This week has been a busy one in Virginia’s General Assembly, and I will share an update on my legislation, highlight a leadership training opportunity, and spotlight some of the many meetings and events of this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter and for staying informed.
Mourning yet another tragedy: Tyre Nichols
Last evening, our country again witnessed the horrific murder of a Black man at the hands of law enforcement. Pulled over on a routine traffic stop, 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was brutally beaten to death by five police officers, just 100 yards from his mother’s house.
Family and friends described Tyre as kind, lovable, and “damn near perfect”; he was father to a preschooler, an avid skateboarder, and a photographer of nature and sunsets. In a joint statement, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and the Virginia Joint Democratic Caucuses condemned the actions by Memphis police and demanded answers and accountability.
Routine traffic stops should not result in death. For Black Americans, however, such stops can be disproportionately and tragically dangerous, according to data collected by Mapping Police Violence, a non-profit research group. Black drivers make up 28% of those killed in traffic stops, while accounting for only 13% of the population.
Recent tragedies include Patrick Lyoya, an unarmed 26-year-old in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was shot in the back of the head after being pulled over for a license plate issue. Other tragedies include Daunte Wright, 20, killed after being pulled over for an expired registration tag and a hanging air freshener; and 32-year-old Philando Castile who died following a traffic stop.
These heartbreaking deaths of individuals pulled over for routine traffic concerns underscore the need for accountability and systemic changes to public safety procedures.
Protecting Our Progress
Last Sunday was the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that enshrined the right to privacy in medical decisions and reproductive health care. January 22, 2023, was the first time that this anniversary was recognized instead as a solemn reminder of rights being stripped away. Since the Supreme Court’s disastrous Dobbs decision this past summer, we have witnessed the proliferation of abortion bans and restrictions, the criminalization of healthcare providers, and increased hardships for families.
Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus presented points of personal privilege on the Senate Floor on Monday to highlight the importance of Roe and the dangers that Dobbs now presents. My full floor speech can be viewed here.
On Thursday, members of the Senate Democratic Caucus also held a press conference with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia to highlight the defeat of multiple bills that would have restricted reproductive healthcare access in the Commonwealth, including Governor Youngkin’s 15-week abortion ban. Our coalition’s mission is clear: these attacks on Virginia’s women and families will not pass unchecked, and the rights to privacy and choice will be preserved in the Commonwealth.
In the coming weeks, following Crossover, we will see similar bills from the House of Delegates come to the Senate. Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus will continue to be a brick wall against any attempt to strip access to abortion.
This week, we also saw a number of bills designed to harm and negate the presence of LGBQTIA+ children in our schools. During the Senate Public Education Subcommittee on Thursday afternoon, we heard testimony on a number of bills that directly targeted transgender and non-binary youth. Some bills sought to negate the authority of the Virginia High School League and its policies for transgender athletes, while other bills targeted public school libraries and the professionalism and training of our public school librarians. All such legislation was recommended to “pass by indefinitely” by a majority of Subcommittee members. These recommendations will be made in front of the full Senate Education and Health Committee this Thursday.
Beyond their legal concerns, these bills are a part of a dangerous trend of threatening the rights and public existence of LGBTQIA+ people. Legislation attacking the LGBTQIA+ community is on the rise, with 208 pieces of legislation being introduced across the country in 2023. In Virginia alone, 13 such bills have been presented this session. A 2021 study showed that LGBTQIA+ teens in states with homophobic and transphobic policies were more likely to attempt suicide than those in states with inclusive policies. Bills that attempt to criminalize or demonize LGBTQIA+ people can also lead to violence, and statistics already show that LGBTQIA+ people are nine times more likely than non-LGBT people to be victims of violent hate crimes.
LGBTQIA+ children deserve a society that includes them and respects them, without fear of violence and bigotry.
From the Senate to the House
As we wind down the first half of the legislative session, bills are moving from committee to the full floor of the Senate for final passage. This week, five of my bills passed the full Senate Chamber and will now head to the House of Delegates:
On Tuesday, the Contraceptive Equity Act (SB 1112) passed the full Senate with bipartisan support (26-13). This bill aligns the elements of existing federal law in the Virginia Code by eliminating burdensome co-pays, cost-sharing, reimbursement requirements, and coverage delays for prescription contraceptive drugs, devices, or therapeutic equivalents.
Also on Tuesday, SB 1005, enabling licensed physical therapists to provide direct patient care, passed unanimously out of the chamber (39-0). SB 929, which reduces the maximum term of confinement for a Class 1 misdemeanor from 12 months to 364 days, also passed. This bill, which we are calling “364 Days,” mirrors efforts in other states to address the concerns of automatic federal deportation which has tragic consequences for permanent legal residents and visa holders.
On Thursday, SB 936 passed the full Senate on a bipartisan vote (24-15). SB 936 directs the Department of Emergency Management to develop an extreme heat emergency response plan, bolstering VDEM’s capabilities to respond to these weather crises.
Yesterday, SB 802 passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan 35-5 vote. The bill authorizes Virginia to join the interstate Counseling Compact, permitting eligible licensed professional counselors to practice in other Compact member states if they are licensed in at least one member state. By improving and expanding access to counseling services, we can serve more Virginians with mental healthcare needs. By the end of this year, more than half of the states in the United States will be members of the Counseling Compact. With our growing mental health crisis, these measures help to address the workforce shortage that we currently face in licensed counseling services.
Additional Legislative Updates
Here are just a few additional updates on the progress of my legislation:
Applications Open for the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute
The Virginia Rural Leadership Institute (VRLI) is a leadership program that develops and supports highly-skilled, highly-motivated leaders who are committed to revitalizing their communities across the Commonwealth. VRLI addresses the need for high-quality, professional leadership and economic development training that equips community leaders with the skills necessary to lead long-term economic advancement in their community and region. The program also seeks to increase cooperation, collaboration, and coordination across a broad array of organizations and sectors. Applications can be found here, and the deadline for submission is March 2, 2023. Recommendations for others can also be made here.
On Monday, members of SEIU Virginia 512 visited the Capitol and advocated for legislation to help working families. SEIU represents nearly 2 million workers across 100 industries, and they have been a consistent partner in the fight for labor rights in the Commonwealth.
Members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, visited legislators as a part of their Delta Days Lobby Day at the Capitol. I had the pleasure of meeting a life-long Delta member and constituent, Deborah Hillman, who served as a career nurse and is now advocating for increased funding for gun violence prevention measures.
On Wednesday, I spoke with mental health professionals working with ChildSavers and Voices for Virginia's Children to advocate for greater mental health resources for our youth. The COVID-19 pandemic was particularly difficult for children, and I’m eternally grateful for the work of our counselors, therapists, and other providers in the mental health space.
The League of Women Voters was out in full force on Wednesday, visiting elected officials’ offices and advocating for increasing the supply of affordable housing, reproductive freedom, and protecting voting rights.
The Virginia Aviation, Aerospace and UAS Legislative Reception is always a fascinating and enjoyable event. This past Wednesday, a packed Main Street Station was full of exhibits showcasing the newest ventures, products, technologies, and services of the aviation and aerospace industries.
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