HALFTIME: SENATE DEMS NOTE SUCCESSES, DISAPPOINTMENTS AT CROSSOVER
RICHMOND — February 16 is Crossover in the General Assembly — the last day in which the Senate can act on most Senate bills, and vice versa for the House. Traditionally, Crossover is seen as “halftime” in a given session. Marking the occasion, Senate Democrats made the following statements:
Said Democratic Leader Sen. Dick Saslaw (D - Fairfax), “My Democratic colleagues and I have put a lot of time and effort towards championing job creation and innovation, and these initiatives have soared through the Senate with bipartisan support. We’re creating the structures for GO Virginia for regional collaboration on economic development initiatives. We’re lowering the tax burden on small businesses that invest in research and development. We are reforming the Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program to boost graduation rates from our public universities while reducing student debt. Now it's time to put our money where our mouths have been — let's work for full funding of these crucial measures in the adopted budget bill. Building a new and diversified economy is a bipartisan effort.”
Said Caucus Chair Sen. Donald McEachin (D - Henrico), "I continue to invite my colleagues across the aisle to set aside their partisan priorities and work with our caucus to move Virginia forward. I have been disappointed that Republicans continue to refuse to raise the minimum wage, and to reject paid sick leave for workers. Instead, they have pushed initiatives that discriminate against immigrants and LGBT Virginians. They continue to limit women’s access to health care, and they limit children’s access to early education. In the closing weeks of session, I hope we can all find ways to work together to benefit Virginia families.”
What follows is a review of Senate Democrats’ efforts on selected issues within four broad issue areas outlined in the caucus’ legislative agenda earlier this year.
Jobs & Economy
- Economic Security for Working Families
Democrats’ efforts to raise the minimum wage (e.g., Marsden — SB 88; Edwards — SB 129), ensure equal compensation for equal work (McEachin — SB 221), and guarantee paid sick leave for private employees (Wexton — SB 274) were defeated, but a bill to ban the box in state hiring (Dance — SB 335) passed the Senate on the strength of Democratic votes. Democrats also unsuccessfully fought against the ongoing push to insert “right to work” laws into the state constitution (Obenshain & Suetterlein — SB 446, SJ 70, and SJ 127).
- Job Creation & Economic Development
Republicans joined Democrats and Gov. McAuliffe in supporting job-creating economic development proposals — notably creation of the infrastructure for GO Virginia (Howell & Norment — SB 449) and an expansion of the R&D tax credit (Howell & McDougle — SB 58).
- Access to High-Quality Early Education
Democratic efforts to ensure universal access to full-day kindergarten (Wexton — SB 279; Barker — SB 321) and high-quality pre-school (Edwards — SB 540) were defeated.
- Strengthening Public Schools
Democrats managed to defeat the Senate versions of the proposed charter school amendment (Obenshain & Suetterlein — SB 588, SJ 6, and SJ 93), which would have allowed the state to create charter schools anywhere in Virginia without the input of local school boards or communities.
- Protections for Women’s Reproductive Health
Democrats’ efforts to repeal the ultrasound requirement (Locke — SB 53), allow private insurers to offer abortion coverage on the state health exchange (McEachin — SB 183), and enable women to fill year-long prescriptions for contraception (Locke — SB 404) were defeated.
- Preventing Global Warming
Democrats fought unsuccessfully against a bill that would delay or obstruct implementation of the Clean Power Plan (Chafin — SB 21). A bill to advance mitigation efforts for sea level rise won bipartisan support (Lewis — SB 282).
- Promoting Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency
Democrats' push for a market-based effort to limit carbon emissions (McEachin — SB 571) was defeated; much of the resulting revenue would have funded renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives.
- Addressing Toxins & Pollution
Democrats’ bills to more safely store coal ash (Surovell — SB 537) and toughen notification requirements for spills in state waters (McEachin — SB 581) were defeated; a bill to create a single public list of toxic waste sites in Virginia passed with bipartisan support (McEachin — SB 227).
Rights & Equality
- Equal Treatment for All
The Senate once again voted to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment (Surovell & Wexton — SJ 1), and Democrats passed bills to prevent discrimination against LGBT Virginians both in public employment (Ebbin & McEachin — SB 12) and in housing (Wexton — SB 67). The caucus also fought unsuccessfully against anti-sanctuary cities bills (Garrett — SB 270; Black — SB 705) and a so-called religious refusal bill (Carrico — SB 41) that would allow religiously-affiliated businesses to withhold certain goods and services from those they do not believe should marry.
- Right to Cast a Meaningful Vote
The Senate passed bipartisan bills to reform redistricting criteria (Howell — SB 59) and to allow all senior citizens to vote absentee (Miller — SB 188). Democrats also passed bills to allow early voting for all Virginians (Dance — SB 106; Howell — SB 603) and to grow the list of acceptable forms of voter ID (Wexton — SB 69).
(Note that certain sub-issues from the original agenda depend on still-pending budget actions, or are otherwise unsettled; other sub-issues saw the General Assembly punt on many of the relevant bills or resolutions. These are omitted from the above list.)