Hitting the Road: Looking back on the 2017 General Assembly Session

Hitting the Road: Looking back on the 2017 General Assembly Session


Just as the frenetic pace of Session seemed to ebb, the activity picked up in the final week with a hustle and bustle of a different sort.

No longer is Senator Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) carrying his six-inch binder with scores of bills from committee to committee, stacks of bills replaced with piles of cardboard boxes stacked neatly next to gradually emptier offices. Gone are the days of Senator Petersen (D-Fairfax City) telling members of the Senate that, in no uncertain terms, they were not to send legislative aides to play in the annual Senate/House basketball game unless they were talented athletes. The pages still moved briskly throughout the General Assembly Building (GAB) not to deliver interoffice memoranda, but to collect mugs, office supplies and memorabilia for a “Garage Sale” to benefit the Central Virginia Food Bank.

With cars parked on the sidewalk loading up for the trip to home districts, legislators and aides stood huddled together at the entrance to the GAB for final group photos. And, as my office now sits empty, 14 years of legislative sessions somehow packed into just 11 cardboard boxes, we are preparing for the move to the Pocahontas Building — the temporary new home of the General Assembly, while the GAB is torn down and a new one is built to replace it. No tears were shed in the Senate for the GAB with its constant heating and air conditioning issues, water pipe breaks, asbestos, crumbling facades, and subcommittee rooms too small to accommodate all the members of the public — some of whom drive in for hours to testify or listen in on important hearings.

Like the end of a college semester, while tours of the Pocahontas building were taking place, Delegates and staffers (but not senators!) graffitied a wall or two of the soon to be demolished GAB. The perennial prank of making the Lieutenant Governor’s gavel “disappear” by hiding it inside a Freshman senator’s desk was upstaged when a senator actually left his handgun on a committee room chair!

Looking back, we have considered 3,201 bills — 35 of which I introduced — received over 2,600 constituent emails, and fielded hundreds of letters and phone calls, and visits to the office in just 46 days. I am lucky to represent such an engaged constituency and to have been assisted by my 2017 Richmond staff including my legislative aide Chris Leyen; my session aide, Kirsten Schlegel, a Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) alumna and Clinton campaign organizer; my intern, Colton Powell, a University of Richmond sophomore and back office rock star; Austin Walker of VCU who assisted with media and communications; and a wonderful new addition this year, my administrative assistant, Sophia Stephens.

After the session ended last Saturday, my office kept working on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday to respond to constituent emails. Governor McAuliffe’s office continues to be abuzz with activity: reviewing, signing and vetoing legislation. Among these bills are my multi-year efforts to remove mandatory driver’s license suspensions for marijuana possession (SB1091) and to research and invest in energy storage (SB1258); and a new bill I introduced to make it easier for restaurants to navigate the Alcoholic Beverage Control licensure process (SB1382). As the senator representing Mount Vernon, it was my pleasure, and a fun break from more serious legislation, to pass a bill designating George Washington’s Rye Whiskey as the official spirit of the Commonwealth (SB1261).

(For a full list of my 2017 legislation visit AdamEbbin.com.)

Governor McAuliffe’s veto pen is slated to get a workout this year. Notable vetoes that have taken place, or are promised, include: bills that invoke the spectre of election fraud to investigate voters (SB1105); legislation to defund Planned Parenthood (HB2264) services, bills that require reports on the location and ethnicity of resettled refugees (HB2002), create unfunded mandates requiring local sheriffs to enforce federal immigration law (HB1791); and that ban sanctuary cities (HB2000). He also vetoed ineffective coal tax credits (HB2198) in favor of legislation that expands solar (SB1393, SB1258) — reflecting Virginia’s status that earned it top marks for private-sector clean energy procurement.

As we transition from the legislative season to the campaign season and the 2017 elections for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General draw closer, and hundreds of hopefuls run for seats in the House of Delegates, lots of constituents want to know the best ways to mobilize at the state, local, and federal level against harmful policies adopted by the Trump administration. I encourage you to stay active, stay involved, and carry that passion to the polls. First and foremost, I would encourage you to join your local Democratic committee. There are active organizations in Arlington, Alexandria, and the Mount Vernon and Lee Districts of Fairfax.

If you would like to get more involved on the policy side, I encourage you to research and support the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or Progress VA, advocate for nonpartisan redistricting with One Virginia 2021, support the LGBT community with Equality VA, defend animals with the Humane Society, and protect the environment by joining your local Sierra Club chapter. These are just some of the many progressive organizations out there.

Now that session is over, I’m reporting to constituent groups and doing my homework for 2018. If your group wishes to request a legislative update, email my office at district30@senate.virginia.gov. Also, please consider following me on Twitter (@AdamEbbin) and Facebook.

It is my continued honor to serve the people of the 30th District.