Thanks to all who attended my recent legislative Town Hall Meetings in Arlington and Lee District. We discussed issues including the budget, ethics reforms, gun safety, homelessness among our veterans, and transportation improvements on Route 1. Other topics that came up ranged from in-state tuition rates for students granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status by the federal government to how to best prepare teachers educating children with dyslexia.
If you were unable to join us, I hope to see you Saturday, Feb. 14 from 10:30 a.m. – noon at the Mount Vernon Government Center with state Sen. Toddy Puller and Del. Scott Surovell; or from 2:30 - 4 p.m. at the Charles Houston Recreation Center in Old Town Alexandria with Del. Rob Krupicka.
Many of my colleagues and I are greatly concerned with how we can stem the tide of preventable gun violence. I am a founding member of a newly formed organization, American State Legislators For Gun Violence Prevention. We have spent a great deal of time researching best practices for reducing preventable gun deaths.
To that end, I introduced two gun safety bills this year. The first would have required universal background checks to close the “gun-show loophole;” prohibited the use of a gun by a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and repealed the right for concealed carry permit holders to openly carry semi-automatic weapons with large capacity ammunition clips in our urban centers including Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax. Unfortunately the Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated the bill.
For reasons beyond my comprehension, the committee also defeated my bill that would have held adults accountable if they allow children aged 4 and younger to hold or use a gun. I was shocked when a National Rifle Association representative testified that some toddlers may be ready for firearms training.
My proposal to reestablish a Virginia Commission on the Prevention of Human Trafficking passed its first hurdle, winning approval from the Rules Committee and now awaits funding by the Finance Committee.
For years I have worked to address the tragic crime of human trafficking. While many think of trafficking as just an international issue, it often occurs domestically entrapping both immigrants and citizens. Hard as it is to believe, there have even been gang-operated trafficking rings in our area; Fairfax girls were trafficked while still enrolled in high school and pimps offered young girls for prostitution door-to-door along part of Columbia Pike in Arlington.
The Commission would study human trafficking in the Commonwealth, provide services to victims, and develop strategies to fight the scourge of modern day slavery.
One significant tax loophole that I am working with the Governor to close deals with Online Travel Companies (OTCs) like Expedia.com and Hotels.com to remit the full retail tax on hotel rooms they sell. Currently, OTCs only remit taxes on the wholesale price that they pay for the room. It is unfair to consumers for OTCs not to pay the same amount as those who book directly though brick and mortar hotels. Supporters of my bill include the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association as well as many regional hotel associations and visitors bureaus. If OTCs were paying their fair share, projections show the Commonwealth would generate $5.98 million in Fiscal Year 2016 and $6.74 million in Fiscal Year 2017 in state and local revenue, which would be used to promote regional tourism.
As a member of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee, a number of issues dealing with the care and treatment of animals have come before me. One important piece of legislation introduced by Sen. William Stanley (SB1001) would require pet shops to acquire their dogs though humane societies, animal shelters, and only those breeders who meet ethical qualifications. This will effectively stop “puppy mills,” where profits are prioritized over the humane treatment of animals. I supported this legislation both in committee as well as on the floor of the Senate where the bill passed unanimously.
Another bill introduced by Sen. Lynwood Lewis (SB1315) would prohibit the possession, sale, transfer, or breeding of primates within the Commonwealth. Currently there is no law regarding possession of monkeys in Virginia and there have been multiple allegations of mistreatment and neglect from both individual owners and for-profit zoos. Exotic animals like monkeys are clearly not meant to be domesticated.
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It is my continued honor to represent the citizens of the 30th Senate District.