In this week’s newsletter, I provide updates on the upcoming General Assembly, recent Committee and Commission meetings, the Virginia Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus (VAAPIC) listening sessions, and share some recent community engagements.
First, however, I join many Virginians and Americans in honoring the life and legacy of Congressman Donald McEachin. For those of us who live in Central Virginia, we know him as an ever-present public servant, a champion of environmental and social justice, a mentor to many, and a friend who gave so much of himself.
Remembering Congressman Donald McEachin
Congressman Donald McEachin passed away unexpectedly on Monday, November 28, just a few weeks after winning reelection earlier this month. Since Monday, we’ve seen an outpouring of grief, remembrances of a true public servant and statesman, personal stories from those who knew him as a mentor and friend, and a nationwide honoring of his contributions to Virginia and the country through his service in the General Assembly and in Congress.
One of the most moving tributes was offered earlier this week, on the Floor of the US House of Representatives, by the members of the Virginia Delegation. Similarly, on the US Senate Floor, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner shared a profound and personal remembrance of their long and deep friendship with the Congressman.
I’ve watched and respected Congressman McEachin since the 1990s, as he first ran for the House of Delegates. And, since my own campaign and subsequent election in 2019, I have been honored to meet the Congressman frequently as our paths crossed. His broad smile was always warm and sincere; he listened carefully to everyone who greeted him, and his passion for social and environmental justice was self-evident.
A memory that I have deeply cherished of Donald is from my election night in November 2019: Shortly after receiving news of our electoral success, my campaign team, family and I took the hotel elevator down to join the Election Night Watch Party. As the elevator doors opened, I was incredibly moved to see Donald and Colette McEachin waiting for us. Donald was the first person to congratulate me that evening. I was so touched and humbled by his real joy.
Richmond has lost a thoughtful and gracious public servant, a native son who never forgot his roots and his community. Despite the sense of loss and grief that we are feeling, we know that our Congressman has left us a powerful legacy; he has inspired others to follow his path; and he has defined values that we must seek to emulate.
2023 General Assembly
Legislators and staff are busily preparing for the 2023 General Assembly which will convene on Wednesday, January 11. As defined in the Code of Virginia, the legislature meets for 45 days on odd-numbered years and 60 days on even-numbered years. The Rules Committees of both Chambers have limited the number of bills that individual members may introduce this Session: Senators have bill limits of 26, and Delegates have bill limits of 15.
This session, I have worked again with numerous stakeholders to identify a robust policy agenda centered on critical needs in the Commonwealth: addressing gaps in public education, increasing access to mental health services, expanding higher education opportunities, and much more. A few of the areas on which I am focused are the following:
Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee Retreat
On November 17 and 18, members of the Virginia Senate gathered at Longwood University to hear presentations from the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee staff, a variety of experts, and representatives from many agencies about our state economic forecast, trends within higher education, Virginia’s workforce strengths and challenges, and other reports.
The presentations outlined serious concerns about declining enrollment in our colleges and universities. These declines reflect a national trend, and the causes of the decline are multiple: higher tuition costs prevent access particularly for middle- and lower-income students; decreased birth rates have impacted traditional college-age populations; many students work part-time jobs in order to pay for college and thus are delayed in timely degree completion; and so forth. Of course, the concerns with declining enrollment are directly connected to ongoing workforce shortages that Virginia and numerous other states are experiencing. Without new workers with degrees or credentials to meet workforce needs in the healthcare professions, in expanding technology sectors, in education, or engineering and manufacturing, we continue to struggle to fill critical gaps. While 4-year degrees are not necessarily the solution for many of these areas of the economy, postsecondary education is important – whether in career and technical education, training and apprenticeship programs, or 2-year degrees and certificates. These workforce gaps are important for us to address.
We also heard a common thread throughout the presentation: low funding for education, public safety, healthcare, and workforce development priorities are having serious consequences in Virginia. Low salaries inhibit our ability to hire and retain K-12 teachers, college faculty, correctional officers and other law enforcement, and state employees. To place Virginia in a more competitive posture, especially with our neighboring states, we must direct funding towards these important areas.
Committee Meeting and Commission Meetings
Last week, just before the Thanksgiving break, I attended several meetings for committees and commissions on which I serve. These included the Transfer Action Committee, the Virginia Disability Commission, and the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS).
The Transfer Action Committee continues to examine policies and opportunities for removing barriers that disrupt the ease of transfer from 2-year to 4-year colleges and universities. This committee has been immensely helpful in identifying areas of concern, and I will build on these efforts. One legislative proposal I am introducing this session is an expansion of the G3 program in order to ensure ease and opportunity of transfer for degree programs in those areas of highest workforce need.
The Virginia Disability Commission, chaired by Senator Barbara Favola, continues to focus on the concerns of people with disabilities. In our recent meeting, we received a presentation on accessibility issues and efforts to resolve those issues in our state parks. The final report will be released in December. We also voted in unanimous agreement on an item of legislation that will be introduced this session. Senator Favola has asked me to carry this legislation which amends language in the Code of Virginia by removing the term “handicapped” and replacing it with “disability.” The distinction is important, and this proposal was brought forward by various members of the community.
JCOTS received presentations on the Virginia Nanotechnology Networked Infrastructure (VNNI) center at Virginia Tech and on data collection and technology tools for addressing health inequities in the Commonwealth. A third presentation focused on the efforts by the computer software company Adobe to address the issues of deliberate misinformation and deceptive digital manipulation through the deployment of the Content Authenticity Initiative.
VAAPIC Listening Sessions
Prior to Thanksgiving, members of the Virginia Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus (VAAPIC) connected with AAPI community members from across the Commonwealth to discuss priorities, concerns, and opportunities. Topics of interest included the concerns of AAPI-owned small businesses, the need to expand diversity in our judicial system, efforts to combat hate crimes targeting the AAPI community, concerns about the problematic areas of the proposed revisions to the standards of learning for history and social studies within the K-12 curricula, and disparities of language accessibility with state agencies.
AAPI Virginians now number over 700,000, and they are one of the fastest growing demographics in the Commonwealth. Our relatively-new caucus works to represent this diverse population. During the legislative session, we will convene a public town hall to ensure continued conversations. Communications outreach includes a Caucus newsletter and social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
November 20 is recognized as Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember those whom we've lost to violence, hatred, and bigotry. This year was particularly painful as we woke to the news of an attack on the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado Springs. That Sunday afternoon, I joined members of the Richmond community and organizers with the Virginia Trans Radical Activist Network (VA TRAN) in Capitol Square to honor the lives lost to hate-motivated violence and to dedicate ourselves once more to the work of creating accepting communities in which all feel welcome and safe.
ICNA Relief has served the Henrico and Central Virginia region with great care for the past several years. The organization’s efforts during the pandemic have been especially powerful: food deliveries to those unable to leave their homes during the lockdown, a flourishing food pantry, hundreds of backpacks distributed to school children each year, diaper and formula distributions, and so much more. ICNA Relief is now focused on establishing a women’s shelter in Central Virginia for those families in crisis or those seeking protection from domestic violence. Last Sunday, the organization held a highly successful fundraiser for the women’s shelter, and I was pleased to join many others that evening. During the 2022 Assembly session, the Virginia Senate recognized ICNA Relief with a commending resolution.
Yesterday, I spoke with students at Cosby High School in Chesterfield about the work of the Virginia Senate and the upcoming General Assembly. Students asked thoughtful questions focused on the climate crisis, gun safety, the History and Social Studies Standards of Learning, and much more. This is my third year visiting Cosby, and each year, students impress me with their insights and passion for learning more about the legislative process.
Connecting With My Office
My staff continue to hold meetings with constituents via Zoom or by phone. You can sign up for a meeting with either of my staff members with our easy scheduling app: