In this week’s newsletter, I provide a summary of my recent attendance at the National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL) Higher Education Institute in Nashville, TN, share updates from community partners, discuss the importance of Obergefell v. Hodges, and highlight community events from this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter and for staying informed.
NCSL’s Higher Education Institute
At the start of this week, I joined other Higher Education Fellows at the National Conference of State Legislatures Higher Education Institute in Nashville. The focus of the two-day conference was on college affordability and accessibility, with a hard look at declining enrollments, significant areas of workforce need, continued expansion of higher education to adult learners and to incarcerated individuals, data on post-secondary attainment of degrees and credentials, and much more.
The conversation brought together representatives, policy staff, and a variety of organizations and agencies working on higher education concerns across the country. Especially useful were the highlights of the College Promise programs. Delivered in a variety of ways within the majority of states, these programs assist in lowering or eliminating the costs of tuition and other prohibitive college expenses; they also target workforce needs, and they move us forward in addressing issues of inequitable access to higher education and career training programs.
One highlight of the discussion was a detailed look at College Promise. This interactive map shares the work that is ongoing throughout the country through College Promise programs, such as our own Get Skilled, Get a Job, and Get Ahead (G3) program. Virginia’s efforts through our community college’s G3 Programs are essential to opening doors of opportunity in the Commonwealth, Established under Governor Ralph Northam’s administration, the G3 programs target areas of critical need in Virginia such as healthcare professions, technology, early childhood, and skilled manufacturing.
Discussions at the conference also addressed the issues of untenable student loans, opportunities such as Second Chance Pell, and the changing demographics of college students who are increasingly adult learners, parents, and employed full time or part time as they work towards post-secondary academic credentials.
Voter Registration Deadline on Monday
The last day to register to vote in the November General Election or to update an existing voter registration is this coming Monday, October 17. Registration applications must be received or postmarked no later than the registration deadline. Members of the public can register to vote and update their registration online through the Virginia Department of Elections website. Voter registration forms can also be submitted in-person to Registrars Offices across the district:
Voter registration is also available at various state-designated voter registration agencies. View a comprehensive list of participating agencies here.
Obergefell v. Hodges - LGBTQ+ History Month
As a part of LGBTQ+ History Month, we are spotlighting pivotal moments in the pursuit of equality. This week’s spotlight is on the critical Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges which declared that the fundamental right to marriage extended to same-sex couples. This case overturned a previous ruling from Baker v. Nelson in which the US Sixth Circuit Court ruled that individual state bans on same-sex marriages were not prohibited by the US Constitution. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court resolved that the Due Process Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed marriage equality.
Marriage equality is now in danger. The former president’s Supreme Court appointees and their conservative colleagues, the Justices’ willingness to abandon a nearly 50-year precedent in the recent Dobbs decision, and their negation of the Constitutionally-protected right to privacy are all factors that expose the fragility of the legal progress made with same-sex marriage. Justice Clarence Thomas has already signaled that he is ready to overturn the precedent of Obergefell and deny marriage equality. Thomas’ public statements are both ironic and hypocritical: the same arguments by which he would deny the legality of same-sex marriage can be used to overturn Loving v. Virginia. That case resulted, of course, in the landmark ruling that struck down state laws banning marriage between individuals of different races. Thomas and Ginni’s own marriage depends on rights guaranteed by the Constitution and Loving v. Virginia.
In response to possible SCOTUS action, Democrats in the US House of Representatives have recently introduced the Respect for Marriage Act. This legislation would cement marriage equality into law, making it more difficult for a conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn and further restrict Americans’ civil liberties.
The Commonwealth, too, has attempted to secure these fundamental rights for all Virginians. Especially critical is the need to align Virginia with current federal law. In 2007, Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly pushed through an amendment to the state constitution, defining marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman.” In recent years, Virginia Democrats sought to correct that language and bring the state constitution in alignment with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision.
During the recent 2022 Session, with their slim majority in the House of Delegates, Republicans in the House Committee on Privileges and Elections killed the legislation that would ensure marriage equality. This vote shocked and dismayed Virginians up and down the political spectrum. Public opinion is clearly on the side of marriage equality. With Justices such as Clarence Thomas on the bench of the Supreme Court, the rights to privacy and the right to marry need to be protected by state actions.
Senate Page Program: Applications Due Monday
Applications for the Senate Page Program are due this coming Monday, October 17, by 5:00PM. The Senate Page Program is a remarkable educational experience for young Virginians who are interested in being a part of the annual General Assembly, learning about policy making, and engaging directly in state government processes. It is a tradition that has been in place for over 150 years. Selected pages perform administrative duties, participate in team building, and help with day-to-day operations of the General Assembly. Pages are an integral part of the Capitol during the convening of the General Assembly. Pages live in Richmond throughout the duration of the General Assembly, visiting home on the weekends. The well-structured program provides time for Pages to keep up with schoolwork while also engaging in the direct experiences of government and policy making. More information about the program is available at the Senate Page Program. Applicants must be residents of the Commonwealth and either 13 or 14 years old on January 11, the first day of the 2023 session. The application is available here.
Last Thursday, I toured the St. Francis Medical Center, spoke with administration and staff, and met with the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) to discuss legislative priorities. Workforce shortages throughout the full healthcare system, mental health concerns, the strains felt because of COVID, and the continued high costs of health care were important focus points of the conversation. We also discussed recent concerns spotlighted at Bon Secours Richmond Community Hospital and ways to address those concerns.
On Thursday evening, I provided opening comments at the Virginia Secular Legislative Advocacy Team’s “State of Our State” webinar. This webinar focused on upholding this country’s foundational promise of the separation of church and state. Organizations as Equality Virginia, the ACLU, Reproductive Justice League and the Virginia Coalition for Sex Education Reform provided detailed presentations about the ways in which established boundaries of our secular democracy are threatened, both in Virginia and throughout the country.
On Friday morning, I attended the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast. The keynote address was provided by former House of Delegates member Preston Bryant, Senior Vice President with McGuireWoods. We also heard from the two candidates running in this November’s Special Election for the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors - Midlothian District. I have endorsed Mark Miller in this election. A long-time resident of Midlothian, a community college professional who understands our workforce needs, and a former specialist working with Chesterfield Mental Health, Mark brings perceptive insights and a deep knowledge of Chesterfield to this elected position.
Saturday was a gorgeous Fall day, and I was delighted to join hundreds of other Virginians at the Almost Annual Collis Warner Pig Roast. Senator Mark Warner embodies the best traits of public service, and his annual gathering gave us all the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments that Democrats have made from the local to the national level.
After returning from NCSL’s Higher Education Institute on Wednesday, I joined a panel discussion hosted by the Virginia Library Association, focusing on "Protecting the Freedom to Read.” We discussed strategies for effectively partnering with legislators to protect our Commonwealth from attempts to censor, to ban books, and to protect the essential roles that public, school, and academic libraries play in protecting democracy, civil liberties, and civic engagement.
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: