General Assembly Update: Week 8

Governor Youngkin’s effort to rid our K-12 classrooms of what he calls “divisive concepts” has been one of the most controversial topics of this session. When he says, “don’t focus on race” he means “don’t even talk about race.” When he says out of one side of his mouth that our teachers are heroes, and professionals who deserve a raise, he talks out of the other side of his mouth claiming our teachers were responsible for our kids not being in school and are indoctrinating our students with critical race theory.
Last Sunday I wrote an op-ed about the Governor’s misguided and harmful effort to ban teaching “divisive concepts” in Virginia classrooms. I wondered what it might look like in practice. This piece is the result.

To read my op-ed click here.

The Governor has shown a Trumpian adeptness at setting up straw men to score his political points. Remember “the Virginia economy is in a ditch”? That was a false claim that helped him get elected. During the campaign and continuing into his Governorship his false claim has been: “our K-12 education system is broken, and bad for our kids.” 

But he forgot to ask the people –the experts– actually responsible for educating our children: the non-politicians who are the Superintendents of the 133 school districts around the Commonwealth. On Thursday, they –all of them– blasted the Governor and his plans.
The truth is that we have what the rest of the nation regards as one of the best educational systems in the country. The Superintendents highlighted this in a letter to the Governor calling out the “gross assumptions” the Governor has made about public education in Virginia. The Superintendents pushed back on an interim report from the Governor’s Superintendent of Public Institutions that rescinded equity initiatives at the Virginia Department of Education, and warned that his actions will “set back public education in Virginia many years.” And they called on the Governor to terminate his tip line for “divisive” teaching. 
To read more about this click here  

Gas Prices Will Come Back Down. What is Happening in Ukraine is Forever

  We are all painfully aware of what is happening with the price of gas. On Monday, a Republican colleague gave a fiery speech demagoguing the issue, blaming it on President Biden and urging that we drill for more oil and give up on our move to renewable energy sources.
On Tuesday I responded. I took to the House of Delegates floor reminding my colleagues that the global energy market and Russia’s heinous actions in Ukraine underscore the importance of renewable energy. The only way to become completely energy independent, and protect working Virginians from rising gas prices due to bad actors overseas, is to continue and accelerate our effort to make Virginia a leader in new innovative energy production.

  And I tried to provide a bit of context, and perspective.
It is easy to point fingers and try to score political points any time there is an increase in gas prices. It is important to remember, though, that gas prices have regularly fluctuated, and will continue to fluctuate based on the global energy market.
I would never downplay or diminish the reality that Virginia families are hurting. We are living through unprecedented times and current world events are taking a toll on us all. But I shared with my colleagues the moving interview I had seen on TV of a member of Ukraine’s Parliament, Oleksandra Ustinova, who pleaded for more American support, noting that while Americans are worrying about paying 30 or 40 more cents per gallon at the pump, Ukrainians are dying.
That’s perspective.
Our Democratic caucus is focused on policies to provide Virginia families with major economic relief. We know the earned income tax credit was hailed by President Reagan as one of the “best pro-family and job creation measures” of his presidency. Yet the EITC and other progressive tax policies were slashed in the House budget. If our colleagues across the aisle want to have an honest discussion about policies providing economic relief for working Virginians, we have plenty of good ideas.
To watch my speech, click here.


  As session is wrapping up, our main goal is to reach a compromise on the budget. It is no surprise that the Senate’s budget is better than the House’s given the different majorities in each chamber. The Senate budget has more money allocated for social services such as affordable housing and school construction. The House budget is smaller and includes higher tax cuts, which is a top priority for Governor Youngkin.
According to a poll report by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University (CNU), a majority of Virginia voters prefer spending the state budget surplus on underfunded government services, such as education, public safety, and social services (59%), rather than providing tax cuts or tax rebates (38%).

As I write this, we are preparing to leave Richmond without reaching an agreement on a budget. The Governor is insisting on his tax cut which will cut over $2 billion from our budget every year going forward.
Virginia House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore has threatened that Governor Youngkin will veto the entire budget “to get more of his tax cuts, more of his agenda”. Doing so would be awful for Virginia. Not only would it reduce available funding for urgent needs like lowering health care costs, protecting our environment, and reducing the cost of childcare, but would the Governor really want to risk the damage from a government shutdown, potential harm to Virginia’s AAA bond rating, and reputation for responsible fiscal management? The Governor is already struggling with his popularity, so I hope he will not want to sacrifice losing further support by vetoing the entire budget.

To read more about this click here. 

I do know that the final budget will include the six relief bills I patroned to compensate six men who have been wrongfully incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. It has been an uphill battle trying to compromise with Republicans on the calculation for how these men should be compensated– with the Republicans choosing a more modest approach and I, of course, fighting hard to get them the most generous compensation possible.

Page Debate and Honoring Ryan Zimmerman

 We do actually have some fun here during session. On Thursday we got to watch the House of Delegates Pages participate in a mock floor session. It was fun to watch the two Pages from my district, Chandani Rathod and Michele Liu, engage in the legislative process. Michelle presented two bills: one to grant students an exempt mental health day from schools, and another to require schools to teach more Asian American history and curriculum. Her bills were thoughtfully drafted and addressed important issues: students’ mental health and the rise of anti-Asian hate. Her bills passed with majority support. To watch the page debate, click here.
It was also great fun to meet Washington Nationals Legend Ryan Zimmerman on the House floor this week. Ryan, a Virginia native, was honored by the House upon his retirement from baseball.

​Go Nats!