This past week was the final full week of review of the Senate’s introduced bills. Early next week, each Chamber will need to complete its work and then send all bills that it has passed over to the other Chamber; this day is known as Crossover, and it tends to be a very long day on the Floor.
Next weekend, I’ll share the updates on Crossover. In the meantime, here is an overview of what the week was like for me.
The Progress of My Bills through the Legislative Process
This week, we had both remarkable successes as well as some setbacks on a few of my bills. Overall, it was a good week. I will start first with an overview of the setbacks:
SB230: Known as the Affordable, Reliable, Competitive (ARC) Act, this bill was written to help Virginia take advantage of the federal monies from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, as well as ongoing technological innovations, by injecting healthy competition into Virginia’s electricity sector. Spurring competition through the free market helps to drive innovation and bring costs down. Given the timelines that Virginia has established through the Clean Economy Act, this competitive drive is necessary in order to meet our goals. SB230 did not receive a passing vote this Session and was, instead, continued on to next year.
SB251: This bill is the Lights, Camera, Jobs Act that is designed to increase incentives for the film and television production industries to do business in Virginia. While many people think about acting jobs when they consider the impacts that these industries have on employment, the jobs created by film and television are so much more: production design, sound design, film crews, screenwriting, film editing, location management, and so much more. Further, these industries inject millions of dollars into local economies through their impacts on hotels, restaurants, and retail businesses. The Finance Subcommittee on Resources recommended that this bill be passed by for the year; however, the full Committee has not yet taken its final vote, and I continue to work for its support.
Now, here are some successes from the week:
SB280: I have carried the Medical Aid in Dying bill now for three years, and this year the legislation passed the full Senate on a vote of 21-19. This legislation is in place in 10 states and in Washington, DC; it allows adults who are terminally ill (with a medically-determined six months or less left to live) and mentally-competent the option to request and receive medication for end-of-life purposes. The medication must be formally and orally requested twice by the patient, with a 15-day waiting period in between, and requested in writing as well; the patient must also be able to self-administer the medication. I have heard from an incredible number of constituents and Virginians who have shared their stories of pain and suffering, and who have asked to have this option in place should they have to make difficult end-of-life decisions for themselves. This legislation has received much publicity, and I thank Congresswoman for her grace and courage as she stood behind this bill this year and shared her own personal and challenging journey.
SB237: This bill codifies the Right to Contraception in Virginia. In essence, the legislation states that neither the Commonwealth nor any locality may implement a law that prohibits or restricts the sale or use of contraceptives that have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Why is this bill necessary? After the unraveling of abortion access through the US Supreme Court’s disastrous Dobbs decision, Justice Clarence Thomas signaled that he was also ready to examine overturning precedent yet again on the issues of contraception and marriage equality. As surprising as it may be to younger generations, it is only in modern history that access to contraception and even to information about contraception was made legal in the United States. The 1965 Supreme Court decision on Griswold v Connecticut, ruling on the right to marital privacy, legalized contraceptive access, Some states, localities, and even pharmacies are now threatening access to contraceptive care; therefore, protecting our right to contraception is essential in Virginia.
SB231: The Cover All Kids bill has generated some ugly, racist, and xenophobic publicity and comments, coming from as far as Tucker Carlson’s Daily Wire, television stations in Savannah and Florida, and other rightwing media outlets. My own colleague from Chesterfield has been vocal in his attacks on providing essential health care to all children in Virginia regardless of their documentation status. Health care is a fundamental human right. The response of any parent who sees a child in physical pain and distress ought to be how we might alleviate that suffering – and not a request for documentation. Regardless of one’s thoughts on this issue, however, the bottom line is that the provision of medical care and treatment saves Virginia and our hospitals hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s why Utah, a state not exactly known for being a bastion of liberalism, passed this same legislation just a few months ago. This legislation will be voted on by the full Senate this upcoming week.
SB234: The Parking Lot Solar Development Program and Fund did not come through the Finance Committee in manner as it was introduced, but the legislation represents some progress in the area of promoting solar energy programs in existing spaces, rather than disturbing vital agricultural lands and forests. The fund is now designed to be a grants-driven program; this bill passed out of the full Senate on Friday.
SB227 and SB228: Both of my bills address recommendations that emerged from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report on Virginia’s severe underfunding of public education. SB227 (the omnibus bill) and SB228 (focused on special education and English learners) have now been incorporated into Senator Louise Lucas’ SB105 (which may be the Omnibus of Omnibus bills). We are now working in the Finance Committee to address the full scope of funding needs in Virginia’s schools.
SB272: This bill focuses on the necessary staffing ratios that are essential for addressing the academic needs of English learners in our schools. For the past several years, both Chesterfield County and Richmond City, as well as other localities, have identified the need for more teachers and resources as a top priority. Although the proposed legislation has now received a substitute from the Finance Committee, I am hopeful that we will be able to make progress this upcoming year in addressing this critical need. The substitute mandates that the Department of Education shall develop and implement a data collection process related to English language learner expenditures and student English proficiency levels and identify other options to support English language learners. The Department is also required to provide a report to the Joint Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education Funding on its implementation and data collection efforts by September 1, 2024. Lucky for the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), much of this data is already available and has been public for many years.
Select Community Events and Meetings
This week, I met with several groups and individuals who were visiting the General Assembly for lobbying, educational, or introductory purposes. Here are a few highlights:
Many representatives from the Virginia film and television industries joined us for their advocacy day and to lobby for my bill expanding film tax incentives.
I also met with student representatives from Brightpoint Community College. These talented students were joined by the VCCS Chancellor, Dr. David Doré, and the new President of Brightpoint, Dr. Bill Fiege.
This past Monday was Virginia History Day on the Hill, a program sponsored by the Virginia Museum of History and Culture; it is the state affiliate of National History Day, a project-based learning program. This interdisciplinary research project helps students develop historical thinking and literacy skills while making the study of history engaging and relevant. I was delighted to speak with students, their teachers, and parents about the unique and interesting projects each had developed. These two young men were from the RVA region, representing the Sabot at Stony Point School and New Community High School. Their individual research projects focused on the question of statehood for Puerto Rico and the impacts of redlining on our current housing crisis in Richmond.
Speaking of history, I was truly delighted to meet one of my academic heroes: Dr. Ed Ayers. Dr. Ayers is Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities at the University of Richmond, as well as President Emeritus of UR. A widely-recognized, leading scholar of the American Civil War and the American South, Dr. Ayers is a leading voice for the academy, American Studies, and the power of history.
I really enjoyed meeting a group from the ASSE International Student Exchange Program. These students from all across the world are spending the year in Virginia and attending high schools all across the Commonwealth. They visited the General Assembly to see the state government in action.
While I am busy in Committee or on the Floor of the Senate, my staff enjoy the opportunity of meeting a wide array of visitors to our office. Here are some highlights of their conversations:
Students from James Madison University’s Student Government Association stopped to advocate for increased support for our public higher education institutions.
My staff joined Electrify Virginia for its EV Day, a day spent educating lawmakers and spreading awareness of the need for electric infrastructure across Virginia.
Our office also received visitors from Norfolk State University. NSU students spoke about the need to fund campus facilities and increase staff wages.
Also visiting the General Assembly were many groups of physicians and physician assistants. This week, members of the Medical Society of Virginia joined us to speak about issues that affect their work and patients across Virginia.
My office also met with members of the Virginia National Guard to learn about operations in cyberspace and more.
Richmond City Public School students, parents, and teachers were also working hard this week to advocate for all public schools across the Commonwealth.
Members of the Virginia Alliance for PANS/PANDAS Action also stopped by to build support for individuals and families suffering from this disorder. for all public schools across the Commonwealth.
This week, my office also welcomed members of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond in honor of Jewish Advocacy Day. Pictured here with the group is Rabbi Dovid Asher of Keneseth Beth Israel.
Connecting With My Office
As noted in last week’s newsletter, all legislative offices within the Senate now have new email addresses and phone numbers. My office can be reached at the following:
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