General Assembly Again Makes Headlines
Virginia has yet again become fodder for late night talk show comedy. It would be funny if it were not so serious. In a dramatic power grab, Senate Republicans passed a wholesale redistricting bill and sent it to the House this week. The bill violates House rules, the Virginia Constitution, and all sense of fair play. Under the Virginia Constitution redistricting is to occur “in 2011 and every 10th year thereafter.” There is an argument about whether small technical adjustments can be made to eliminate split precincts, but there is broad legal consensus that a full scale redistricting is not permitted – precisely what the Senate Republicans have done.
What has gone unnoticed, however, is another bill that would apportion Electoral College votes for president by congressional district. This is a blatant attempt by Republicans to win by legislation what they have failed to win at the ballot box, that is, a portion of Virginia’s thirteen electoral votes. The demographics of the Commonwealth are changing, and some believe that Virginia is likely to become a reliably blue state in Presidential elections. That, of course, is different from its status in gubernatorial elections, when turnout drops. In the winner-take-all Electoral College system contemplated by our founding fathers, the Presidential candidate who takes the majority of the popular vote in the state receives all of that state’s Electoral College votes. But if you were to apportion the Electoral College votes by the partisan-redistricted Congressional districts, the more conservative areas of the state would control more of the Electoral College votes. These initiatives are happening all over the country and seem to be part of the Republican playbook for changing how the electorate chooses its representatives.
The Senate action on redistricting has made the possibility of getting a good transportation bill more problematic. There is a broadening consensus that we need to find more revenue for transportation than the Governor’s plan provides, but the question remains whether enough votes can be cobbled together from Republicans and Democrats to get a good bill passed. In my view, we need to have a bill that raises enough money and does it quickly enough to actually have an effect. If we fail to pass a good bill this year, we will miss an opportunity that may not come again for another five years.
A number of my bills have passed the House and are heading for the Senate. Included in these are a bill that allows courts, when determining child support, to consider including the cost of child care when a custodial parent is attending school to increase their earning potential, and a bill that will allow continuing care retirement communities like Westminster-Canterbury to admit employees of the facility as residents. This latter bill will help fifty-two of these communities around the state allow a broader diversity of residents.
Next week my House Bill 1728, the Virginia Vulnerable Adult Protection Act, will be considered by the full House Courts Committee. This act will provide a higher level of protection to the elderly who might be exploited by others who are in a position of trust. There is another bill moving through the legislature that will apply criminal penalties to those who exploit the elderly; mine will allow a civil action to be brought, which will make it easier to recover lost funds that were taken from the vulnerable adults.
The UVA reappointment saga continues. Helen Dragas was recommended for reappointment by the House Privileges and Elections Committee by a wide margin. The issue will hit the House floor next week, where there will be full debate. I am not optimistic that my opposition to her reappointment will gain enough votes, but it is important to re-tell the story so legislators can understand what was placed at risk during last spring’s events.
Finally, the results of my 2013 Constituent Survey are in, and, not surprisingly, the most important issues for the respondents were education, jobs and health care. On the issue of transportation funding, perhaps the top issue in this session, 80 percent support raising the gas tax .05 per gallon to solve our transportation funding crisis, with 82 percent oppose taking money from schools to do so. On education, 82 percent support raising teacher salaries and support more SOL flexibility for high performing schools; 70 percent oppose vouchers and tax credits for private schools. On public safety, 86 percent want to see us close the gun show loophole on background checks for gun purchases, and 88 percent support civil lawsuits against those who would exploit the elderly. Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete the survey.
It is a pleasure and honor to represent you in the Virginia House of Delegates. As always, please feel free to contact me to share your thoughts and comments on legislation that will be before us so I may better serve you in Richmond.