2022 Session: Week Four

We careen toward Crossover… 
An update on a few of my bills: 
On Wednesday my HB 351 passed in the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources (ACRN) subcommittee. This is the bill that will accelerate the growth of electric vehicle charging stations across Virginia. Members from both sides of the aisle recognize that the future of transportation is electric vehicles. They are coming, and we need to be ready. I am pleased that this bill passed with bipartisan support in the ACNR Committee and is now heading to the House Appropriations Committee. 
I had a long appearance on Wednesday before the House Appropriations Committee. I was presenting HB 397, which improves the current law that compensates individuals who have been wrongfully incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. Although the Committee unanimously passed the bill, it watered it down significantly and deleted provisions I had proposed which would have dramatically improved the way we compensate Virginians who have been wrongfully imprisoned. So I am pleased but disappointed at the same time. 
I then presented six bills, each of which compensates a man who was wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit. Their stories are heartbreaking; years of their lives lost. In some cases, more than 30 years. They, and I, are thankful for the work the UVA Innocence Project did helping me with HB 397 and the six relief bills. This is a picture of the UVA team I worked with, and some of the men we helped get compensation wanted to be included in the photo, too. 
HB 396 passed unanimously from the Commerce and Energy Committee and is now on the floor for its second House Reading. I introduced this bill at the request of Fairfax County. HB 396 significantly expands the current net metering program for localities. It will allow localities –and Fairfax is poised to do this– to accelerate their local clean energy plans and use their spaces, such as garages and landfills, to generate clean, renewable energy. There is a common narrative from clean energy opponents that solar projects will only be located in rural Virginia, and they try to frighten people with predictions of the deforestation of rural Virginia. I am proud this bill will allow urban and suburban localities, especially in Northern Virginia, to do their part in the solar space. I am grateful to all of the stakeholders involved in crafting this legislation. 
One of the greatest disappointments in a week full of them came when the Republicans in the House Privileges and Elections subcommittee rejected two Constitutional amendments that Democrats have long fought for –and Republicans supported last year! We need to pass these resolutions to get these issues on the ballot for Virginians to vote on this November. 
HJ 28 would restore voting rights to individuals who were previously incarcerated for a felony conviction. The Republicans apparently want Virginia to remain one of only two states in the nation that permanently deny voting rights to people with felony convictions, even after they have served their time and paid their debt to society. The right to vote is essential to a civically engaged community, and determining who is able to vote should not be solely in the hands of the Governor. Republicans chose to oppose this Constitutional amendment despite their support of it last year, and in the face of bipartisan support from numerous liberal and conservative groups.
Republicans also blocked HJ 57, which would let the voters decide whether to remove the outdated, shameful ban on gay marriage which is still in Virginia’s Constitution. Retaining the ban on gay marriage in our Constitution not only contradicts the United States’ Supreme Court landmark decision on the matter, but is contrary to what the vast majority of Virginians believe today. Some Republicans are apparently hopeful that the Supreme Court will reverse its decision on same-sex marriage, and want to keep the Virginia ban in place just in case. That is deeply alarming. It was particularly devastating to see my two colleagues, Delegate Dawn Adams and Delegate Mark Sickles, give emotional speeches about how this amendment affects them personally, and is offensive to all LGBTQ citizens in Virginia. We must not let Republicans roll back the progress we have made in protecting and embracing LGBTQ rights. We are trying to change the rules of the House to allow us to bring this matter to the floor, where it would likely pass. Stay tuned.
Republicans continued their attack on voting rights this week by passing additional legislation to drastically limit Virginians’ access to the ballot box and undermine our democracy. The bills which passed include HB 39 (to reduce in-person absentee voting from 45 days to 14 days), HB 956 (to limit the period during which mail-in absentee ballots can be received), and HB 1090 (to reinstate archaic photo-ID requirements). These bills add to the growing list of anti-democracy efforts, like repealing same-day voter registration (HB 185); permitting the personal use of campaign funds (HB 973); denying curbside voting for Virginians with intellectual and developmental disabilities (HB 974), and attempting to silence the voices of voters on ballot initiatives that would enshrine the restoration of voting rights in the Constitution of Virginia and remove the now-defunct marriage equality ban (HJ 28 & HJ 57). Hopefully, the Senate will be our firewall and defeat all of these bills.
You have no doubt heard about the bill, SB 769, which passed with bipartisan support in the Senate. It would keep schools open five days a week for in-person instruction and provide a parental opt-out from school mask mandates. I fully support keeping children in schools and understand the value of in-person learning, but this bill strips local school boards of authority to do what they think is best for our children. This is an issue of local control.
In perhaps the most shocking development of the week, the new Deputy Attorney General, appointed just weeks ago by our new Attorney General to oversee election issues, has resigned after the Washington Post uncovered Facebook posts by her claiming January 6th rioters were “patriots” and the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. There is no place for conspiracy theorists in any level of government. Please click here to see more. 
Another awful development this week:  Friday morning, the Public Safety Committee passed a bill which repeals Virginia’s Red Flag law, which I patroned in 2020.  It has been a remarkably successful law, and used already hundreds of times all across the Commonwealth—even in jurisdictions which had declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries”—to get guns out of the hands of people who a court has determined to be a danger to themselves or others.  It is saving lives.  And the Republicans want to abolish it. 
World Parkinson’s Day in Virginia
Most people don’t know much about Parkinson’s Disease, or PD. They’ve heard of it, and are aware that a number of celebrities had or have PD, like Muhammad Ali, Michael J. Fox, and Linda Ronstadt. But most people don’t realize that nearly 1 million Americans suffer from PD, or that over 10 million people around the world have it, or that 60,000 Americans every year are diagnosed with Parkinson’s. 
Most people don’t know that it is a neurodegenerative disease, with no cure. There is progress being made to help people with PD preserve their quality of life and manage their symptoms, and ever-increasing hope for a cure. I didn’t know much about PD either, until a year ago, when my wife Beth became one of those 60,000 people and was diagnosed with PD. 
This week the House passed my House Joint Resolution 135, which establishes April 11 as World Parkinson’s Day in Virginia. I wanted to shine a light on this disease, give Virginians an opportunity to learn more about it, and maybe join the effort to find a cure.
Beth is tough as nails. Attitude is everything, and she is determined to resist, fight, work, and continue to live her life to the fullest. It is inspiring to watch her bravely face this new challenge, and I will be with her every step of the way. It’s what I signed up for 40 years ago.
 I introduced HJ135 in honor of all of the people dealing with PD, and most particularly in honor of Beth, my number one constituent—and my superhero. You can watch my floor speech here
I hope you’ll take just a moment out of your day on April 11, maybe google PD, learn a thing or two about it, and send some good vibes (and prayers, if that’s your thing) to those millions of people with PD.