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.
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!