Opinion: Commentary: Listening to Citizens

Opinion: Commentary: Listening to Citizens

It has been a very busy first full week down here in Richmond in the General Assembly. Last week I was happy to see a few noteworthy pieces of legislation pass the Senate. Last Tuesday the Senate passed the ERA resolution SB 284, by a 26-14 vote with seven Republicans joining all 19 Democratic senators. It was incredibly exciting to see the measure pass with bipartisan support and I was heartened to see my Republican colleague David Yancey give a stirring speech on Monday regarding his support for the measure. On Friday, the Senate voted 37-3 for a bill that repeals a Jim Crow era-law which legalized wage discrimination against African Americans. Last year I introduced this legislation along with Delegate Boysko. This is a very small step to rectify and acknowledge Virginia’s extremely troubling history relating to race. I am hopeful that my house colleagues will pass this bill so that Virginia can work on becoming a more equitable state. Although SB 1200, a bill that aimed to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, died in the Senate, I remain enthusiastic about the possibility of passing a similar bill in the future. A lot of legislation focuses on incremental steps and we have to acknowledge the small victories we are allotted. The fact that SB 1200 passed full committee and made it to the Senate floor for consideration is a small step in the right direction and I am looking forward to revisiting this issue next General Assembly session.

Following the first week I was back in the district for two town halls, the first in Mount Vernon at Walt Whitman Middle School and the second in Lee district at Hayfield Elementary School. Both town halls were filled with great questions. A theme of both meetings was the need for increased access to affordable housing. With the arrival of Amazon it is critical that we ensure more affordable housing is built and that current tenants are not priced out of their lifelong homes. A key to combating this issue is the $19 million allocated to the Virginia Housing Trust Fund in the Governor's budget. Another issue concerning attendees is the need for nonpartisan redistricting. This is the year we must first pass a constitutional amendment in time to affect the next census and the 2021 elections. With increased public pressure I am hopeful that we will be able pass a constitutional amendment this year and next, to then go to the voters as a referendum to amend the Constitution to make redistricting nonpartisan.

Finally, I want to provide you with an update of how the bills I have introduced are faring in the General Assembly. So far six of my bills have received hearings. The other eight pieces of legislation are still awaiting their first rounds of votes. Below, I have listed the six bills and where they currently sit in the House calendar.

  • HB 1710, which requires seat belts on school buses, was voted 6-4 in Committee on Education Subcommittee #2 and referred to full Committee on Education. Full Committee voted 13-8 on this bill, on Jan. 21, and further referred it to Committee on Appropriations.

  • HB 1724, which introduces the Grow Your Own Teacher pilot program, was first voted 9-1 in Committee on Education Subcommittee #2 with amendments. It was then voted 19-3 in full Committee on Education and referred to Appropriations. I am coordinating with Appropriation committee members on these amendments but, as of right now, these amendments include two changes. These two changes are that all Virginia higher education institutions are to offer the Grow Your Own Teacher program and students completing the program are allowed to teach at any Title I school, not just the school he or she graduated from.

  • HB 1752, a bill which will close all schools for students on Election Day in November, was initially referred to full Committee on Education and voted 18-3. This bill went through its second House reading on Jan. 21.

  • HB 1937, which will allow localities to exempt disability income being counted towards eligibility for Property Tax relief, was referred to full Committee of Finance and voted unanimously, 22-0. It was then reported from Committee on Finance with an amendment. This amendment adjusted all income to specify disability income. On its third reading, the House voted 94-0 in favor.

  • HB 1938, which amends the definition of “blind person,” was referred to full Committee on Health, Welfare, and Institutions and passed with a 20-0 vote. The bill went through its first House reading on Jan. 21.

  • HB 2576, a bill that establishes a Sex Trafficking Response Coordinator, was referred to Courts of Justice Subcommittee #1 and passed unanimously with an 8-0 vote.

I look forward to the rest of the General Assembly and working on critical issues facing our Commonwealth like tax conformity and the budget. It is my honor and privilege to serve as your representative in the 44th District.