The General Assembly Session gavels in on Jan. 9 and we have a full agenda awaiting us for our 45-day or “short” session.
First, the budget will probably take center state this year even though we adopted a two-year budget last year. As I mentioned in my previous column, between federal tax reform, rising revenues, and the Supreme Court’s Wayfair decision that allows states to tax internet sales, the Commonwealth has over $1 billion of excess revenue to appropriate. Governor Northam has proposed a targeted tax cut to working Virginians, investments in K-12, and investments in higher education.
I will be carrying at least 25 bills which is the limit in the Senate. First, I will be carrying Governor Northam’s coal ash bill. We propose to ban leaving ash in place and to incentivize coal ash recycling and moving ash away to landfills. The bill requires locally-sourced jobs that pay decent benefits, local government input and prioritizing rail transport. The program is expected to cost between $2 and $5 billion although experience in other states has cost much less.
Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment will also be a big focus. I have been Chief Patron for six years, but I am deferring to my Republican colleague Sen. Glen Sturtevant from Powhatan and Dumfries Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy to lead the charge this year. We are one state away from 38 states needed to ratify and equal rights for all people should be in the U.S. Constitution.
I am also carrying a bill for the Administration to require annual sign inspections for tall signs near interstates. Last year, a wind-damaged Potomac Mills sign shut down I-95 for three days in March after a wind storm tore through our area shutting down interstate carrying 100,000 vehicles per day. That situation should never happen.
I am proposing several bills to reform homeowners’ association rules. One clarifies the rules on when associations can regulate home based childcare. Affordable childcare is very difficult to find in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area and many conflicts have arisen over interpreting association rules on home businesses. I am also carrying a bill that provides better annual transparency in association reserves and more importantly – reserve shortages.
With the advent of the new “gig economy,” more people are employed as independent contractors and one of my bills will allow Virginia’s Department of Child Support Enforcement to start garnishing employees paid by 1099 working for entities like Uber or AirBnB.
The NAACP Criminal Justice Committee asked me to carry a bill to reform School Resource Policy (SRO) statewide. Virginia has been ranked #1 in the United States on putting children into the School to Prison Pipeline. My bill makes clear that SRO’s are not involved in school discipline but only actual crime and requires parental notification when criminal investigations commence to ensure a fair process.
Once again, I will carry a bill to re-regulate consumer finance lending to protect against internet lenders using 400 percent interest rates from exploiting a license used by lenders who historically make loans at only 36 percent or less. I am also supporting other bills to close other loopholes.
I am working with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to press legislation to allow localities to provide mobile voting locations – e.g. voting equipment that can be moved around to retirement homes, transit stations or used in emergencies on election day.
I am working with a group to clean up the Code of Virginia’s provisions for same sex couples who use assisted conception. Also, I will once again attempt to provide temporary driving permits to all Virginians regardless of immigration status.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has asked me to carry legislation streamlining the commercial driver’s license process for veterans certified to drive heavy trucks during active duty. I will also be carrying several other bills that I will write about in coming columns.
Please come visit my office in Richmond and provide me your input throughout the session at firstname.lastname@example.org! It is an honor to serve as your state senator.