2018 CROSSOVER UPDATE
We are officially halfway through the 2018 legislative session! Tuesday – known as “Crossover” here in Richmond – was the deadline for Senate bills to be heard in the Senate and for House bills to be heard in the House. As you know, our mission for the 2018 session is to prioritize initiatives that build safe and secure communities throughout the Commonwealth.
Our number one priority – as it has been in for several years now – is to expand health coverage to the nearly 400,000 uninsured Virginians. This is a care issue, this is an economic issue, this is a moral issue. Virginians who fall in the coverage gap are denied access to life-saving services that contribute to their economic security in the short, medium, and long term. We have made some progress this session and it is clear that there is consensus over priorities – the next step is to wait and see how this particular priority advances through our budget negotiations. Stay tuned!
There have been a number of high profile highs and lows – we struck a bipartisan deal to raise the grand larceny threshold to $500 (SB 105), but we were not able to move forward on a number of our other progressive issues, ranging from universal background checks on gun sales, raising the state minimum wage, enacting equal pay, no-excuse absentee voting, paid sick leave, or passing the Equal Rights Amendment once and for all – but we will keep fighting those fights in the months and years to come!
In the meantime, check out the list below for some highlights and key wins for Democrats and progressives here in Virginia that didn’t get quite as much attention:
ECONOMIC ACCESS & CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Senate Democrats have stood strong on economic justice and on criminal justice reform. Senator Rosalyn Dance’s (D-Petersburg) SB 252 proposes to “ban the box” on applications for public employment, ensuring that job applicants who may have been convicted and paid their debt to society for past mistakes are not being discriminated against when they apply for jobs now. Getting back to work is the number one way to reduce recidivism rates, and thus getting rid of barriers to employment is an incredibly important priority for us.
With that in mind, Senator Monty Mason’s (D-Williamsburg) SB 555 and Senator Adam Ebbin’s (D-Alexandria) SB 920 address barrier crimes and what you can and cannot be eligible for when it comes to working with substance abuse and mental health treatment providers, or adopting one of the nearly 1,000 children that find themselves in our foster system. Virginians should not be defined by their past mistakes, and in fact often these are the folks who make the most compassionate counselors and foster parents.
Working with multiple stakeholders with conflicting interests, Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) scored a victory for the disability community with SB 652. This will convene a work group of various stakeholders to examine and make recommendations on procurement policies to improve the employment of persons with disabilities.
Senator Jennifer Wexton’s (D-Loudoun) SB 426 protects victims of domestic violence. This bill provides that upon issuance of any protective order, the petitioner will be provided a list of local and state resources that will help them get themselves and their children out of harm’s way.
Those who have made a mistake and have been charged or convicted of a crime need to be given the opportunity to pay back their debt to society – but our current standard of confiscating drivers’ licenses from those who have outstanding court costs does not put those very same people in a position to be economically productive and pay off those costs. Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) has been leading that fight for the past few sessions, and a new bipartisan solution is taking shape in SB 181.
Learning is about more than what happens inside the classroom. Research shows that recreational time goes a long way towards developing teamwork, social skills, and overall physical fitness. With that in mind Senator Chap Petersen's (D-Fairfax City) and Senator Barbara Favola’s (D-Arlington) partnered up on SB 273 which authorizes local school boards to include unstructured recreational into calculations of total instructional time or teaching hours.
Our men and women in the armed services fight hard for our freedom, and their children deserve all the stability we can afford them. Senator Mamie Locke's (D-Hampton) SB 775 ensures that these children who attend our public schools have the opportunity to see out the school year following their parents receiving relocation or deployment orders without being on the hook for tuition or other costs.
Senator Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) is bringing our schools into the 21st century in a way that makes sure that all our children get to reap the benefits. His SB 785 seeks to make sure that any school district that uses electronic textbooks provides students with devices that support that technology, and his SB 786 ensures that public schools are not charging additional tuition for participating in an online class.
Over one million Virginians carry over $30 billion in student loan debt. Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) has been a champion for student borrowers for many years now, and her SB 394 – which will establish the Office of the Qualified Education Loan Ombudsman – will set up some great resources for borrowers to help understand the ins and outs of all of the terms associated with these loans, as well as their rights and responsibilities. This will help students pay back their loans as quickly and as efficiently as possible, and allow them to keep focused on building their lives and careers post-college.
Metro is critical to the economy of Virginia, not just Northern Virginia, and must be kept in a state of good repair and operating efficiently and effectively. Senator Dick Saslaw and Senator George Barker (both D-Fairfax) have partnered up to tackle this in their SB 856. Passage of this bill will provide Virginia's share of $500 million a year in capital funding, improve governance, and ensure accountability of Metro. Metro is the backbone to our northern Virginia economy, and this is an important step towards ensuring we are giving it the funding it needs to survive and keep our economy growing.
Senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) has been working to reform Virginia’s stance on CBD oil and THC-A oil prescribed for medical purposes (SB 726). There are whole tomes’ worth of clinical research that show the medical benefits of these treatments on a wide range of conditions, most notably intractable epilepsy. Because a companion bill has also cleared the House, the bill will certainly be making its way to the Governor’s desk and as soon as July 1 Virginia doctors will be empowered to prescribe a proven, effective treatment which will bring relief to these children and their families.
We have also seen some good progress in the mental health space. Senator Creigh Deeds’ (D-Bath) SB 670 mandates fire departments and emergency medical services agencies to develop curricular for mental health awareness training for their personnel.
On contraception access, Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) successfully got her SB 293 through the Senate. The proposal creates a more streamlined pharmacy license for nonprofit clinics to dispense contraception and antibiotics for STD treatment. This way, women do not have to taxi back and forth from the doctor’s office to get a prescription to the pharmacy to fill the prescription – rather they can pick it up in one stop.
Senator Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake) scored a win on behalf of our furry four-legged friends with SB 872 which ensures that pets are adequately sheltered and cared for by creating penalties for inhumane tethering.
And last but most certainly not least, we have been championing a number of environmental initiatives this session. Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) has introduced SB 902, which creates a business incentive to businesses in the form of a property tax exemption for their solar energy equipment and facilities. Senator Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomac) is carrying SB 265, which creates the new post of Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection to help guide the Administration’s efforts to tackle sea level rise and recurrent flooding.
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