The first week of session has concluded, and we are preparing for the week ahead. In this newsletter, I provide an update on my legislation and share engagements from this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter and for staying informed.
2024 General Assembly
Wednesday, January 10, was the first day of the 2024 Session. That afternoon, I took my Oath of Office for my second term along with 38 colleagues in the Virginia Senate (although a Special Election was held on January 9, to fill the now-vacant seat of Senator Frank Ruff, the winner of that election will be sworn in this upcoming week once her electoral result has been certified).
The new Virginia Senate is remarkably different. With 18 new Senators representing various localities throughout Virginia, nearly half of the 40-member Senate are just beginning their service in this Chamber. We have a lot of work ahead as we begin discussions around collective and individual priorities. The Session will be challenging, fast-paced, and (I am sure) very exciting.
For the past four years, the Corner Caucus (a label we gave ourselves) was composed of Senators McClellan, Mason, Boysko, Bell, and me. With the 2022 Special Election to replace Jennifer Kiggans, Aaron Rouse joined us. As we begin the 2024 Session, the remaining members (Rouse, Boysko, and I) have shifted to near the center of the Chamber Floor. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the No-Longer-Corner Caucus.
The representation of Asian Americans Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the Virginia Senate has now expanded to three members. I am delighted to welcome Senator Suhas Subramanyam (right) and Senator Saddam Azlan Salim (left) to the Virginia Senate.
On Wednesday, following the tradition of returning members providing a formal introduction of the new Senators, I had the privilege of introducing Senator Salim. Senator Salim’s personal story of his family’s survival of catastrophic natural disasters in Bangladesh, immigration to the United States, poverty and homelessness in Washington, DC, and his remarkable success in winning a challenging race for the Virginia Senate is inspiring on so many levels.
Wednesday was also historic in the House of Delegates, as Delegate Don Scott was sworn in as the first Black Speaker of the House. Members of the Democratic Caucuses of the Senate and House look forward to collaborating on an agenda that puts Virginia’s families first by prioritizing the real issues that matter, such as improving public education, access to childcare, vital healthcare, and workforce development.
Overview of Legislation
During the 2024 General Assembly session, I am focused on legislation that affects education, healthcare, housing, and energy. Proposed legislation for 2024 is available on the Legislative Information System (LIS). This Session, Senate members were limited to 21 bills. Here is a quick overview of some of my bills.
SB 227 seeks to codify recommendations from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s K-12 Funding Report. The bill encompasses recommendations 1, 7, 8, 9, and 10, as well as policy option 5.
SB 228 replaces the current SOQ formula calculations for special education (SpEd) and English Language Learner (ELL) students.
SB 229 establishes the Advisory Council on Breakthrough Therapies for Veteran Suicide Prevention. The Council will be composed of veterans and subject matter experts specializing in veterans issues, mental health, and public health, and will be required to report recommendations related to policy to the General Assembly and Governor’s administration.
SB 230, known as the Affordable, Reliable, Competitive (ARC) Act, expands on the Virginia Clean Economy Act by injecting competition into Virginia’s energy industry, boosting customer affordability and reliability.
SB 231, known as the Cover All Kids Act, will expand healthcare coverage to the nearly 88,000 children in Virginia who do not have access, regardless of income or documentation status. This bill is a Virginia Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus priority.
SB 232 clarifies and expands on tenant rights outlined within the Manufactured Home Lot Rental Act, specifically as it relates to the sale or transfer of a manufactured home park and the terms of a rental agreement.
SB 233, known as the Faith in Housing for the Commonwealth Act, permits religious organizations to construct affordable housing on their property, thus expanding housing stock for the most economically vulnerable in our communities.
SB 234 expands green energy opportunities by creating a pilot program within Chesterfield County and the City of Richmond to fund the construction of parking lot solar energy canopies.
SB 235 amends legislation that was passed during the 2022 session related to parental notification of sexually explicit content. Some school divisions in the Commonwealth have used this statute as a basis for removing books completely from the school, leveraging the previous legislation as a tool of censorship.
SB 236 expands on the court data available to academic researchers for the purposes of research.
SB 237 establishes a right to contraception within the Code of Virginia. This is just a part of an important agenda establishing a clear and defined right to all forms of reproductive health care, including access to contraception.
SB 238, known as the Contraceptive Equity Act, eliminates burdensome co-pays, cost-sharing, reimbursement requirements, and coverage delays.
SB 239 authorizes Virginia to become a signatory to the Social Work Licensure Compact, expanding opportunities for licensed social workers to practice in other Compact member states.
SB 250 allows for the Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) to offer reimbursement for remote ultrasound procedures and remote fetal non-stress tests, both considered critically important for individuals experiencing high-risk pregnancies.
SB 251, known as the Lights, Camera, Jobs Act, works to bring state film incentives and funding in line with the average incentive packages in the South and Mid-Atlantic.
SB 272 establishes proficiency-based student-to-teacher ratios for our English Language Learner (ELL) students.
SB 276, commonly referred to as inclusive utility investing, allows utility companies to earn a rate of return on their investment in residential energy efficiency improvements and solar energy projects.
SB 277 expands the expedited review process for Certificate of Public Need (COPN) projects within our Commonwealth’s healthcare system.
SB 278, known as the Virginia Abortion Care and Gender-Affirming Health Care Protection Act, protects those providing healthcare services not prohibited under the laws of the Commonwealth.
SB 280 allows a competent adult diagnosed with a terminal condition and a very limited life expectancy to request a controlled substance to be self-administered from a licensed physician for the purpose of making end-of-life decisions.
SJ 18 creates a 13-member joint subcommittee for a one-year study of the Dillon Rule and its impact on Virginia's localities.
These bills are likely to undergo changes and edits as they go through the committee review process. My staff and I will share the bills’ individual progress through this weekly newsletter. Community members can follow along using the Legislative Information System website and by viewing live streams of Senate committee meetings and floor sessions.
This week, my legislative staff and I welcomed the newest member of our session team, Casey. Casey comes from Wisconsin and holds a degree in Economics from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Casey moved to Virginia immediately following graduation and completed a successful campaign internship in my 2023 re-election campaign. We look forward to having Casey in office this Session. He will soon be joined by two other interns.
Select Community Events and Meetings
This busy week, as a lead-up to the start of the 2024 Session, I hosted a Legislative Town Hall at the Beulah Recreation Center in Chesterfield County. I was joined by Delegates-Elect (now Delegates) Michael Jones and Debra Gardner. We had a wonderful turnout of many constituents and community members and were happy to discuss the issues and concerns that are top-of-mind for so many.
On Tuesday morning, I provided welcoming comments at the annual Joint Winter Conference of the Virginia Association of State Superintendents (VASS) and the Virginia Association of School Business Officials (VASBO). Collaboration among these groups and our legislative efforts is vitally important as we work to improve and protect public education in the Commonwealth.
On Wednesday morning, as we prepared for the opening day of the 2024 Session, I spoke to a large gathering of the League of Women Voters in the General Assembly Building. The topic of concern this past week was voting rights: protecting our progress and expanding voter access to the ballot box.
My office and I also hosted an Open House for the start of Session and welcomed many constituents and visitors, many of whom had never visited the new General Assembly Building.
On Thursday morning, the Senate Education and Health Committee met for the first time for the 2024 Session. I am truly honored to serve as Chair of the Committee, and I know that we have a full docket ahead as both the Senate and the House work to improve education and health care in Virginia.
During this first meeting, we addressed eight bills. Of significant impact were the unanimous votes for two of Senator Louise Lucas’ bills: SB104 which brings teacher salaries up to the national average and SB105 which expands eligibility and grants for educators’ National Board Certification. Both of these bills have now been re-referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
On Thursday morning, I also met with representatives from Bank of America who spoke with me as a part of Banking Lobby Day. Of critical focus are issues such as financial scams and the targeting of vulnerable, elderly customers.
Later on Thursday, representatives from Reynolds Community College spoke with me and my staff as a part of Higher Education Advocacy Day. Students as well as faculty addressed issues such as the importance of funding for community colleges, financial aid for students, and expanding program options. Each student was also tasked with discussing legislation of personal importance, including criminal justice reform and protection of LGBTQIA+ rights. I was especially delighted to visit with two of my former colleagues: Dirk Burruss and Karen Neal.
On Friday morning, I joined Katie Baker, Director of Protect Our Care, Delegate Mark Sickles, Keven Patchett, Director of Virginia’s Insurance Marketplace, and others to remind Virginians of the January 16 deadline to enroll in Virginia’s Health Exchange. Virginia’s state-based Exchange is available for all eligible Virginians who are not insured by their employer, do not have affordable coverage, or Medicaid or Medicare, or are young individuals coming off of their parents’ insurance plans.
As a part of a second news conference, I joined the Virginia Grassroots Coalition to address issues around public education and to highlight the legislative efforts that are being presented during the 2024 Session.
On Friday, advocates with the Virginia Association for Infant Mental Health stopped by my office to discuss the importance of quality child care and education during the early stages of a child’s development.
On Saturday, I joined many others in celebrating the ceremonial Oath of Office for some of our new House of Delegate members. Some of these ceremonies included the following: Atoosa Reaser, representing HD27, Debra Gardner, representing HD76, and Karen Keys-Gamarra, representing HD07. The incoming House of Delegates is the most diverse in the body’s 400+ year history.
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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