Arlington Column: Veto Session Keeps Virginia in Mainstream

Arlington Column: Veto Session Keeps Virginia in Mainstream

Every April, the General Assembly returns to Richmond for a one-day “veto session.” This is when we vote on Governor McAuliffe’s amendments to bills — and his vetoes of bills — that passed during our regular winter session. We accept or reject the amendments, and sustain or override the vetoes; then, as citizen legislators, we return to our communities. For the rest of the year, much of our work happens not in Richmond, but closer to home.

This year, with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, many bad bills reached the Governor’s desk. As a result, we had 24 vetoes to consider. One measure sought to deny Planned Parenthood critical funding that is used for cancer exams, STD screenings and birth control services; others would have delayed our efforts to address climate change. A particularly harmful piece of legislation would have revoked localities’ ability to mandate fair wages in public contracts. Alexandria has required decent pay in contracts for 15 years, and the city has prospered. This measure would have lowered wages and made our hardworking friends and neighbors less secure — to no apparent purpose. New Sen. Jeremy McPike (D – Prince William) noted that Virginia is focused on attracting new high-paying jobs, yet this bill would have forced lower pay for many maintenance and janitorial staff.

I would prefer that these bills had never been introduced — but under the circumstances, I’m proud to say that I and my colleagues upheld every one of Gov. McAuliffe’s vetoes. I’m especially pleased about two bills, in particular.

Sen. Tom Garrett’s (R – Louisa) SB270 would have barred local law enforcement from releasing anyone who is subject to a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer, “provided that no alien may be held in custody in excess of the date that he would otherwise be released.” This bill would have sent a deeply unwelcoming message to immigrants who are already an important part of our communities. Worse, it could have caused the kind of fearful silence — the kind of mistrust between citizens and law enforcement — that makes everyone less safe.

Sen. Bill Carrico’s (R – Grayson) SB41 was also deeply troubling: it would have allowed religiously-affiliated businesses to discriminate against LGBT couples based on a “sincerely held religious belief” that marriage equality is wrong. Like SB270, this measure would have done terrible harm to our communities, giving some Virginians license to discriminate against others under the false guise of religious freedom.

I spoke against both bills on the floor, and was glad to see them both fail. I’m hopeful that next year their patrons will take heed and focus on better ideas that will move Virginia forward and stimulate economic growth.

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It is my continued honor to represent the citizens of the 30th Senate District.