Last week, the Virginia General Assembly convened for a short session. Prior to convening, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus unveiled our legislative agenda the House and Senate Democrats unveiled our Vision for Virginia. You can watch the VLBC press conference here and the Joint Democratic Leadership press conference here.
The primary purpose of a short session is to address amendments to the biennial budget adopted last year. Governor Youngkin unveiled his proposed amendments on December 15th, which have been filed as HB 1400 and SB 800. Highlights can be found here.
Already, we’ve seen Republicans introduce extreme bills that would reverse the progress we’ve fought so hard to secure. From a statewide ban on abortion access to turning back the clock on healthcare access, public education, climate change protections, worker protections and more, Democrats in the House and Senate are ready to stand against this damaging legislation and fight for a bold, inclusive vision for Virginia.
As per tradition, on the first day of session, Governor Youngkin delivered his State of the Commonwealth Address. This speech before the members of the General Assembly is often seen as an opportunity for bipartisan compromise. Unfortunately, the Governor chose to use his remarks to attack Democrats and voice support for a series of hyperpartisan, extreme proposals that would fail to benefit Virginians. The Governor called for restrictions on essential reproductive healthcare, tax cuts for big corporations, undermining environmental protections and other proposals that have no place in Virginia in 2023. I will work with my fellow Democrats to serve a brick wall against these harmful proposals while continuing to reach across the aisle to enact common-sense, bipartisan change for the residents of the Commonwealth.
And speaking of the Senate Democratic Caucus, we added another brick to the wall with the election of Aaron Rouse in a special election on January 10th, flipping the seat once held by Jennifer Kiggans. Aaron will be sworn-in Wednesday!
Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy
Sunday marked what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 94th Birthday!
As Chair of the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, it is my privilege each year to reflect on Dr. King’ life and legacy, and ask the Senate to adjourn in his honor and memory. This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, and I reminded my colleagues that we must recommit ourselves today and every day to do what we can to truly make Dr. King’s dream of a Beloved Community a reality. You can watch my floor remarks here.
I have introduced 16 bills this session, focused on investing in Virginia communities and public schools, protecting reproductive freedom, making electric bills and housing more affordable, and helping Virginia businesses grow and thrive:
EDUCATION AND CHILDREN
- SB1325 implements the Virginia Board of Education’s 2021 Recommended Standards of Quality (SOQ) to fully fund K-12 schools and increase educational opportunity for Virginia children. In the City of Richmond alone, this would provide more than $5 million in state funding, 20 new specialized support positions, 19 new school counselors, and 26 new assistant principals. Over the past two years, I have passed legislation and budget amendments to implement SOQ recommendations ensuring all elementary schools have a full-time principal and setting a ratio of 3 support staff per 1,000 students. SB1325 will implement the rest of the SOQ recommendations, including increasing funding for school counselors to ensure there is one counselor for every 250 students, increasing funding for English learner students based on proficiency, and increasing a host of other critical support positions in schools and programming. Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) is co-chief patron B1325, and Delegate Jeffrey Bourne (D-Richmond) is patron of the House companion bill. I’ve also introduced a budget amendment to fully eliminate the arbitrary 13-year-old cap on state funding for support staff. Last year, I successfully worked to lift the support staff cap by one-third.
- SB1408 provides localities more options to pay for School Construction and Modernization by allowing all Virginia localities the option to increase the local sales tax up to 1% by referendum. Funding could only be used for school construction or renovation. Under current law, only nine localities have this power. This bill is a recommendation of the Commission on School Construction and Modernization, which I chair. Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill, and Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) is the patron of the House companion bill.
- SB1329 provides Student Data Transparency by creating a centralized dashboard for all state-supported assessment data for Virginia students. Virginia’s current system lacks portability as students move from school to school and risks non-compliance with federal law. The Virginia Department of Education will collect all state-supported assessment data and provide every family, teacher and school leader in the Commonwealth with user access to view a data dashboard on demand. Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill, and Delegate Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield) is patron of companion House legislation.
- SB1324 establishes a new state Child Tax Credit to provide a $500 refund for every child under the age of 18 in households making up to $100,000 in adjusted gross income. Among Virginia families with children, 44% reported experiencing difficulty paying for their usual household expenses – now compounded by the expiration of the federal child tax credit. This state child tax credit will provide financial relief to more than 700,000 Virginia families and introduce fairness to the tax code. Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill, and Delegate Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) is patron of a companion House bill.
ECONOMIC AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
- In 2021, I carried a budget amendment making Virginia one of the first states to create a Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund. Its’ mission is to expand economic opportunity for underserved people, rural areas, and communities by supporting the growth and capacity of Virginia community development lenders, investors, and financial service providers. SB1320 codifies and recapitalizes the CDFI Fund and expands eligibility requirements to include commercial real estate, housing development, and homeownership financing as eligible uses. Senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegate Danny Marshall (R-Danville) is patron of a House companion.
- SB1366 establishes a framework for the creation of the Virginia Cannabis Incubator Project to allow farmers, processors and aspiring entrepreneurs to obtain micro-grower, processor and retail licenses to start, cultivate, and scale their businesses. The bill creates a regulatory structure for the Incubator Project to be administered by the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority. The bill has a delayed effective date pending legalization of the manufacture, sale, and distribution of cannabis in the Commonwealth. Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill, and Delegate Danny Marshall (R-Dannville) is patron of a House companion bill.
- In recent years, Virginia’s broad recall laws have been used as a political tool to undermine duly-elected officials and thwart the will of voters. SB1328 (Recall Reform) will reform Virginia’s recall procedures to prevent abuse by political entities. The bill raises the threshold for signatures to require a recall to be consistent with other states and uses an election procedure rather than court case to decide whether an elected official should be removed from office. Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill.
- SB1321 (The Affordable Energy Act) will establish accurate electricity prices and protect consumers from being overcharged on their utility bills by restoring the State Corporation Commission’s historic authority to lower electric utility rates when the agency determines that customers will be overcharged. The 2023 legislative session is the last opportunity to restore this authority to prevent customer overcharges before Appalachian Power’s rate review in 2023 and Dominion’s in 2024. Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegates Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) and Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax) are patrons of a companion House bill.
- SB1323 improves Energy Efficiency programs to enable more Virginians to save money on their electricity bills. The bill creates a performance standard for energy efficiency programs for low-income, elderly, disabled and veteran customers to ensure they receive savings from weatherization upgrades. The bill also ensures utility efficiency spending with permanent, annual energy efficiency performance targets, and ends restrictions on utility energy efficiency spending. Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill.
- SB1322 allows localities to adopt a Healthy Communities Strategy during their comprehensive plan review, enabling localities to identify sources of pollution and hazardous waste, and explore strategies to reduce health risks in impacted neighborhoods. Additionally, localities may encourage feedback from those impacted communities, and create a plan that incorporates strategies and programs that could target and improve the planning process. Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) is the co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegates Shelly Simonds (D-Newport News) and Jackie Glass (D-Norfolk) are patrons of House companion legislation.
- SB1332 codifies a 2021 gubernatorial executive order requiring state permitting agencies Consultation with Tribal Nations when evaluating state permit applications for activities with potential impacts to environmental, historic and cultural resources. These consultations enable time for meaningful input from Tribal Nations about any potential concerns regarding proposed projects, and strengthens Virginia’s government-to-government relationship with Tribal Nations. Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) is the co-chief patron of the Senate legislation, and Delegate Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax) is patron of companion House legislation.
- SJ255 begins the process for a Constitutional Right to Reproductive Freedom in Virginia without interference or discrimination. The amendment protects against the criminalization of pregnancy status and outcomes, and protects providers from punishment. This process is a multi-year effort that must pass the General Assembly two years in a row with an intervening House election before letting the voters decide. Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) is the co-chief patron of the Senate amendment, and Delegate Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) is patron of the House companion.
- Nearly 100,000 children in Virginia do not have health insurance, representing 4.9% of Virginia’s under-18 population. SB1327 will help close this gap of uninsured children by creating a health insurance program to Cover All Kids regardless of immigration status similar to the Family Access to Medical Insurance Security Plan for undocumented children. This program was a recommendation of a work group established by budget language in 2021. Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill, and Delegate Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) is patron of a companion bill in the House.
- SB1330 will helpVirginians avoid evictions by extending the window to pay rent plus late fees from five to 14 days. This 14-day “Pay or Quit” window will enable tenants to catch up on rent before facing eviction. Landlords will receive the full amount of rent they are owed instead of spending additional money on court fees to get a judgment they may not be able to collect. Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegate Cia Price (D-Newport News) is patron of the House companion.
- SB1331 expands Inclusionary Zoning by authorizing any Virginia locality to provide for an affordable housing dwelling unit program in its zoning ordinances. Current law limits such authorization to only counties with certain types of governing structures. The bill also requires the comprehensive plan of each locality to show the connection between affordable housing and other needs of its residents, such as job creation, educational opportunities, and parks and recreational activities. Senator Ghazala Hashsmi (D-Chesterfield) is the co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegate Betsy Carr (D-Richmond) is patron of a House companion.
- SB1384 expands Affordable Housing Access for Pet Owners by prohibiting Virginia’s housing redevelopment authorities from creating barriers for pet owners to find the affordable housing they need through arbitrary restrictions beyond those of local zoning ordinances. Senator Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill. Delegate Angelia Williams Graves (D-Norfolk) is patron of a House companion bill.
- SB1326 will Modernize Bus Infrastructure and Reduce Emissions in Virginia by enabling Virginia’s Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP) to use funding to improve bus safety and accessibility, and help transit agencies transition to zero-emission bus fleets. The infrastructure investments would include bus shelters, sidewalks and lighting. Zero-emissions investments would include supporting local planning initiatives, training for the transit workforce and identifying charging infrastructure needs. Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegate Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) is patron of a companion House bill.
I look forward to sharing updates with you over the next few weeks about the 2023 Session. To contact me or my staff, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 698-7509. To keep up with all the action at the General Assembly throughout these next few weeks follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Have a great week!