Opinion: Commentary: Eight Bills Move Forward

Opinion: Commentary: Eight Bills Move Forward

Now we are at the halfway mark in the 2019 legislative session known as crossover. Crossover is the period in which the House bills pass over to the Senate and Senate bills pass over to the House for consideration. To make sure every house bill will be crossed over, yesterday, we were on the House floor for almost 10 hours and considered over 350 bills. I presented three of my bills all of which were advanced to their third and final house reading. This session I am proud to report that I will have eight bills crossing over to the Senate for deliberation. My bills cover topics ranging from voting rights to education to combating sex trafficking. I am confident that my Senate colleagues will recognize my legislation as common sense solutions that will help create a more equitable and profitable Commonwealth. Prior to crossover, it is important to review the work that has happened in the General Assembly to date.

Women have experienced discrimination since the founding of our country including not receiving the right to vote until 1920 and to this day facing sexism that results in an unacceptable wage gap. The ERA is a critical amendment because it will enshrine women as equals within our Constitution and begin to remedy centuries of sexism. It has been a long battle in the Commonwealth for the passage of this amendment and the momentum gained around the ERA this session made passage seem possible but yet again we were defeated. As many of you know, the amendment was tabled in the Privileges and Elections committee on a party line vote. We will continue to fight for women’s rights and I remain hopeful that Virginia will become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment next year after the elections this November.

Another important step in this legislative session is the passage of a budget bill. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I am proud to be a part of this collaborative process. I want to thank my fellow committee members for all the hard work this session to finalize a financially sound budget that will help all citizens of the Commonwealth. I am proud to say that $240,000 is included for the Grow Your Own Teacher pilot program, which my bill, HB 1724, introduced. This money will allow low-income students, who want to teach at Title I schools, the opportunity to receive scholarships in order to attend four-year colleges and earn their teaching degree. The funding of this program will have a direct impact on Title I schools by expanding and diversifying the teacher workforce. I am eager to see these schools and students get the support they deserve.

Additionally, $145,000 is included for the funding of a Sex Trafficking Response Coordinator in coordination with legislation I have introduced. Establishing this position will be imperative in combating the sex trafficking epidemic within the Commonwealth. A centralized point-of-contact will allow for a more organized response to such a multifaceted problem.

Within the finalized House budget, we have allocated $36 million for 750 new school counselors for elementary, middle, and high schools. As a member of the House Select Committee on School Safety, I witnessed firsthand the need for additional counselors at schools. While this increase does not meet the recommended 1:250 ratio, it is still a critical step forward. Furthermore, the budget allotted $45.7 million to state colleges which will freeze tuition at its current cost. Holding down costs for families and increasing access to higher education for students is crucial to ensure students and families are not saddled with crippling debt.

However, I am disheartened that $19 million for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund was not included within the budget. Affordable housing is a big challenge facing our community and affects everyone from young adults and families to senior citizens. This challenge will only become more pronounced with the arrival of Amazon. The Virginia Housing Trust Fund uses its funds to reduce costs of rental housing and home ownership. Compared to other states’ contributions, Virginia is already 70 percent below average.

In closing, I want to address the racist images displayed in Governor Northam’s yearbook. Last Friday, I was shocked to hear the news about Governor Northam. I find it very difficult to reconcile that image with the man I worked closely with over the past few years. Governor Northam has given years of service to his community, the Commonwealth and his country. Yet, the images and the ideas they espouse are horrifying, racist and unacceptable. I believe Governor Northam regrets these pictures and has grown since that time. However, our public officials should be held to a higher standard, especially the Governor. In a Commonwealth ingrained with a history of slavery, Jim Crow laws and continued racism it is impossible for Governor Northam to lead all Virginians. It is time for Governor Northam to resign and allow Virginia to heal and move forward.