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.
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.
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.
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.