Opinion: Commentary: Bipartisan Approach to ‘Good Government Bills’

Opinion: Commentary: Bipartisan Approach to ‘Good Government Bills’

One of my key responsibilities as your delegate is crafting “good government bills.” Now, some of you might say, I have heard the term good government with respect to legislation but what does that really mean? These are bills that are often brought to our attention by constituents and are common sense bipartisan fixes that will improve the lives of people across the Commonwealth. Working to pass laws in a divided government like we have here in Virginia is especially important, though not always easy.

At times, the General Assembly can descend into a partisan fight where we are unable to reach a consensus. However, a good government bill can bring representatives from across the political spectrum together in agreement. This year, I am proud to be introducing a number of good government bills and will highlight two of them.

The first bill clarifies a piece of the Virginia code related to absentee voting. Currently, Virginia law allows that if you are in line by the close of the polls at 7 p.m. on Election Day you will still be able to cast your ballot. Yet, there is no such language in the Virginia code relating to absentee voting. Currently, the code does not require that the polling location allow you to cast a ballot on the same day if you are in line when absentee voting ends that day. Fixing this issue is a common sense solution that is critically important as more and more Virginians continue to vote absentee each year. According to the Virginia Department of Elections over 287,000 individuals voted absentee in the 2018 election. This is more than double the 123,000 people that voted absentee in the last midterm in 2014. This legislation will ensure that we have one statewide policy that allows you to vote if you were able to get in line, no matter how long the line may be, before the poll closed during absentee voting that day, just as if it were Election Day.

A second bill would codify the current practice of most police to activate the Virginia Endangered Missing Children Media Alert (VEMCMA) when all AMBER Alert criteria is not met. In short, the VEMCMA notifies state agencies, law enforcement and the media of a missing child on a smaller scale than the AMBER Alert. This legislation was prompted by the murder of my constituent, Mount Vernon High School student Jhoulie Moussa, earlier this year. Following this tragedy, I met with members of her family concerning ways in which we can improve the process for finding missing children.

In my research, I noticed that the VEMCMA is not required to be issued in the event a missing child does not meet the necessary criteria to trigger the Amber Alert system. Our police do great work and often issue the VEMCMA even when the AMBER Alert criteria is not met, but the lives of our children are precious and we need to be 100 percent certain that each time a child goes missing that we utilize every single avenue available to find that child.

These bills are part of the larger picture of the need for reform in Virginia. As I have discussed previously, we must make it easier to vote in Virginia. A few examples of large scale needed reforms include automatic voter registration, no excuse early voting and the adjustment of our voter identification laws. For missing people, we have made great strides in Virginia. The Ashanti Alert passed last year by the General Assembly is a great step to combat the rising epidemic of missing adults in Virginia and across the nation. However, there are still larger reforms needed to combat the issue of missing children and human trafficking which I have been examining very closely as a member of the Virginia Crime Commission.

While we continue to work on these larger reforms, good government bills allow us to make real progress that will address the needs of Virginians across the political spectrum. I am proud to be sponsoring these two pieces of legislation and am drafting a few other potential good government bills as we head towards the 2019 General Assembly session in two weeks.

Continuing the theme of good government, I would like to quickly discuss why I am refusing future campaign donations from Dominion Energy. In the past, I have accepted donations from Dominion due to the desire to use that money to help elect Democrats across the Commonwealth. But, just last week, the Attorney General joined the Lieutenant Governor and announced his policy going forward is that he would no longer be accepting contributions from Dominion and Appalachian Power, both publicly regulated electric monopolies. I agree that such donations contribute to public distrust in government and feed the narrative that the energy monopolies control the legislative body. While these donations never impacted my judgement, I understand how it erodes the public trust that you could be in a position to regulate a state run monopoly that is also contributing to your campaign. Taking this stand is the right thing to do. Promoting good government is one of my core values.