RICHMOND – In honor of sine die, we wanted to provide a recap of Senate Democrats’ accomplishments during the 2017 legislative session. Throughout our time in Richmond, we have been fighting tirelessly to make life better for working families across Virginia. When developing our legislative agenda, we decided to focus on economic development, providing fairness in our criminal justice system, and preserving our democratic values. Below are some of our most notable successes on those issues and more.
Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) got SB 1113 passed through the House and Senate to streamline the licensure process for contractors throughout the Commonwealth. It currently takes our contractors up to 8 weeks to get verified and approved before they can get to work. This bill eliminates a big chunk of the bureaucratic burden of the licensure process in a way that does not adversely impact the rigorous standards, helping contractors get to work faster.
Senator Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) fought hard to pass a landmark bill, SB 1398, toclean up coal ash deposits while creating good paying jobs. It passed both the Senate and the House with strong bipartisan support. Along with creating blue-collar jobs, this initiative will protect our downstream communities from having their water contaminated.
Senator Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) passed SB 1523 to have the Department of Educationdevelop a pilot program creating a model exit questionnaire for teachers leaving the school system to determine better strategies for teacher retention. This bill will allow our local school boards to develop best practices to improve the schools under their jurisdiction and, therefore, improve the educational standards of students across the Commonwealth.
We passed SB 1527, a bill introduced by Senator Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax). This bill will broaden the categories of students eligible to receive financial aid grants to non-dependents taking at least 15 credit hours, helping Virginian students who are currently saddled with unsustainable levels of debt that cause so many of them to delay buying their first car or home.
Senator Chap Petersen's (D-Fairfax City) SB 1376 prohibits public universities from approving increases in undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees without first providing students and the public a projected range of the proposed increase, an explanation of the need for the increase, and notice of the date and location of any vote on the increase at least 30 days prior. This will provide our students with more transparency as they work their way through our public universities.
Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) passed SB 1032 to provide that Virginia students who were in foster care or in custody of the Department of Social Services qualify for grants to pay tuition and fees. This bill will also help students deal with the runaway costs of higher education.
Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun) passed SB 829 to break down the school-to-prison pipeline. This bill gives the Board of Education latitude to establish guidelines for alternatives to short-term and long-term suspension for consideration by local school boards. Virginia has the highest rate of its children being referred to law enforcement in the nation. The school-to-prison pipeline stunts students' academic growth and makes them much more likely to be involved in the correctional system later in life.
Senator Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) passed SB 1091 through the House and Senate to end the practice of suspending adult driver's licenses for possession of marijuana convictions. This bill will stop the Commonwealth from putting our constituents in a place where they are unable to find work or get to work.
Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) passed SB 935 and SB 975 through the House and Senate to set roles and responsibilities of each community services board in the pre-admission screening process for inmates to provide for due consideration, including financial consideration, should there be disproportionate obligations on one of the community services boards.
To reduce the prevalence of sexual assault, Senator Barbara Favola got her SB 1150 through tomake a bar bystander training module available to help ABC licensees and their employees recognize situations that may lead to sexual assault.
To battle against rape culture, Senator Jennifer McClellan's (D-Richmond) passed SB 1475, which will mandate that Family Life Education curricula include instruction that increases student awareness of the fact that consent is required before sexual activity.
To prevent what has come to be known as revenge porn, Senator Jennifer Wexton passed SB 1210, which creates a civil cause of action against an individual who maliciously disseminates or sells any videographic or still image that depicts another person who is nude or in a state of undress where such person knows that he is not licensed or authorized to disseminate or sell such videographic or still image.
Senator Barbara Favola also worked hard to pass SB 1501 -- which will clear up the large backlog of rape kits throughout the Commonwealth that are dated prior to July 1, 2016.
Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax), got SB 1020 which, among other things, defines "registered peer recovery specialist" as a person who by education and experience is professionally qualified and registered by the Board of Counseling. By law, they will now provide collaborative services to assist individuals in achieving sustained recovery from the effects of addiction or mental illness, or both.
Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) worked on a bipartisan basis passing SB 1005 and SB 1006 totackle mental health issues. SB 1005 will provide that the core of services provided by community services boards and behavioral health authorities include same-day access to mental health screening services and outpatient primary care screening and monitoring services for physical health indicators. SB 1006 will protect the security and privacy of the records and information collected through mental health screenings. Senator Creigh Deeds also pushed SB 1511 through the General Assembly to provide that no person will be deemed incapable of making an informed decision based solely on a particular clinical diagnosis. If, at any time, a patient is determined to be incapable of making an informed decision, the patient will be notified along with the to the patient's agent or person authorized to make health care decisions on their behalf. Together, these bills will bolster Virginia's commitment to taking mental healthcare seriously.
To deal with the scourge of opioid addiction, we passed Senator Dave Marsden's (D-Fairfax)SB 1031 to add to the list of individuals who may possess and administer naloxone or other opioid antagonist, provided that they have completed a training program. Senator Jennifer Wexton got similar legislation, SB 848, passed in the House and Senate to exempt those who in good faith and without compensation dispense naloxone from liability. Together these bills will help our constituents and medical professionals tackle the opioid epidemic.
To help those dealing with intractable epilepsy deal manage their symptoms, Senator Dave Marsden passed SB 1027 to authorize pharmaceutical processors, after obtaining a permit from the Board of Pharmacy and under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist, to manufacture and provide cannabidiol oil and THC-A oil to be used for the treatment of intractable epilepsy.
Senator Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake), worked hard to pass SB 961 to limit any potential partisan bias in the rejection of absentee ballots. Instead of the current standard that simply a majority of officers of election sign off on any statement of cause for rejection of an absentee ballot, Senator Spruill's bill will mandate that an officer from each political party sign off on the statement of cause. This measure will bolster trust in the fairness of our elections.
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