We are approaching “crossover,” the day on which all bills must be passed by one body so they can be sent over to the other body for consideration. As a result, there are long floor sessions, and meetings that begin in the early morning and extend late into the evening.
DNA database expansion
A number of very important measures upon which I have worked are working their way through the process. The first is the DNA database expansion bill (HB 1617), which was proposed in response to the Hannah Graham tragedy. Right now, we collect DNA from persons convicted of felonies. Under the bill, DNA samples would be taken (much as we currently take fingerprints) from persons convicted of serious misdemeanors. The final list of misdemeanors is yet to be determined, but, for the present, in addition to those already included in the law today, the list includes:
Some people have suggested that the list includes minor offenses such as jaywalking or certain traffic offenses. This is not the case. It also does not include any offenses committed by juveniles. The list has been limited to those misdemeanors that tend to be predictive, to the extent that they can, of future criminal behavior. At sub-committee level, Sheriff Chip Harding and Gil Harrington, the mother of former Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who was abducted and murdered several years ago, testified on behalf of the bill. Sheriff Harding pointed out that Jessie Mathew, the alleged assailant of Hannah Graham, had been convicted of misdemeanor trespass several years before a rape for which he has now been charged, occurred in Fairfax. If his DNA had been taken and put into the database, it is likely that the police would have linked him to the Fairfax rape and he would never have met Hannah Graham.
Delegate Bell and Senator Obenshain have similar bills. My bill has been rolled into Delegate Bell’s bill, and that is the measure which ultimately may be passed by the House, perhaps as early as Monday.
Campus sexual assault and campus safety
Two other initiatives that I have proposed related to campus sexual assault and campus safety are headed to the House Courts of Justice committee, having cleared a preliminary hurdle in the Education Committee. My bill, HB 2201, requires that a college transcript be annotated in the event that a person is convicted of sexual misconduct on campus or withdraws because of such an allegation. This will help inform employers and universities of the person’s previous behavior while in school so that they can make better judgments about whether to admit that person to their institution or hire them.
A more complex bill related to this issue, the College Sexual Assault Reporting bill (HB 2139), has been modified significantly since it was introduced. Originally, it was a “mandatory reporting” bill, but after hearing from many constituents and being briefed on the complexities of Federal law, the bill now is what might be referred to as an “enhanced encouragement to report” bill. I believe it balances the need for a survivor to determine how, if at all, he or she wants to prosecute a case, with the desire of the community to be protected from serial predators (studies indicate that assailants often reoffend). Under my measure, there is a requirement that employees at universities who obtain knowledge of sexual assault report the incident to the campus Title IX Coordinator or to campus security.
The Title IX Coordinator, with the assistance of campus security, would then convene a threat assessment team, which is composed of campus security, mental health professionals, attorneys, and other designees from the University. Those people would be able to access mental health records and criminal histories on the alleged assailant to provide the team with information about the alleged perpetrator in order to determine whether they may pose a risk to the community. Under current state and federal law, this information is not easily available to the University. My redrafted bill would change that. Using the threat assessment team approach will allow universities to make better decisions on reporting.
The Title IX Coordinator will then have sufficient information to assist in the decision of whether to report the incident to local law enforcement and encourage prosecution as needed. At the same time, the survivor will be given information sufficient to empower him or her with options of how to proceed, to ensure evidence will not be lost, and to make prosecution easier if it occurs. This strikes the appropriate balance between the rights of the victim and the rights of the community, and I hope that the General Assembly will look favorably upon it.
House revised budget
The House revised budget will be released on Sunday. We are working to include some additional monies to provide raises for state employees and teachers. I am still hopeful that we will reprogram some of the special tax breaks given to the coal and utility companies for spending on public safety and education. (You can see my speech on coal credits on YouTube).
Sidewalk construction and vehicle-to-grid bills
My bill to provide more flexibility to the City of Charlottesville and property owners, which addresses sidewalk construction requirements (HB2051), passed the House today and now heads to the Senate. Senator Deeds is carrying the bill in the Senate.
Finally, my vehicle-to-grid bill (HB 2073) was tabled in the Energy sub-committee of Commerce and Labor on Tuesday. Under this unique concept, an electric vehicle could return energy stored in its battery to the grid. This would help with the efficiency of the grid while providing a small financial benefit to electric vehicle owners. Delaware has such a program and has been using it for the last two years. Committee members were intrigued by the concept, and asked that it be studied further before enacting it. I will bring this measure back next year and hopefully it will receive favorable treatment.
As always, it is a pleasure representing you in the General Assembly. Please feel free to call us or write us during session with issues of concern.