The start of a General Assembly Session always feels like the first day back to school, with the same faces in a familiar setting. But this year it feels like I’ve transferred to a whole new school with a new principal and lots of new classmates. We’ve moved into our temporary home for the next three years, the Pocahontas Building, on the southside of Capitol Square, while the former General Assembly Building on the northside is torn down and replaced.
Last Wednesday marked Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s final State of the Commonwealth, and Monday was Gov. Ralph Northam’s first. Those addresses bookended the Inauguration of Dr. Northam as our 73rd Governor. I’ve been fortunate to attend the ceremonies of all five of the governors I’ve served with, and participating in this process, fundamental to democracy, inspires a deepened appreciation of our Commonwealth’s history and the great honor to be a part of it. Despite the cold and even a few snowflakes, I greatly enjoyed witnessing, once again, the peaceful transfer of power. Reflecting on the outgoing and incoming remarks from Governors McAuliffe and Northam, I was moved by two optimistic visions for the future: the belief in second chances and a call for hope.
In his Inaugural Address, Governor Northam acknowledged our Commonwealth’s complicated heritage: Virginia helped set the stage for the American Revolution when Patrick Henry, our first elected Governor, cried “Give me liberty or give me death” — while only half a mile away one of the largest slave markets in America was growing. Governor Northam said that as Virginians we have a “responsibility to shape the future — to leave this place better than we found it.” He called on us all to rise above the shouting and the shallow tweets from Washington and once again lead the way. With the party breakdown in both chambers nearly tied, Dr. Northam’s Inaugural message must be realized: “If we work together today, tomorrow will be better for all of the Virginians who have placed their trust in us.”
We welcomed 19 new members to the House of Delegates — 15 Democrats and four Republicans. The freshman Democratic class is as diverse as the Commonwealth itself. These talented and promising new delegates are majority female and include Millennials, a VMI alumna, two Latinas, the first Asian-American woman, a former news anchor, the first out lesbian, and the first openly transgender legislator in the United States. Our LGBT caucus now proudly includes five members. Other signs of progress include Governor Northam’s majority-female Cabinet, and our new Lt. Governor, Justin Fairfax, who became only the second African-American elected to statewide office in our 400 year history. His first day presiding over the Senate was on Martin Luther King Day.
I’ve introduced 23 bills so far and intend to file up to seven more. Eight are on the topic of election reform, including no-excuse absentee voting (SB 602), which will be heard by the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee where I serve as a member. On the subject of gun violence prevention, I’ve introduced a bill to prohibit carrying loaded firearms while intoxicated (SB 2), universal background checks (SB 5), and a ban on bump stocks (SB 1). The urgency of banning bump stocks was further underscored by the brave testimony of Courtney Carroll, a survivor of the Las Vegas tragedy who lives in Richmond. I’m continuing my fight to decriminalize marijuana, this year with bipartisan support. Other topics I’m also pursuing include preventing sexual abuse of public and private school students; allowing a governor to serve two consecutive terms; and establishing an office to assist immigrant service organizations. I intend to co-patron a range of legislation including funding for Metro, redistricting reform, and a repeal of the misguided rate freeze that has provided millions in over-earnings for Dominion Power. I also look forward to assisting our new Governor’s efforts to expand and strengthen the New Virginia Economy as we develop our new two-year budget.
While I will be working out of Richmond through mid-March, I will be home to attend Town Hall Meetings and build a community dialogue on the state issues you care about most. A number of my colleagues will be joining me.
TOWN HALL MEETINGS
Saturday, Jan. 20, 9:30-11 a.m., Walt Whitman Middle School, 2500 Parkers Lane, with state Sen. Scott Surovell and Del. Paul Krizek.
Lee District – Mount Eagle
Saturday, Jan. 20, 12-1:30 p.m., Mount Eagle Elementary School, 6116 N. Kings Highway, with Del. Mark Sickles.
Lee District – Hayfield
Saturday, Jan. 20, 2-3:30 p.m., Hayfield Elementary School, 7633 Telegraph Road, with state Sen. Scott Surovell, Del. Paul Krizek and Del. Mark Sickles.
Saturday, Jan, 20, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m., Mount Vernon Community School, 2601 Commonwealth Ave., with Del. Mark Levine.
Saturday, Jan. 27, 1:30-3:30 p.m., Walter Reed Community Center, 2909 16th Street S, with Del. Alfonso Lopez.
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