March 20th, 2017
The 2017 legislative session came to a close on February 25th. Over the course of this session I'm proud to have proposed 21 bills, nine of which passed both the House and the Senate. These bills ranged in topics of public transportation, general government, local governing charters, housing, and energy. Our team worked with both sides of the aisle to ensure that our proposals would address the needs of our constituents in the 16th district as well as benefit all hardworking Virginians.
I co-sponsored 10 bills aimed at criminal justice and mental health reform. At the beginning of session, I was appointed to four committees including the Senate Finance Committee, Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, and the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee. My colleagues and I will return to Richmond on April 5th for the reconvened session to consider the governor's vetoes. As always we will continue to push legislation that will improve the quality of life for those across the Commonwealth and look forward to meeting with constituents around the district in the months ahead. I am proud of all we have accomplished at the General Assembly this session as we look to the year ahead. Some of my highlights include:
• Senate Bill 978: A minimum wage bill that aimed to Increase the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.00 per hour in 2017, then to $13 per hour in 2018, and finally to $15 per hour in 2019. This bill failed to pass in Senate Commerce and Labor.
• Senate Bill 979: Regarding absentee, no-excuse, in-person voting allowed qualified voters to vote absentee in person without providing an excuse for not being able to vote in person on Election Day. This bill failed to pass in Senate Privileges and Elections.
• Senate bill 990: Regarding electric energy consumption reduction goals, passed both the House and the Senate. The bill aims to direct the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, in consultation with the staff of the State Corporation Commission, to report annually on the progress the Commonwealth is making toward meeting the goal adopted in 2007 of reducing the consumption of electric energy by retail customers by the year 2022. The bill requires the reports to be made to the General Assembly, the Governor, and the Governor's Executive Committee on Energy Efficiency.
• Senate Bill 992: Addresses the City of Hopewell’s water renewal commission by changing the membership of the Hopewell Water Renewal Commission from a total of eight members appointed by the city council, five of whom are nominees of five manufacturers, to up to nine members, three of whom shall be a member of the city council, the city manager, and the city attorney, and the remainder of whom shall be appointed by the city council from nominees each submitted by a manufacturer who shall provide a capital contribution in an amount determined by the city council. The bill removes the city council's authority to provide for additional nominees to the Commission by manufacturers not involved in planning assistance and requires the Commission to assist in the maintenance and expansion of the city's regional wastewater treatment facility. This bill passed both the House and Senate and is identical to Delegate Aird’s House Bill 2152.
• Senate Bill 1172: The bill provides for the appointment of fare enforcement inspectors to enforce payment of fares for use of mass transit facilities operated anywhere in the Commonwealth. Under current law, failure of a transit user to pay the fare or produce proof of fare payment to such fare enforcement inspectors carries a civil penalty of no more than $100. This bill passed both the House and Senate and was carried on the House side by Delegate Carr’s House Bill 2151.
• Senate Joint Resolution 253: The bill would authorize the General Assembly to provide by law for the automatic restoration of civil rights for persons convicted of nonviolent felonies who have completed service of their sentences and retain the Governor's authority to restore the civil rights of persons convicted of violent felonies who have completed service of their sentences.
• Co-sponsored Senate Join Resolution 278: The bill aimed to create a “prioritized early warning system” through the auditor of public accounts to detect fiscal distress in local governments before it becomes a crisis. Although the bill failed, the actual language of the bill has been incorporated into the budget. The new budget would not only provide a process for the auditor to notify the locality, governor and heads of the assembly’s money committees when a locality meets the criteria of fiscal stress. Indicators include missed debt payments, diminished cash flow, revenue shortfalls, excessive debt and unsupportable expenses. The state would be able to use up to $500,000 in unspent money for local aid to pay instead for assistance to the troubled localities.
The final budget passed by the Senate and the House includes: a 3 % pay raise for state employees; a 2% pay raise for teacher and state supported local employees; a 2% raise for faculty at Virginia’s colleges and universities; $28 million in funding for a behavioral health package; language that allows school divisions additional flexibility with spending lottery funds; addresses student enrollment losses for 42 school divisions across the state(Petersburg is one of the localities that will benefit); raises the starting pay for the Virginia State Police and Capitol Police; creates a process for the auditor of public accounts and the Secretary of Finance to develop a program and a funding mechanism to address localities that are and that may experience some type of fiscal distress; and provides $7.5 million in TANF funding for a new employment and training program aimed at reducing poverty in Virginia communities. Additionally, Virginia State University did not receive a 5% budget reduction like other higher education institutions in Virginia.
I introduced a budget amendment to add an additional $2 million in funding to grants for partnerships between university Master's degree residency programs and school divisions. VCU and ODU currently have successful partnerships, but need additional funding to retain and expand their programs. In addition, funding should be provided to additional universities to place Master's level-trained teachers in other challenged school divisions. This legislation was included in the final budget. I introduced a budget amendment providing $50,000 for Chesterfield County Public Schools to plan with Virginia State University for the development of a college partnership laboratory school in support of Ettrick Elementary. However, this legislation did not make it into the final budget. I also introduced budget amendments to increase funding for year around schools, a planning grant for a manufacturing center at John Tyler Community College, and increased funding at Richard Bland College to strengthen administrative and financial operation.
Dance in the District
On March 2nd, I had the pleasure of visiting Patrick Henry Elementary School for their Dr. Seuss Read Across America Day. The National Education Association's Read Across America Day aims to improve reading motivation and awareness through its annual program on Dr. Seuss' birthday. Thank you to the administration and faculty for your continued dedication to our students!
On March 4th, I joined the Governor and First Lady in kicking off National School Breakfast Week at Bensley Elementary School. Our First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe has dedicated her efforts to eliminating childhood hunger within our Commonwealth. Both myself and the First Lady understand that our communities grow stronger by investing in the health of our children and acknowledge that the first step toward ensuring healthy communities begins with promoting food security and nutrition initiatives within our schools. Breakfast programs like Bensley Elementary’s address key areas linked to the academic success of our children. It is our duty as public servants to invest in the futures of our communities and it is my honor to stand beside our First Lady as she leads the way.
On March 10th, I had the pleasure to join North Elementary School’s fifth grade students in Prince George for breakfast in honor of National School Breakfast Week. I am always proud to see the exceptional commitment of our school’s faculty and staff to our students. I was warmly welcomed by Principal Donna Branch Harris and Cafeteria Manager Delois Grant. Thank you to the cafeteria staff of North Elementary School for providing nutritional meals to keep our children focused and geared toward academic success. I asked the group of students what they believed the importance of the first meal of the day to be and was assured breakfast not only fuels your mind but serves as a key ingredient for sustained learning.
We had the wonderful opportunity to attend an afternoon celebration in honor of the life and legacy of Maggie L. Walker. The National Park Service has created a documentary featuring Maggie L. Walker’s work as a civil rights activist, organizer, community leader and social change trailblazer. We were given a short preview of the film followed by speakers from the National Park Service, Maggie Walker Foundation and Dr. Darlene Clark Hine, Professor of African American History and Studies at Northwestern University. Together they are working to preserve the narratives of African American women in our nation’s collective history by archiving materials documenting the many contributions of African American women across the United States. It is always important to highlight the many achievements of American women who are often lost to time and I am grateful to have honored Maggie L. Walker’s legacy especially during Women’s History Month.
In honor of Richmond Black Restaurant Week our team dined at Croaker’s Spot on Hull Street. A special thank you to the manager’s Ralph Fields and Linda Davenport as well as our server Kenny Parrish for your overwhelming hospitality. I am proud that our Richmond community values and supports Black owned business and was eager to participate in the first ever Richmond Black Restaurant Week. With many more to come, I will be sure to take part next year and visit again in the very near future.
On March 14th, On Tuesday I had the opportunity to observe the Literacy Lab program at Oak Grove/Bellemeade Elementary School in Richmond. The Literacy Lab is an extension of the Virginia Reading Corps in the Greater Richmond area that aims to provide the 591 K - 3rd grade students enrolled in the program with an intensive, data-driven literacy improvement curriculum. The program targets students who are deemed to be at-risk of underperforming in reading and writing. The program trains full-time tutors to serve as part of the AmericCorps program focusing on preventing reading failure and ensuring each student will have the tools necessary to succeed academically as they continue their education. The Literacy Lab has established partnerships with 18 schools in Richmond, Petersburg and Henrico. I’m happy to have joined Secretary of Education Deitra Trent, Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, and Delegate Betsy Carr in observing the program in action as well as supporting the work of our educators.
Paid for By Dance for Senate