ICYMI: SENATE DEMOCRATS ROLL OUT 2016 LEGISLATIVE AGENDA

Richmond, Va. – This morning, members of the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus rolled out their 2016 legislative agenda, which expands on Governor McAuliffe’s economic development successes to make the Commonwealth a better place in which to live, work, and raise a family.

 

Senator Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), Chair of the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus, started off with a statement expressing the Caucus’s disappointment that new Senate rules, adopted yesterday on a party-line vote of 21-19, bar reporters from the floor. “We are profoundly disappointed that you [the press] have been relegated to the balcony. I understand from one of your colleagues that this happened before many many years ago and it didn’t last long. It is our hope that it won’t last long this time either.”

 

Moving on to the Senate Democrats’ 2016 legislative priorities, Senator McEachin said, “We are working to increase economic security and bring new opportunities for families and small business owners now and in the future.”

 

Speaking to the economy and jobs, Senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) said, “We’re still coming out of the recession and some of the income disparity problems are truly serious. I’ve been very proud the last two years and again this year to introduce a bill to deal with increasing Virginia’s minimum wage over three years from $7.25 to $10.10… And think about what this does: it puts money in the hands of the people who will spend it... We need money circulating in this economy and the minimum wage is the way to do it.

 

Senator Marsden added, “Democrats will back the kind of economic development efforts that have spurred growth and diversified our economy. These policies will move us towards a sound, stable, lasting prosperity… Advancing these kinds of policies is one of the best and quickest ways to grow our economy and to lift struggling families to prosperity. That’s a goal all 19 of us share and you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the coming weeks.”

 

Shifting the focus to education, Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun) said, “Access to a world class public education always has been and continues to be one of our top priorities as Democrats... It is a fundamental part of keeping our economy growing. After all, we need a highly educated, highly skilled workforce if we are going to keep attracting employers to the Commonwealth and compete at the national and the global level… It is our duty to [our kids] and the Commonwealth to work together across the aisle to find ways to strengthen our education system.

 

Senator Wexton continued, “Preparing our children for 21st century jobs means that we need to double down on efforts to make higher education more accessible for all… The crushing cost of sending kids to college is really impacting our families and this is something where we can make a difference as a state.”

 

On healthcare, Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) said, “Ensuring that we have a healthy Virginia should be the top priority of all lawmakers. We, once again, have an opportunity as a state to participate in a federal program called Medicaid expansion… We could insure hardworking Virginians -- everyday they go to work, they are the backbone of our economy, they have families they must support, yet they cannot afford to go to a doctor. We are sending money every day to Washington. $5 million dollars a day. And those dollars are supporting Medicaid expansion in 29 other states. And yet we are not willing to keep that money here and do the right thing. So I pray that we can come up with some creative strategies for making progress in this very important area.”

 

Switching the attention over to the environment, Senator Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomac) said, “As we have experienced these increasingly erratic weather patterns in recent months, it is a reminder of some of the challenges that we have ahead of us as we seek to be better stewards of our Commonwealth’s environment and to be proactive on some of the environmental challenges we face… I am sponsoring a bill again this year that will create a Shoreline Resiliency Fund -- a low interest, revolving loan fund that would help businesses and homes in recurring flooded areas to take steps to be proactive and preventative and limit the damage from frequent flooding. We owe it to our small business owners and to our hardworking families to be proactive in this regard -- to prevent and help them deal with the issue of sea level rise as we move towards what everyone indicates will be very significant changes in sea level by 2050.”

 

On rights and equality -- specifically voting access -- Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) said, “Our New Virginia Economy rings hollow if all people aren’t treated equally and don’t have an equal opportunity to participate. New jobs and higher wages matter because they help people to live better lives. That -- better lives -- is the goal we are working towards. Economic progress is not possible if all Virginians aren’t treated equally… Of course, one of the best ways to ensure equal treatment is to give everyone a voice. That’s why we have to protect the right to vote.”

 

Wrapping up the press conference, Senator Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), Democratic Leader in the Senate, said, “We still have a lot to do. We have gotten a two year reprieve on sequestration but it’s going to start back in, and to make up for that loss we’re obviously going to have to change and diversify the economy... This Governor -- he’s about jobs. If you went and asked Terry what his dream would be it’d be that when he left here everyone was employed. That’s the most important thing we can do.”

 

BACKGROUND

 

What follows is an outline of the themes that Democratic senators discussed, along with a short selection of bills (some not yet filed) that embody those themes.

 

Jobs & Economy — discussed by Sen. Marsden

 

  • Opportunities to Earn Good Wages

    • SB 335 (Dance) -- ban-the-box in public employment

    • SB 88 & SB 129 -- (Marsden / Edwards) higher minimum wage

  • Economic Security for Working Families

    • SB 274 (Wexton) -- paid sick leave for private employees

    • SB 105 (Locke) -- revenue source for Housing Trust Fund

  • Job Creation & Economic Development, including:

    • [not yet available on LIS] (Howell) -- creation of GO Virginia structures

    • SB 161 & SB 200 -- (Howell) -- expansion of economic development tax credits

 

Education — discussed by Sen. Wexton

 

  • Access to High-Quality Early Education

    • SB 321 & SB 279 (Barker / Wexton) -- working towards full-day kindergarten in all localities

  • Improvements to K-12 Education

    • supporting Gov. McAuliffe’s previously-announced budget actions

  • Affordable Higher Education

    • SB 52 (Howell) -- creation of Student Loan Refinancing Authority

 

Health — discussed by Sen. Favola

 

  • Protections for Women’s Reproductive Health

    • SB 53 / [not yet available on LIS] (Locke / Favola) -- repeal / rollback of ultrasound requirement

  • Expanding Access to Quality, Affordable Care

    • continuing to support Medicaid expansion

 

Environment — discussed by Sen. Lewis

 

  • Preventing Global Warming & Sea Level Rise

    • SB 282 (Lewis) -- creation of Shoreline Resiliency Fund

  • Promoting Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency

    • [numerous] -- lower barriers to net metering

  • Addressing Toxins & Pollution

    • SB 227 (McEachin) -- toxic waste sites inventory

 

Rights & Equality — discussed by Sen. Locke

 

  • Equal Treatment for All

    • SJ 11 & SJ 1 (Wexton / Surovell) -- ratification of Equal Rights Amendment

    • SJ 2, SJ 9, & SJ 32 (Ebbin Locke / McEachin) -- repeal of Marshall-Newman

    • priorities discussed at the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus’ agenda presser

  • Right to Cast a Meaningful Vote

    • SB 222 (McEachin) -- automatic voter registration

    • [numerous] -- redistricting reform

    • SB 69 (Wexton) -- new acceptable forms of voter ID

(Note that this is by no means an exhaustive list of bills that Democrats intend to support or highlight in the coming weeks. Note also that each member makes his or her own decisions about which bills to support and oppose.)

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