On Thursday the 2020 General Assembly session will officially be over – as we say: sine die. With a new majority and new historic leadership, this session brought significant accomplishments for Virginia. A sample of these victories are outlined below. Most importantly, I strove to represent the values and interests of the people of the 52nd district. The progress that was made this year was for your future and due to your advocacy. I remain humbled to serve as your Delegate.
The General Assembly’s new majority made unprecedented progress this session. Less than two years ago we were fighting our hardest to win Medicaid expansion by the narrowest margins; this year we established a State Health Benefit Exchange under the Affordable Care Act to lower health insurance costs for everyone. While previous sessions rolled back basic rights, this year we expanded voting rights, passed anti-discrimination measures and historic women’s rights legislation like the Equal Rights Amendment. We raised the minimum wage for the first time in over a decade, empowered workers, and made our schools safer.
The Prince William County delegation has been working diligently in Richmond to represent the best interests of our districts. Delegate Danica Roem has continued her fight to improve the transportation infrastructure of Prince William County and Northern Virginia. I was pleased to include in the Commonwealth’s biennial budget a study on extending the Metro Blue Line to Prince William County. Delegate Hala Ayala and Senator Surovell passed measures to keep our water clean: House Bills 1641 and 1642 from Delegate Ayala requires utilities to monitor the quality of the drinking water near coal ash ponds, and Senate Bill 106 from Senator Surovell bans fracking east of I-95. Critically, public defender offices are on their way to Manassas, Manassas Park, and Prince William County; House Bill 366, introduced by Delegate Carroll Foy, and Senate Bill 72, an identical bill introduced by Senator Scott Surovell, passed the House and Senate earlier in the session. Prince William County is currently the largest jurisdiction in Virginia – and only jurisdiction in Northern Virginia – that is not served by a public defender office. This legislation was supported by Prince William County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney and will bring more fairness to the criminal justice system for low-income defendants.
House Bill 1249: The Manufactured Home Lot Rental Act passed the House 79-21 and the Senate 39-1. This law will grant additional legal protections to residents of mobile home parks facing eviction, including the right to organize for community ownership.
I was motivated by the story of the East End Mobile Home Park in Manassas. The park owner failed to keep the park up to code for years and its water and sewage systems became a public health issue. The City of Manassas decided to purchase the park to address the neglect, but it would have meant closing the park and evicting the residents. In the end, a nonprofit was able to purchase that park to make repairs without shutting it down. When residents are given notice of a possible sale, adequate time to organize, and consideration, they have a chance for community ownership or outside intervention. I am pleased that will now be law.
House Bill 1250: The Community Policing Act passed the House 62-35 and the Senate 22-17. The law will deter biased policing and increase accountability by creating a comprehensive database of the basis and outcome of every officer traffic stop.
Evidence of bias-based policing in national and some state-based data is clear. However, police officers in Virginia are not required to report the race, ethnicity, or gender of drivers during traffic stops, meaning that type of data does not exist to be studied or reported out in the Commonwealth. The Community Policing Act will remedy the lack of data while deterring bias-based policing and unnecessary use of force. It will also protect our State Police and local forces from unwarranted allegations of bias-based policing.
House Bill 1251: HB1251 passed the House 94-5 and the Senate 40-0. I introduced HB1251 to end “balance billing:” when a patient receives a surprise medical bill after being treated by a provider not covered by their insurance plan. This legislation will remove covered patients from the billing process, guarantee their health care is covered regardless of final diagnosis, and ensure that providers are reimbursed for the care they provide.
House Bill 1495: HB1495 passed the House and Senate unanimously. It will help public schools be competitive in hiring retired law-enforcement personnel as school resource officers by allowing them to maintain their current retirement benefits.
Earlier this year an assistant principal from a Prince William County high school shared with us the moving story of a school resource officer–who was also a retired law enforcement officer–apprehending an armed former student at a Homecoming football game. No one was harmed. He shared with us this statement: “I have served as a high school assistant principal for the past 11 years. In our world today, there are so many situations that arise that we cannot plan or train for; the benefit of having a retired, trained law enforcement officer is paramount to school safety. There is no other field that trains a person to handle such situations; no class that administrators can take. It takes years of training and practice. This is why I believe, wholeheartedly, that passing House Bill 1495 is critical to the safety of our students and staff in public schools.”
Virginia’s General Assembly crafted a biennial budget that is balanced, fiscally responsible, and will guard Virginia’s AAA bond rating while helping rather than hindering every Virginian’s ability to succeed. This budget shores up our reserves to a historic high for the inevitable rainy day and advances equity of opportunity across the Commonwealth. I was proud to lead the House Appropriations Committee and work with the Senate to report a budget that works for everyone.
Our biennial budget is strong on education, granting 2% teacher pay raises across the biennium. It includes funding to lower the school counselor-to-student ratio and the teacher-to-English language learner ratio in K-12 schools. Per pupil K-12 funding is above 2008 levels – even adjusted for inflation – for the first time since the Great Recession Our budget will make higher education more accessible for all students: It continues the college tuition freeze through 2021, includes over $60 million in financial aid, and extends in-state tuition to refugees and undocumented immigrants. Our budget allocates close to $35 million in funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and increases funding for Virginia’s Community College System.
In the area of health care, our budget treats maternal health as a top priority: We aim to improve maternal outcomes by extending Medicaid coverage 12 months postpartum and gearing up for Medicaid coverage of doula care. Our budget raises Medicaid provider reimbursement rates to preserve access to critical services such as the Developmental Disability Waiver program and residential supported living. Importantly, the budget creates a Medicaid adult dental benefit.
The final budget emphasizes workers’ rights. We implemented strong workers’ compensation measures, including adding certain cancers to the list of presumed occupational diseases covered by workers’ compensation and covering PTSD for our first responders. Our budget includes a 2% bonus for state-supported local employees in the first year of the biennium, as well as a 3% raise in the second year. We also established a local collective bargaining option for public employees and instituted a prevailing wage rate requirement for public works contracts. Our budget will make it easier for undocumented immigrants to work by increasing access to driving privileges. Crucially, we raised the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2023 in every corner of the Commonwealth.
I am grateful for your ongoing support. Stay tuned for notification of community town halls and other upcoming events. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need my assistance or have questions about the General Assembly or the 52nd House district.