My Legislation

The General Assembly convened on January 9th for a 45-day "short session." Below is a summary of the legislation I am carrying.  You can find further details on each bill and track their progress on the LIS website.

Criminal Justice Reform

Although Virginia abolished parole in 1995, Virginia juries were not instructed for another five years until the Supreme Court of Virginia held in Fishback v. Commonwealth of Virginia that they should be. SB 1437 will make those defendants convicted of nonviolent felonies prior to the abolition of parole who were sentenced before the date of Fishback decision eligible for parole. 

In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) released a report showing that Virginia led the nation in student referrals from schools to law enforcement, with a disproportionate impact on African-American students and students with disabilities.  Children were often referred to law enforcement as a result of behaviors that did not constitute a crime, or would not be a crime for an adult. CPI’s review of individual cases and local Virginia police records showed that thousands of students were sent into the criminal justice system by school police on charges of disorderly conduct, assault, and resisting arrest. These referrals resulted from behavior like kicking trash cans, yelling, using foul language, getting into schoolyard fights and attempting to break free from police officers who grabbed them.  I outlined some of the data from the report and examples of such referrals in this 2016 Op-Ed.  SB 1107 addresses this issue by eliminating disorderly conduct for behavior at a school or school-sponsored activity.    

On any given night, Virginia jails hold more than 28,000 people--46% of whom have not been convicted of any crime.  The most common reason people are held in jail pre-trial is because they cannot come up with cash bail. I am working with the ACLU and the Legal Aid Justice Center on SB 1687 to create more transparency in the pre-trial process.  The bill requires the Department of Criminal Justice Services to collect data relating to bail determinations and to create a uniform mechanism for criminal justice agencies to submit such data. This data will be reported annually to the Governor, General Assembly, and will be published on the Department’s website.

Education

For the past 3 years, I have been honored to serve on the Southern Education Board’s Teacher Preparation Commission, which met to consider effective ways to better prepare teachers to help students reach higher academic standards and develop practical and effective statewide recommendations to improve teacher preparation programs.  The Commission issued its Final Report in December.  The Report recognizes that to inform more effective teacher preparation programs, states need data systems on the preparation and careers of teachers.  Without a robust and accessible data system, state policymakers lack evidence on which to base teacher licensure, program approval and accountability, and researchers are unable to explore best practices.  Aspiring teachers and school districts must rely on anecdotes rather than evidence in choosing a program or hiring new teachers To address this issue in Virginia, I introduced SB 1433 to require the Department of Education to aggregate and report to each education preparation program certain teacher employment data, as available, regarding such program’s graduates.

Last year, Senator Creigh Deeds sponsored legislation to incorporate into health instruction standards that recognize the multiple dimensions of health by including mental health and the relationship of physical and mental health so as to enhance student understanding, attitudes, and behavior that promote health, well-being, and human dignity. The bill directed the Board of Education to review and update the health Standards of Learning for students in grades nine and 10 to include mental health.  This year, I am sponsoring SB 1440 to expanding those standards throughout all grades from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

At the request of Hanover County, I have introduced SB 1434 to require the Board of Education to expand work based learning/career and technical education approved programs to be included in the 140 clock hours of instruction required for relevant courses for high school graduation.

At the request of a constituent, I have introduced SB 1461 exempting teachers and programs that teach courses solely focused on how to pass a specified professional certification exam from being regulated by the State Council of Higher Education. These exempt courses can only be provided by national certification programs. Because they are for a single purpose, they are not a "school" in the traditional sense like colleges and universities. This bill will significantly open up the availability in Virginia of such professional certifications in a global market where many fields require such certifications to enter the job market.

Health Care

I introduced SB 1451 (the REPro Equal Access Laws -REPEAL Act) to reverse some of the damage that has been done to reproductive health access in Virginia over the past few years by repealing medically unnecessary and burdensome that are in the criminal code.  Currently, anyone seeking an abortion in Virginia must undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound, whether she wants one or not, must be given an option to view the image, and then endure a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before the procedure.  My bill also repeals the requirements (i) that second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital, (ii) that more than one physician be present for third trimester abortions, and (iii) the targeted regulation of abortion (TRAP) laws requiring that providers that perform five or more abortions per month be subject to stringent licensing requirements and be regulated as “hospitals.”

Currently health care professionals with prescribing authority are not allowed to dispense medications on site; a pharmacist must be employed to dispense medications. This presents an additional barrier to reproductive health care access, either through an extra step to get prescriptions like birth control pills by leaving the provider and going to a pharmacy, or by increasing costs by forcing reproductive health providers to employ pharmacists.  For the second year I have introduced SB 1452 to authorize the Board of Pharmacy to issue a limited license at a reduced fee to a prescriber in a nonprofit facility to dispense controlled substances and devices for contraception or treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.     

SB 1436 requires hospitals that reports suspected child abuse or neglect resulting from prenatal substance exposure to develop and document a written discharge plan and substance-abuse treatment referral for the mother and notify, subject to restrictions in federal law, the community services board of the jurisdiction in which the mother resides to appoint a discharge plan manager. The bill provides that such reports shall not constitute a per se finding of child abuse or neglect, but gives the Department of Social Services the ability to determine separately whether there is child abuse or child neglect and then mandates its report accordingly.  This bill fixes certain unintended consequences resulting from 2017 legislation conforming Virginia law to federal requirements relating to women’s use of substances during pregnancy, including reporting data, and mandating that hospitals report infants born affected by any medications to local Child Protective Services, even when the substance used is legal and used appropriately as prescribed. The 2017 legislation has resulted in some women with Substance Use Disorders (SUD) avoiding prenatal care altogether.

SJ 298 designates August 2019 and each succeeding August as Breastfeeding Awareness Month.  On August 6, 2011, the United States Breastfeeding Committee declared August National Breastfeeding Month.  In 2010 I became the first member of the Virginia House of Delegates to give birth while in office, and the first member to breastfeed during the General Assembly Session.  Since then, I have committed myself to raising awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, and supporting the right and efforts of Virginia women do to do.

SJ 299 designates November 17 in 2019 and in each succeeding year as World Prematurity Day.  World Prematurity Day is a global movement to raise awareness about prematurity highlighting the burden of preterm birth, informing on simple, proven cost-effective solutions, and invoking compassion for families who have experienced preterm birth.  According to the March of Dimes, premature birth and its complications are the largest contributors to infant death in the U.S. and globally, and U.S. preterm birth rates have increased for the third year in a row.  As the mother of a 9-week premature daughter, I know that many parents feel confused, lost, and alone in dealing with the stress of preterm birth, and am committed to do more to support them and prevent preterm births through raising awareness.  

Housing

 An analysis conducted by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition showed that in 2017, Virginia had enough affordable housing units for only 54 of every 100 low-income families.  Last year, I introduced two bills, (SB 290 and SB 909) to help address this problem.  Unfortunately, neither passed, but over the past year I convened housing stakeholders to identify barriers to increasing the availability of affordable housing in Virginia.  The basic cause of the affordable housing shortage is that in too many places, wages and family income has not kept pace with increased the increased costs of construction and renovation.  And, unfortunately, NIMBYism and stereotypes surrounding affordable housing put undue political pressure on local planning and land-use officials. Planning and land use decisions should not be based on who will live in a proposed development or how it is financed.  As a result, I introduced SB 1062 to prohibit localities from discriminating in the application of local land use ordinances/guidelines, or in the permitting of housing developments, on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status, handicap, or because the housing development contains or is expected to contain affordable housing units occupied or intended for occupancy by families or individuals with incomes at or below 80 percent of the median income of the area where the housing development is located or is proposed to be located. The bill also requires the Fair Housing Board to immediately refer the matter to the Attorney General for civil action in the appropriate circuit court for appropriate relief.

Last year, data released by the Eviction Lab over the summer revealed that Virginia has five of the top ten highest eviction rates among large U.S. cities (with Richmond at number 2 with an 11.44% eviction rate), and three of the top ten highest rates in mid-sized cities.  While these cities are all clustered around Hampton Roads and the Richmond-Petersburg area, other places scattered around the state also have very high rates of eviction. In response, the Campaign to Reduce Evictions (CARE) convened stakeholders throughout to uncover the reasons for these high eviction rates and develop solutions to help lower eviction rates across Virginia.  As a result of these stakeholder groups, I am introducing SB 1438, an Omnibus Landlord Tenant bill developed by the Virginia Poverty Law Center to reduce evictions to give people the time they need to pay their rent without causing undue hardship to the landlord.  Some of the provisions of this bill have been endorsed by the Virginia Housing Commission, including (i) extend a tenant's right of redemption to two days before the sheriff's eviction, (ii) limit landlords to filing one unlawful detainer at a time for non-payment of rent, (iii) requiring judges to accept a valid termination notice into evidence before entering an order of possession, and (iv) require landlords to offer tenants written leases.  The bill also includes provisions that (i) prohibit evictions solely from outstanding late fees, (ii) require that any attorney's fees provision be reciprocal, and (iii) extend the five day pay or quit requirement to fourteen days.

To combat discrimination against the LGBTQ community, I have also introduced SB 1109, which adds discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity as an unlawful housing practice under the Virginia Fair Housing Act.

Public Safety

Last year, at the request of Richmond Police Chief Durham, I introduced legislation to require lost or stolen guns (excluding antiques) to be reported to local law-enforcement or State Police within 24 hours.  Stolen and lost guns pose a significant risk to community safety.  The lack of mandatory reporting of stolen guns also enables gun trafficking and straw purchasing by eliminating accountability and allowing individuals whose guns end up used in connection with crime to simply say that the guns were stolen, thwarting the ability of law enforcement officers to solve violent crimes. I have reintroduced this bill as SB 1324, which has been included in Governor Northam’s legislative package to combat gun violence.

Redistricting Reform

On behalf of Governor Northam, I am carrying SB 1327 to establish in state law criteria by which congressional and state legislative districts are drawn, including equal population, compactness and contiguity, racial and ethnic fairness, protection of racial and language minorities to participate and elect a preferred candidate, and respect for existing political boundaries and communities of interest. The bill also prohibits the use of political data when drawing districts. There is a delayed effective date of April 1, 2020.  Establishing well-defined redistricting criteria through this legislation ensures that the General Assembly draws new maps in 2021 through a fair and transparent process that will result in a more fair electoral process for all Virginians.

Solar Energy

At the request of the Sierra Club, I introduced SB 1456 (The Solar Freedom Act) to eliminate barriers keeping Virginia’s distributed Solar Industry from reaching its full potential. The bill ends restrictions that local governments, homeowners, and businesses face to install solar power, specifically solar installations that generate the electricity they use.

In 2014, the General Assembly established a third-party Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) pilot program. Under this program, energy consumers such as local governments and small businesses may contract with the developer of a renewable energy system. The developer builds the project on a customer’s property and is responsible for operations.  PPAs help consumers save money and improve reliability by deploying new distributed resources on the grid. The pilot program has proven to be a success, especially as solar prices have continued to plunge over the past decade. As a result, the program may hit its aggregate cap of 50 MW before the end of 2019. The pilot’s success has drawn attention from new consumers throughout the state, but because of limits on individual project size and customer eligibility in some service territories not everyone can access it.  I’ve introduced SB 1460 to raise the aggregate PPA caps and permits all public and private schools, colleges and universities in Appalachian territories to enter into PPA Contracts.

Miscellaneous

At the request of the Committee on District Courts, I have introduced SB 1108 to clarify that the Marsh Criminal-Traffic Division at Manchester General District Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the John Marshall Criminal-Traffic Division at Richmond General District Court over all matters arising in the City of Richmond.  

At the request of a constituent, I have introduced SB 1326 to require the State Board of Social Services to grandfather buildings in which a licensed assisted living facility was located as of February 1, 2018, from the requirement that no more than two residents reside in a bedroom.  The regulations currently grandfather licensees as of that date, but if a grandfathered licensee leaves, significant renovations would be required to accommodate a new licensee or modify the building for any other use.

In Virginia, individuals filing death certificates have the option to do so electronically or in paper form.  Last year I introduced legislation to eliminate paper death certificate filings with the State Registrar in order to streamline the process of filing death certificates online only.  This bill was requested by a funeral home director in Charles City County, and was carried over to the 2019 General Assembly Session by a subcommittee of the Senate Education and Health Committee to allow stakeholders time to reach consensus on the language.  As a result of stakeholder meetings, I have introduced SB 1439 mandates that the death certificates be filed electronically with the Electronic Death Registry System with a delayed enactment date of January 1, 2020.  The delay is necessary to enable a rolling enrollment in the system by physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.

SB 1435 gives the Commissioner of Social Services the power to issue a summary order of suspension of the license of any child welfare agency when conditions or practices exist that pose an immediate and substantial threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the children receiving care. Under the bill, the Commissioner can either suspend the license of the child welfare agency or only certain authority to operate, including the authority to provide certain services or perform certain functions that the Commissioner determines should be restricted or modified in order to protect the health, safety, or welfare of the children receiving care. The bill establishes notice, hearing, appeal, and posting requirements for such summary suspensions.  The authority and process outlined in this bill is similar to what the Commissioner may currently do for adult assisted living facilities.

SJ 297 acknowledges with profound regret the existence and acceptance of lynching within the Commonwealth and calling for reconciliation among all Virginians.  The resolution is a recommendation of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, which I chair, as a part of its Lynching in Virginia Project, an effort to uncover the long and painful history of racial terror lynchings in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Commission will compile the names and stories of victims of lynching in Virginia and create programmatic outreach that will bring awareness of this history to communities across the Commonwealth.  Existing sources document more than 100 lynchings that have taken place in Virginia, carried out in the decades following Reconstruction to perpetuate racial inequality and white supremacy and to terrorize African American communities.  Commission programming will expand on existing efforts of the Equal Justice Initiative, which, through its Community Remembrance Project, has collected soil from lynching sites around the country and erected historical markers and monuments to commemorate and recognize victims of lynching. In building on these efforts, the Commission will work with the Department of Historic Resources to identify sites for historic markers to recognize documented lynchings in Virginia.  

As always, if you would like more information or to express your thoughts on legislation before the General Assembly, please contact my office at (804) 698-7509 or district09@senate.virginia.gov. You can also stop by my office in the Pocahontas Building located at 900 East Main Street. My offices are located in E512.

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