We have completed the first three weeks of session. “Cross-over,” the date by which all bills must be passed by the originating chamber so they then can “cross over” to the other chamber for consideration, is approaching. The Clerk of the House reports that 1,400 pieces of legislation are already in play in the House of Delegates, not including all the amendments being negotiated nor any of the bills that will cross over from the Senate to the House in early February. With so much happening, it’s not possible to cover everything that the House worked on this week, but here are a few highlights (and lowlights) of interest.
Working For Virginians to Get a Raise in Pay
As the House Democratic Caucus said before session began, Virginians need more good jobs, more economic security and opportunity – and a raise. Yet Republicans are actively voting against these same things every day we’re in Richmond. Recent examples include:
Relief on Student Loans Rejected
A Republican-controlled House subcommittee killed two pieces of legislation this week that could have helped more than 600,000 Virginia borrowers refinance their student loans. Today, more than 1 million Virginians collectively owe more than $1 billion in student loan debt, a burden not only on them but on the health of Virginia’s economy. I supported both of these measures, one of which would have revived a state entity to help refinance existing student loans at lower rates.
Holding Wages Down
Three different bills offered by my Democratic colleagues that would have raised the minimum wage were defeated by an unrecorded subcommittee voice vote. And this week, the House Republicans passed a bill that prohibits our state agencies from requiring that laborers who work on state-funded projects be paid at the prevailing wage level. Virginians who work for the minimum wage won’t get the raise they need, and our skilled tradespeople could even see their wages fall.
There is some good news: the House budget will likely include pay raises for state troopers, some law enforcement officers, and state employees. However, teachers and university personnel also need the raises they were promised last year; even with all Democrats supporting the effort to include them in the budget, the Republicans are likely to defeat it.
Working For Civil Rights
Del. Bob Marshall’s divisive “bathroom bill” was killed in this week. Although we celebrate this good decision to respect and protect our fellow Virginians, other bills to extend basic civil rights protections were defeated in subcommittees. House Republicans apparently do not agree that the LGBTQ community in Virginia can still face discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, or that Virginia’s hate crime laws should cover sexual orientation or gender identification.
Changes to Voter Impact
Our rights as voters are also potentially being eroded. On Thursday, the House passed a bill that would change how a vacant U.S. Senate seat is filled in Virginia; instead of our current system where the sitting Governor makes a temporary appointment until the next fall’s election, the Governor would call a special election to fill the seat. As drafted, though, the bill includes no timeframe by which the governor must call that special election, effectively allowing a Governor to simply leave the seat vacant for years. I spoke against this bill on the floor because it could disenfranchise Virginia’s 5.6 million voters.
On Friday, the House Privileges and Election Committee voted on a bill that would rig the Commonwealth’s votes in the Electoral College by awarding them based on our gerrymandered Congressional districts, which changes the value of a person’s vote depending on where they happen to live.
Working For You and Staying in Touch
Even with the fast pace of the General Assembly, I have had the chance to visit with many constituents—and Virginians from all over the Commonwealth—who come to Richmond and tell us about the issues that matter to them. This week, I met with grade-schoolers and School Board members, environmentalists and veterans, artists and businesspeople, and advocates for causes from nonpartisan redistricting to medical research and support for those who live with chronic illnesses. You are the real people behind the issues, and your stories are always part of my work—and sometimes even part of my speeches in the House.
For those of you interested in seeing any of my recent floor speeches, you can view them all on Facebook. As you can see, I welcome and appreciate feedback from my constituents. To comment on any legislation, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to call my office in Richmond during the General Assembly session at (804) 698-1057. If you are in Richmond during the session, our office is in Room 614 of the General Assembly Building.