We are nearing the end of Session, which means intense negotiations are on-going regarding the final budget. I am pleased that the Senate budget includes funding for my fostering futures and kinship care initiatives, which help vulnerable children and their families receive the care and support they need. I am hopeful that these initiatives will make it into the final budget.
This week the Governor signed two of my bills into law. SB 328 requires that nurses aides be trained in observational and reporting techniques and SB 136 requires the SCC to hold hearings, if required by local governing bodies, in the area where electrical transmission lines will be placed. Both initiatives will become effective on July 1, 2016.
My bill SB 137 would require registrar offices to use official emails when contacting absentee voters. This bill passed both the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature. Special thanks to Sue Rosenberg for suggesting the idea behind this bill and for finding ways to improve our voting process.
A bill I co-patroned with Senator Carrico will soon be on the Governor’s desk that would allow jurisdictions to mail summons to offenders who pass school buses when the flashing stop signs are displayed. Current law requires that summons be hand delivered. Some differences still need to be ironed out between the House and Senate versions and I will participate as a Senate conferee to conform the bills.
Public Hearings on I-66
As part of a bipartisan effort to ease congestion for commuters, another eastbound lane will be added to I-66 from the Beltway to Ballston. Tolling will now allow single occupant vehicles on I-66 during rush hour times and two person vehicles will continue to ride for free. By 2020, only three person vehicles will be allowed on I-66 during rush hour restrictions without paying the toll.
Because the I-66 compromise entails significant changes to the Northern Virginia area, VDOT has scheduled several public hearings on March 7, 8 and 9. The hearings will provide the opportunity to view project displays, watch a formal presentation, and provide public comment. You can find information about the hearings below or on my website. All hearing times are 6-8 p.m.
Monday, March 7, 2016
Washington-Lee High School Cafeteria
1301 N. Stafford Street, Arlington, VA 22201
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Eagle Ridge Middle School Cafeteria
42901 Waxpool Road, Ashburn, VA 20148
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Visit Transform66.org to view a live stream beginning at 6:30 p.m.
VDOT Northern Virginia District Office
4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030
K-12 and Rethinking High School Education in Virginia
A key part of the Governor’s educational initiative would allow students to gain greater workforce experience in high school. During the last two years of high school, students would have the option of pursuing technical or trade skills or more educational courses. This high school redesign program would provide students with the flexibility to gain credit for workplace experience, such as internships, while developing valuable technical skills that may further their employment opportunities. I strongly support the Governor’s effort. In fact, I have submitted budget language for several years that would allow high school students to pursue an Associate's Degree while still in high school.
Next Saturday March 12th will be Sine Die - the adjournment of the General Assembly. I am proud of my successes to make our Commonwealth a safer and more welcoming place to live. From improving gun control and curbing domestic violence to improving educational opportunities for TANF recipients, we have made progress. Stay tuned for an update on the adopted budget.
On March 1st, Virginians will have the opportunity to choose their Democrat and Republican nominees for the next president of the United States. I am excited to support Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as I believe she is the most qualified and able candidate from either party. This Saturday is the last day for in-person absentee voting, which takes place at your local registrar's office: here are links for Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun. You can find your polling location here. See you at the polls!
BILLS ON THE GOVERNOR’S DESK
Three of my bills have passed both chambers of the General Assembly and now await Governor McAuliffe’s signature. SB 136 requires the State Corporation Commission to hold a hearing in an area affected by a new electrical line if the local governing body requests such a hearing. This makes it easier for communities to stay updated on the construction projects that affect them. SB 361, another local government bill and a tree conservation effort, will allow localities to post signs on private property due to be redeveloped with a single family home. Finally, SB 328 will add observation and reporting techniques to the curriculum for nurse aide education programs. I am proud that these measures received strong bipartisan support.
CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
Overall, the budget produced in the Senate is a “win” for children and families in the Commonwealth. The budget includes a 2% raise for teachers, as well as $120.6 million for additional classroom support that does not require matching local funds, among other enhancements for public K-12 education. I support the increased state funding because localities need additional resources to put great teachers and the latest technology in every classroom. The Senate budget also includes $5 million to enhance children’s mental health crisis response services.
TANF RECIPIENTS RECEIVE WORKFORCE TRAINING
I’m very proud that my budget amendment to expand workforce training for TANF recipients made it into the budget. The Senate allocated $4 million to five community colleges that will allow low income parents to further their economic opportunities, enabling them to provide additional financial support and stability for their children.
My bill protecting juveniles by restricting solitary confinement in correctional facilities died in the House Criminal Law Subcommittee on the same day that the Washington Post published a strong endorsement of my bill and the effort to reform juvenile isolation laws in Virginia. However, both the Senate and House budgets would close one youth detention facility and use the savings to reinvest in community based programs. These proposals are versions of a more comprehensive proposal introduced by Governor McAuliffe. I support efforts to promote community and family based rehabilitation over more punitive methods and will continue my efforts to reform the juvenile justice system.
As I said in my floor speech, I am disappointed to tell you that, yet again, Virginia failed its 400,000 uninsured residents who desperately need access to affordable health care. Governor McAuliffe’s budget included $3 billion from the federal government that would create $157 million in budget savings based on Medicaid Expansion that both the House and Senate Finance Committees removed in their proposed budgets. Without Medicaid Expansion, hospitals close, Virginia families are less healthy, and our economy suffers. Although I am pleased to support new investments that strengthen public schools and improvements in mental health services for children, this budget is marred by its failure to close the coverage gap.
Next week, I will speak on the Senate floor in celebration of Women’s History Month, which is March. When you go into the voting booth on Tuesday, remember the women who fought for the right to vote. Their success is a testament to the power of conviction, passion and courage.
Important Protective Order Legislation Moves Forward, 10 Bills Still in Play
Tuesday was Crossover and I still have ten bills in play that will, if enacted, improve our public K-12 educational system, provide a safety net for foster youth ages 18-21, and make our healthcare system more patient-focused. I am very proud to report that my bill prohibiting firearm possession for violators of protective orders reported from its House subcommittee. This was a bipartisan effort and will make a big difference in keeping survivors of domestic violence safe.
Political partisanship continues in Richmond regarding the permanent appointment of Judge Roush. Governor McAuliffe can again reappoint Judge Roush temporarily after the General Assembly adjourns.
My budget amendments would create substantial improvements in the area of K-12 education, workforce training and safety net programs- we’ll see if these improvements are adopted in the budget published on Sunday.
BILLS MOVING THROUGH THE HOUSE
Two bills would help local governments keep communities informed on important issues. SB 136 would require the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to hold a hearing in an area affected by an electrical transmission line if requested by the locality’s governing body. SB 361 allows local governments to post notices on properties where infill lot grading plans are pending for a new single family home.
My bill SB 328 seeks to improve healthcare in the Commonwealth by including observation and reporting techniques as necessary requirements in nurse aide education training programs. NVAN and local committees concerned about aging issues advocated for this bill, which the House will hear next week.
CHARTER SCHOOL AMENDMENT DEFEATED IN SENATE
On Monday I spoke in opposition to Senator Obenshain’s proposed amendment to the Virginia constitution that would allow the state Board of Education to authorize charter schools. Localities bear most of the cost, so they should retain control over the decision making process. Loudoun, which has two of the six charter schools in Virginia, provides a good example. Loudoun funds its Middleburg Community Charter School at the same level as its pubic schools, applies the same rigorous academic standards and requires that Middleburg Community Charter School teachers meet the professional criteria established by the Loudoun Superintendent.
The state should provide more funding to traditional schools instead of dictating when and how localities must fund charter schools. Senator Obenshain’s bill was narrowly defeated.
I worked very hard to provide funding to workforce development initiatives, public K-12 education and social services programs through budget amendments that may be included in the Senate budget to be published on Sunday. My budget amendments included funding for: foster youth going to college, TANF recipients receiving workforce training, mental health services in schools, and educational programs about the dangers of recreational drug use on college campuses.
I also provided a budget amendment for a pilot dual degree program, which would allow students to obtain college credit while working towards a high school diploma. This measure works in tandem with Governor McAuliffe’s effort to modernize high schools by allowing youth greater flexibility to pursue college level classes or workforce training in high school. Senator Miller is carrying the legislation to improve high school requirements, which will now be heard in the House.
Thank you for your continued interest in my work in the General Assembly. I am committed to improving our quality of life in the Commonwealth and appreciate your support.
I am happy to say my colleagues in the Senate have moved forward several of my bills that seek to help children. SB 436 would expand foster care to age 21, SB 433 would allow relatives of foster youth to receive financial support after certain conditions have been met, and SB 215 would require regulations on limiting the use of solitary confinement in juvenile correctional facilities. My fostering futures and kinship care bills both passed out of Senate Finance unanimously this week, and my bill to limit juvenile isolation passed the Senate on a 28-11 vote.
In other news, Governor McAuliffe reached a compromise on I-66 that I support but will continue to monitor to make sure that this project meets expectations. Next week is “Crossover,” which means that we’ll have a chance to evaluate and vote on bills that originated in the House. Stay tuned!
On Wednesday, Governor McAuliffe announced that his administration would support widening I-66 inside the Beltway in concurrence with tolling single drivers during rush hour and expanding the multimodal capacity of buses and carpools when the project commences. Two passenger vehicles will continue to be exempt from the tolls but by 2020 only three person vehicles will be exempt from the tolls. The widening of I-66 would apply to a four mile stretch between the Beltway and Ballston and the additional lane would not expand the existing footprint of the road.
Public Hearings for Electrical Line Construction
My bill SB 136, which requires the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to hold a public hearing in the area affected by the construction of an electrical transmission line if asked by a local governing body, passed the Senate unanimously. Currently, the SCC is required to conduct a hearing in the affected area only if requested by 20 or more interested parties. I carried SB 136 at the request of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to ensure that members of the community can stay informed and make their concerns heard.
High-Tech Businesses Choose 31st District
I am very proud that high-tech businesses Opower and AvePoint decided to keep their businesses in the 31st District. OPower, a global leader in cloud-based software, will invest $10.45 million to expand its headquarters in Arlington. This means that Arlington will keep 357 high-paying jobs and create 70 new ones. AvePoint Inc., a leader in cross-platform innovation, will add 55 new jobs to its business in Arlington. These businesses chose NoVA because of its diverse and well educated workforce, coupled with an entrepreneurial and creative culture that we have cultivated.
I wrote a letter to the editor that the Washington Post published yesterday, explaining why I think that reducing the use of juvenile isolation in correctional facilities is important. In brief, the use of solitary confinement can be mentally and physically damaging to juveniles and we should work to make juvenile isolation safer and rare. My bill directs the Juvenile Justice Board to create regulations that limit the circumstances under which juvenile isolation may be used and requires the use of less restrictive means prior to the use of isolation. SB 215 has passed the Senate and will now go to the House.
Next week, I will keep you updated with my bills as they move through the House. Have a safe and happy Valentine’s day with the ones you love:)
Regulating Juvenile Confinement, Raising the Minimum Wage, & Fighting for Foster Youth
This week, I fought for limiting the use of juvenile isolation in correctional facilities, raising the minimum wage, and lowering the student-teacher ratios for ESL students. I am committed to promoting social and criminal justice by championing legislation that enables young people and families to make positive choices about their futures.
In other news, I am very happy to report that my bill prohibiting individuals with emergency protective orders from possessing a firearm when in the home of the alleged victim passed the Senate for the second year in a row. I am hopeful that the bill will pass the House. Also - my legislation to provide a safety net for foster youth between the ages of 18 and 21 and another bill to help relatives become foster parents passed out of committee.
Social and Criminal Justice
In Virginia, we can isolate a youth in a juvenile correctional facility up to five days, even though research shows that solitary confinement heightens the negative effects of mental illness and disproportionately affects younger and disabled detainees. My bill SB 215 works to restrict the use of solitary confinement in juvenile correctional facilities by directing the Board of Corrections to develop regulations on room segregation: including the reasons a juvenile may be isolated, the training of staff, and developing plans for improving behavioral outcomes for the juvenile. SB 215 passed out of Rehab and Social Services Committee today.
Income inequality enables a cycle of poverty that traps many of Virginia’s families. That is why I patroned a bill to raise the minimum wage over the course of three years. A full time minimum wage worker in Virginia makes $15,080 each year, which would put a family of two below the poverty line. My bill was defeated in the Commerce and Labor Committee, along with other bills that addressed income inequality.
SB 659 would shrink the student-teacher ESL ratio from 59 students per teacher to 45 students per teacher. Research shows that lower class sizes help improve scholastic performance and student engagement. ESL learners face additional challenges in mastering material not in their native language, and reducing their class sizes will help them achieve greater academic success. I’m proud that SB 659 passed the Education and Health Committee on Thursday. It will now be heard in Finance.
My clean energy bill that requires a more efficient biomass production for producers to receive renewable energy credits will be heard in Commerce and Labor on Monday. Protecting our environment, like promoting social justice, will continue to be a priority for me.
Thank you for your continued support and encouragement. It is an honor to represent you in Richmond and I always look forward to hearing from you. Together, we can move Virginia forward.
This week I made headway on several important issues.
My legislation to protect LGBTQ Virginians resulted in a letter to the state police requiring the collection of sexual orientation and gender identification hate crime data. We need to protect all Virginians equally under the law, including the 183,000 Virginians who identify as LGBTQ. Sexual orientation accounted for 20.8% of the total number of hate crimes in 2013, according to the latest hate crimes statistics report. I will continue to make Virginia a more welcoming and safe place for everyone.
Campus Sexual Assault:
Two of my bills build on the 2015 omnibus legislation that addressed sexual assault on college campuses. The legislation provides the next steps in protecting our college campuses and holding violent perpetrators accountable. Both bills passed out of committee. SB 83 clarifies aspects of the Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between universities and law enforcement agencies, while SB 81 requires the Department of Criminal Justice Services to develop and provide curriculum and multidisciplinary training modules on trauma informed sexual assault investigations.
I tried to give localities authority over gun shop proximity to schools, but the bill failed to report on a party line vote. I also presented bills that would take firearms away from folks under an emergency protective order and from those convicted of misdemeanor sexual assaults against a household or family member. These bills did not pass, but hopefully some legislation will pass that protects women from those who may carry firearms and are the subjects of protective orders. This issue is part of a deal that Governor McAuliffe and Speaker Howell negotiated that includes restoring reciprocity of firearm rights with various states. We will see how this deal ultimately plays out.
I am proud to say that my bill enabling foster youth between the ages of 18 to 21 to continue to receive services was voted out of the authorizing committee this morning. Another similar bill was approved that provides foster payments to relatives who agree to permanency arrangements for youth residing with them. Hopefully, these bills will pass the Finance Committee and the House and the Senate, and ultimately become law.
Next week, I will fight for an increase in the minimum wage and for enacting strong limits on the isolation of juveniles in correctional facilities. Stay tuned as I continue fighting for our progressive values.
The General Assembly was not in session yesterday, January 22nd, because of the weather. Please be safe this weekend and check the National Weather Service for updates. Despite the shortened week, I have stayed busy fighting for evidence based gun safety laws and defending several bills that passed out of committee, including a campus sexual assault bill that improves communication between universities and law enforcement on sexual assault investigations.
GUN SAFETY: On Monday, I spoke on a point of personal privilege on the importance of common sense gun laws. We cannot keep ignoring the senseless loss of life due to firearms, and I am committed to carrying legislation to address Virginia’s lax gun safety laws. This year, I patroned five bills (SB 138, SB 156, SB 214, SB 323, SB 546) aimed at protecting Virginia’s citizens from firearm violence.
SEXUAL ASSAULT: My bill strengthening campus sexual assault response procedures passed the Senate Education and Health Committee unanimously. SB 83 would require that Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between universities and local law enforcement indicate which law enforcement organization would have the primary responsibility for a sexual assault investigation. The bill would also require that the MOUs specify the procedures for sharing information during an investigation. An inclusive stakeholder group convened as part of Governor McAuliffe’s Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Assault recommended the strategy contained in SB 83. I have bills coming before committees next week that would raise the minimum wage, require the reporting of LGBT hate crimes and make absentee voting easier.
Stay tuned, as I continue to fight for our shared values and for a better quality of life in the 31st District and throughout the Commonwealth.
The Senate convened on Wednesday January 13th, 2016. Once again, I enjoyed the thrill of raising my right hand to swear allegiance to the U.S. Constitution. Serving my fellow Virginians is a great honor and a responsibility I take very seriously. As promised, here is an update on my activities in Richmond. If you are in McLean on Saturday, be sure to stop by the Town Hall and keep me informed about the issues that matter to you.
I am delighted to say that I have been reappointed to serve on three important committees: Local Government, Rehabilitation and Social Services, and Transportation. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I stood with fellow lawmakers to support the Women’s Equality Coalition and the Women’s Pro-Choice Coalition, respectively. As Senate Chair of the Women’s Healthcare Caucus, I am committed to improving the health of women and families throughout the Commonwealth.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Republican shenanigans to start. On the very first day of Session, the Republican majority modified the rules in the Senate to ban the press from the Senate floor. The measure passed on a strict party line vote, with no Democrats voting for the measure and no Republicans voting against it. I strongly object to this action, and believe that this move is in direct conflict with our value of greater transparency in government.
Speaking of press, be sure to check out my website for updates of news clips that discuss my legislation. This week WAMU covered my objections to Republican plans to oust Supreme Court Justice Jane Roush. The Connection Newspapers discussed citizen support for my Fostering Futures bill, which helps foster youth transition to adulthood by providing continued assistance through the ages of 18 to 21. The Connection also discussed the proximity of gun stores to schools, which I hope to limit by passing legislation that would enable local government to prohibit gun stores within 1000 feet of schools. Our children should be able to learn in a safe environment.
I am honored to serve you in Richmond and will continue to work hard for my constituents in the 31st District and for Virginians throughout the Commonwealth.