Breakthroughs and Disappointments – The 2016 Session

Breakthroughs and Disappointments – The 2016 Session

The 2016 General Assembly Session came to a close this past Friday. Amidst the turmoil and vitriol of the 2016 Presidential campaign much of what we did seems to have flown under the radar. Overall the 2016 session was a remarkably successful session with major investments in education and economic development the chief accomplishments. I could spend days telling you about some of the distractions from Republican sponsored legislation we had to deal with. From fighting off additional restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, to attacks on marriage equality, to the successful passage of a bill to bring back the electric chair – the 2016 session had its challenges. I recently read an interesting recap at the Lynchburg News and Advance, where they provide 25 of the most important takeaways out of Richmond.  If I had to sum up this year’s session it would be “breakthroughs and disappointments” – breakthroughs and disappointments in the budget, breakthroughs and disappointments in judicial appointments, and breakthroughs and disappointments in my legislative agenda.

 

Breakthroughs and Disappointments in the Budget

Even year sessions are always marked by the budget process. This is one area where Democrats and Republicans were able to work well together. Among the many bright spots in the new biennial budget includes a 3% pay raise for state employees, $114 million to stave off tuition increases at our colleges and universities, and funding for the I-66 inside the beltway plan. But, the two areas that saw major breakthroughs through the budget process were in K-12 education and economic development. K-12 education will see one of the largest increases in spending in decades. The new biannual budget will see an $892 million increase in direct aid for public education over the current budget plus a 2% pay raise for teachers. Fairfax County Schools will receive over $80 million in additional funding over the current budget. Most importantly the funding comes with additional flexibility on how our localities can spend these new funds. Virginia’s economy continues to grow stronger, with our unemployment rate dropping to 4.1%. Diversifying Virginia’s economy continues to be a top priority and the budget includes $35 million for “Go Virginia”, a new grant program that will help localities work together to create and compete for jobs. The budget also includes a $2 billion bond package that will mostly invest in research and technology.

For the third year in a row the legislature failed to expand Medicaid, a major disappointment. Expanding Medicaid would provide health care coverage for nearly 400,000 Virginians, create 30,000 jobs, and provide budget flexibility that would allow us to invest in other priorities. The failure to expand Medicaid will cost people their lives and livelihood. Republicans stand in lock step opposition to expansion.

 

Breakthroughs and Disappointments in Judicial Appointments

The year long drama over a Supreme Court appointment came to a disappointing end. I continue to be dismayed by the Republican Party’s refusal to reappoint Justice Jane Roush to the Supreme Court. She served with distinction and deserved our support. The politicizing of our Supreme Court in the same fashion that has been done at the federal level is a continuation of Washington style politics the Republicans have brought to the Commonwealth.One breakthrough was our victory in keeping former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli from gaining the appointment. He would have represented the most extreme and overtly political nominee the court has ever seen. I am pleased that so many of us were able to join together and overcome this nomination. In the end however, the Republicans were able to coalesce around a candidate and they replaced Justice Roush with Stephen McCullough. He has had a distinguished career but is every bit as conservative as Ken Cuccinelli. It takes 21 votes in the Senate to elect a Justice. Elections have consequences and the Republican victories in 2015 gave them 21 seats, and thus enough votes to place whoever they wanted on the Supreme Court. Their one holdout for Justice Roush caved in the end and voted with his party. It brought a very disappointing end to this saga.

 

Breakthroughs and Disappointments in My Legislative Agenda

At “crossover” I told you about three pieces of legislation that passed the Senate that had the potential to be major breakthroughs. Two of those pieces of legislation passed the House of Delegates and are expected to become law in July.

Senate Bill 701 creates a way to manufacture and provide CBD and THC-A oil for patients with intractable epilepsy. The bill is the natural next step to SB 1235 from 2015, which paved the way for patients with epilepsy to be treated with the oils. SB 701 requires the Board of Pharmacy to create regulations to ensure health, safety, and security. Providing these oils will help improve the lives of thousands of Virginians. This legislation had a unique path to passage; with tense negotiations and many amendments for a bill that wound up passing both chambers unanimously. The bill requires the Board of Pharmacy to bring the regulations they create back before the General Assembly for approval next year. I’m optimistic that we will be successful in passing those regulations.

Senate Bill 90 amends a previous law so that if a medical device injures someone, the two year statute of limitations begins on the date when the person first experiences adverse symptoms, NOT as it currently is, two years from the date the device was implanted. The bill ensures that Virginians have recourse to take action against companies with faulty devices, and gives them an appropriate amount of time to take action. This legislation may sound like a small reform but it has the potential to impact thousands across the Commonwealth who have been or will be injured by a medical device. It passed both chambers unanimously and has already been signed by the Governor.

Many of you may have seen the banner I hung outside my office “welcoming gun lobby day members.” This year I sent a clear message to the gun lobby and to my Republican colleagues that their intransigence on this issue is getting people killed. I introduced eight bills dealing with the management of firearms and all of them but one failed to pass even a single chamber of the legislature. The one bill that did pass after being rolled into Senator Janet Howells identical measure, was a bill to take weapons out of the hands of domestic abusers by criminalizing firearm possession for people under permanent protective orders It ultimately became a part of the Governor’s compromise on gun legislation. I supported the compromise because it has the potential to save lives and because it puts new firearm safety laws on the books in Virginia for the first time since 1997. We all agree that there is too much violence in America. I do not understand how many lives have to be lost, how many tears have to be shed, and how many times I can shake my head in disbelief before we act. Failure to pass additional gun safety measures will be one of the major disappointments of this legislative session.

 

Contact Me

For more updates follow me on Facebook and Twitter. As always, I stand ready to serve you in any way possible. You can always reach me on my cell,703-964-6821 or at our office number, 571-249-3037 or e-mail me at district37@senate.virginia.gov. I look forward to hearing from you and working on your behalf.

 

 

Full Legislative Agenda

 

SB 89 Requiring electoral boards to post meeting minutes on-line

Passed the Senate and the House; waiting for Governor McAuliffe’s signature.

Mandates that local electoral boards post minutes from their meetings on the local electoral board’s website.

 

SB 90 Expanding the statute of limitations for medical device injuries

Passed Senate and House and has received Governor McAuliffe’s signature. Will become law July 1st.

Provides additional time for someone injured by a surgically implanted medical device to seek legal recourse.

 

SB 91 Registration of emergency vehicles

Passed Senate and House and has received Governor McAuliffe’s signature. Will become law July 1st.

Provides clarity on how to register privately owned ambulances.

 

SB 96 Individual under a protective orders cannot possess a firearm

Combined with SB 49 Passed Senate and House and has received Governor McAuliffe’s signature. Will become law July 1st. Prohibits a person who is subject to a protective order from possessing a firearm. The bill closes a previous loophole that only forbid someone with a protective order from transporting or purchasing firearms.

 

SB 665 Middle school student-athletes; pre-participation physical examination

Passed the Senate and the House; waiting for Governor McAuliffe’s signature.

Requires middle school students participating in school athletics to submit a physical from a physician.

 

SB 701 Manufacturing and providing THC-A and CBD Oil

Passed the Senate and the House; waiting for Governor McAuliffe’s signature.

Creates frame work and regulatory structure to manufacture and provide medical marijuana oils for patients suffering from intractable epilepsy.

 

SB 401 Restroom access for those suffering from IBS

Passed the Senate 33-5 but failed to pass the House.

Requires the Dept. of Health to develop an I.D. card for individuals affected by IBS who require immediate access to restroom facilities.

 

SB 93 Correctional Officer Procedural Guarantee Act

Passed Senate Finance 33-6 but failed to pass the House.

Provides a procedural guarantee for correctional officers when allegations are made against them that could lead to their dismissal, demotion or suspension.

 

SB 717 Vineyards; grapevine grant program

Passed the Virginia Senate 36-3 but failed to pass the House.

Creates a grant program to assist vineyards in growing grapes for Virginia wine.

 

SB 88 Raising the minimum wage to $10.10

The Senate Commerce and Labor committee voted down SB 88.

Would have raised Virginia’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour in increments over three years.

 

SB 92 Workers’ compensation, disease presumption for correctional officers

Senate Commerce and Labor Committee voted down SB 92.

Would have included correctional officers in same worker’s compensation plans as other public safety officers.

 

SB 94 Juvenile offenders; sentence modification

Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted down SB 94.

Sought to comply with recent Supreme Court decisions that mandate the states provide an opportunity at release for juveniles.

 

SB 95 civil liability for the use of a firearm in commission of crime

Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted down SB 95.

Would have made an individual liable if their weapon was used in the commission of a crime if it could be proven that their weapon was stolen through their negligence.

 

SB 97 One gun a month 

Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted down SB 97.

Would have re-instated Virginia’s one gun a month law.

 

SB 184 Limit gun magazines to 10 rounds

Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted down SB 184.

This bill would have prohibited the purchase or transfer of gun magazines that contain more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

 

SB 185 Elimination of open carry of firearms

Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted down SB 185.

This bill would have prohibited open carry of firearms in public places.

 

SB 186 Concealed handgun permits; proof of competence, training courses

Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted down SB 186.

Would have improved the training required to receive a concealed weapons permit

 

SB 187 Require a background check permit to transfer a firearm

Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted down SB 187.

Created a form of universal background check by creating a permit individuals would have to possess to sell or purchase a firearm. The possessor of the permit would have to pass a background check.

 

SB 217 Children under age 7 may not possess a firearm

Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted down SB 217.

Would have made it illegal for anyone to allow a child under the age of 7 to use a firearm.

 

SB 218 Business license taxes exemption for staffing firms

Senate Finance Committee voted down SB 218.

Would have given staffing agencies who pay their employees using a 1099 the same exemption that staffing agencies who pay their employees using a W2.

 

SB 400 Income tax, state; personal use of campaign funds

Senate Finance Committee voted down SB 400.

Would have mandated any political candidate or office holder who uses political contributions for personal use to claim those contributions as income for tax purposes.

 

SB 724 Corrections, Board of; powers and duties

Was defeated in the Senate on a vote of 16-24.

This bill would have restored responsibilities to the Virginia Board of Corrections that were stripped away in 2011.