website, “House History,” there have been 9,637 Burgesses and Delegates who have ever served in this body. It has included future Presidents, Governors, Senators and U.S. Representatives, just to name a few. It is humbling to be a part of this storied body.

Many people have also asked what it is like, or if it has sunk in that I am the first woman of any major party to serve as a Leader in the 400-year history of the House. The answer is the same as above, humbling. I recently came across an article about the first two women elected to the House, four years after women achieved the right to vote. The article termed both Sarah Lee Fain of Norfolk and Helen T. Henderson of Buchanan County as, “Legislative Debutantes,”. Despite the sexism they faced as glass ceiling breakers, Delegates Fain and Henderson worked tirelessly for their constituents and earned the respect and esteem of not only their voters but their male colleagues in the House of Delegates themselves. I am grateful for the way these women legislators paved for me and so many others. I see the same spark and fire in the women that I currently serve with and it is my hope that more women step up and run for office in the future too.
 

Governor’s State of the Commonwealth

On Wednesday night, the Governor of Virginia outlined his priorities in his annual State of the Commonwealth. In his speech, he reflected on the progress Virginia has made over the past year and his plans to keep our Commonwealth growing and prospering well into the future. You can watch his speech by clicking here. I look forward to continuing to work with Governor Northam and his cabinet to ensure Virginia reaches its full potential.

 

First Floor Speech as Democratic Leader

On Thursday, I addressed the House of Delegates for the first time as Democratic Leader. I spoke about one of the lessons that I learned on my very first day here, and in future years, is the importance of civility, compromise and working across the aisle. When we do come together, good things do happen for Virginians. We have clear examples of this: in 2013, when we passed a historic transportation bill, and last year in 2018, when we expanded Medicaid for hundreds of thousands of our fellow Virginians. Truly, I am confident that we can find even more common ground in 2019 if we work at it.

I reminded the body that the night before the Governor challenged us – if we want Virginia to be the best place to live, work, and raise a family, we need to come together and grasp this opportunity to:

  • Hire more school counselors and increase teacher pay,
  • Make our tax code fairer for all Virginians,
  • Reduce gun violence and save lives,
  • Protect our environment,
  • Reform our criminal justice system,
  • Remove barriers to voting,

I also urged my colleagues that now is the time to support gender equality by passing the Equal Rights Amendment.

I closed by saying, “This isn’t Washington. House Democrats are here in Richmond to do the people’s work, and we are ready to join together in a bipartisan manner to do great things for Virginia.”You can view my full speech here.
 

Governor’s Gun Safety Legislation Announcement and
Safe Virginia Initiative Press Conference

Prior to the beginning of Session, I was proud to stand with Governor Northam and my colleagues as he rolled out his common sense gun safety priorities earlier this month. His package includes, measures to require universal background checks; establish an Extreme Risk Protective Order; reinstate Virginia’s One Handgun a Month law; prohibit individuals subject to final protective orders from possessing firearms; ban assault firearms; prevent children from accessing firearms; and require individuals to report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement. Click here to see the Governor’s press release.

Two days later, I was proud to stand with my fellow Safe Virginia Initiative (SVI) Co-Chair, Delegate Kathleen Murphy and our four regional SVI chairs, Delegates Delores McQuinn, Chris Hurst, John Bell, & Cliff Hayes on Monday morning, as we released the SVI report on the effects of gun violence in Virginia.

This report summarizes our town halls and roundtables across the Commonwealth over the past few months. It also contains our common sense gun safety legislative priorities. I firmly believe these bills can and will save lives and I hope the General Assembly will act favorably upon them. Doing nothing, with respect to gun safety, is not an option. Click here to access the SVI report. Click here or here to see coverage of the press conference.

 

Visitors to Richmond

It is always a treat for me to see so many dedicated individuals representing many groups and organizations in Richmond advocating for their causes. I truly appreciate visitors from the 41st District, as well as others from throughout the Commonwealth taking the time and effort to stop by my office. This past week I was proud to have many groups and individuals stop by including advocates for the ERA, George Mason University, and constituents visiting for Virginia Bankers Day.

Additionally, on Friday, Rabbi David Kalender joined us from Congregation Olam Tikvah, located in the 41st District, to deliver the invocation on the Floor of the House of Delegates. It was truly an honor to start the day with the inspiring words of my constituent. He was well received by my colleagues. 

It is my privilege to serve in the House of Delegates on your behalf and address the issues that face the 41st District and the Commonwealth as a whole.  I look forward to hearing from you or seeing you in Richmond and/or out and about in the 41st District during the weekends. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you need any assistance from my office.

Sincerely yours,

 

Delegate Filler-Corn in the News

 

For past updates please visit the eNews Archive.

 

Paid for and Authorized by Eileen Filler-Corn for Delegate

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