Richmond Free Press General Assembly Column Volume-1, January 19, 2017

Jennifer McClellan

Last week, the 2017 Virginia General Assembly Session convened for 46 days to address thousands of bills and amendments to the state budget. After 11 years in the House of Delegates, I took the oath of office to serve in the Virginia State Senate. I am humbled and tremendously honored to have been elected by the voters of the 9th Senate District to succeed Donald McEachin, who now serves in Congress. I look forward to continuing the work I began in the House to improve public education, provide economic opportunity for all Virginians, and strengthen our local communities. I will continue to address the needs of my constituents through legislation and constituency services.

Part of serving you is keeping you informed of the issues we tackle during Session so that your voice can be heard. Therefore, as Senator McEachin did, I will provide regular legislative updates through this column, newsletters, and through my webpage and social media accounts.

This session, we will work to address a $1.26 billion budget shortfall. My top priority will be to protect the historic investments we made last year in K-12 education and fight any efforts to erode our public education system.

I will also work to support Governor McAuliffe’s criminal justice reform package, which includes bills to reduce the practice of suspending driver's licenses of people who cannot afford to pay court costs or commit non-driving offenses. Nearly 650,000 Virginians currently have a suspended driver license because they cannot afford to pay their legal fees and court costs. Another 200,000 have lost their licenses for offenses that have nothing to do with driving. For many, driving is the only option for getting to work, and they either cannot work or risk driving with a suspended license and racking up more charges and fines. Through this cycle, they are never able to pay their court costs and build a more productive life.

The Governor has also proposed legislation to raise Virginia’s felony larceny threshold from $200 to $500. Virginia’s current $200 felony larceny threshold is the lowest in the country, and was first set nearly 40 years ago. The purchasing power of $200 in 1980 is now over $500. Today, stealing a pair of tennis shoes or a purse subjects someone to enormous employment, housing and other difficulties that come with a felony conviction. While I support efforts to increase the threshold to $1,000, the Governor’s proposal is a good first step to align the punishment for theft in Virginia with the rest of the nation.
We will also consider legislation to address the immediate crisis facing Virginia’s mental health system—including strengthening mental health screening and support services in local and regional jails and the growing opioid addiction and overdose epidemic. Other legislation coming before the General Assembly includes bills addressing the school-to-prison pipeline, workforce training and development, meeting the needs of our veterans and military families, expanding voter access, and increasing the minimum wage and economic development opportunities for urban areas.
I look forward to providing an update on these and other issues coming before the General Assembly this year in greater detail as the session continues. To sign up for email updates or learn how you can follow me on social media, visit www.jennifermcclellan.com. If you would like to share your views on any issue, or would like assistance with a state government matter, please do not hesitate to contact me at district09@senate.virginia.gov or (804) 698-7509.