PROTECTING OUR ENVIRONMENT AND CREATING CLEAN ENERGY JOBS
Under current law, Virginia has a voluntary Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) program that has failed to incentivize the creation of new, Virginia jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industry. This legislation reforms Virginia’s RPS law in order to transform it into a clean energy job creation program that can help grow Virginia’s economy while also reducing the Commonwealth’s contribution to smog, soot, and global warming pollution. Thanks to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, we now have an opportunity to leverage these new regulations into more clean energy jobs for Virginia. While Virginia is already 79% of the way to meeting its Clean Power Plan target for 2030, we can reach and exceed the final 21% by investing in offshore wind, solar power and energy efficiency, which in the process will create an estimated 68,000 new clean energy jobs in Virginia.
Under current law, Va. Code § 56-594 F, Virginia utilities can impose charges (called “standby charges”) on homeowners who choose to invest their own money to install solar generation equipment on their own, private property. These charges—which are essentially “taxes on the sun”—are assessed on residential solar arrays greater than 10 kilowatts and not exceeding 20 kilowatts. The charges can amount to hundreds of dollars per year for affected homeowners. This bill would simply require utilities to evaluate the benefits that solar customer-generators are providing to the power companies and to other ratepayers. If those benefits outweigh the costs, then the standby charges could not be approved.
This legislation raises the net-metering project cap for non-residential customers from the existing 500 kilowatt limit to a more competitive 2 megawatt limit. By embracing this simple, common sense change to the existing law, Virginia can reduce its carbon footprint while closing the investment gap for clean energy.
The legislation will expand the ability of Virginians to utilize power purchase agreements (PPA) in new areas of the Commonwealth. PPAs offer a no-money-down financing option that can drive an increase in the use of solar generation for electricity. The bill also doubles the project-specific and aggregate caps for PPAs so that we can expand the program and increase investment in new solar projects in Virginia.
Under current law, persons who receive a significant portion of their “income” from regulated entities—those entities subject to permits or enforcement orders of the State Air Pollution Control Board—are barred from serving on the Air Board. However, current law exempts from the definition of “income” compensation from a “vested retirement benefit.” This exemption allows individuals who have retired from a career at a regulated industry to turn around and serve on the Air Board overseeing that industry. This legislation amends Va. Code § 10.1-1302 to add a second exemption to the definition of “income” under the statute, stating that income from “a state-supported institution of higher education” should not prohibit service on the Air Board. Under the current provision, our best and brightest professors from the University of Virginia would be unable to serve on this important board.
This legislation would enhance the current protections in Virginia Code for tenants from retaliatory eviction if they have recently reported their landlord for a code violation, filed a suit against the landlord, joined a tenants’ organization, or testified against the landlord. The current wording of the law contains a loophole that makes it almost impossible for a tenant to be protected. Working with stakeholders over the summer, we were able to reach a compromise on this legislation, which resulted in the bill being endorsed by the Virginia Housing Commission.
In 2012, The General Assembly created the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund to address the lack of affordable housing throughout the Commonwealth, but only provided $8 million in funding to meet the entire affordable housing needs of Virginia. In just the first year of operation, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund received numerous funding requests that far exceeded the capacity of the Fund. We now need a dedicated source of funding that will keep the Fund whole while starting to build a substantial balance to make major strides forward in addressing our housing crisis. This legislation proposes that that we dedicate one cent each year (two cents over the biennium) of the recordation tax to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
On any given night, there are over 600 veterans experiencing homelessness in the Commonwealth. From June 2014 to the end of 2015, it is estimated that more than 2,000 veterans in Virginia will face homelessness. Of the 2,000, approximately 1,500 will need a form of financial assistance to return to housing. Therefore, this legislation seeks to make it unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent to any veteran, including veterans paying rent with a voucher or other form of financial assistance.
SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESSES
In Virginia, the definition of a small business for the purposes of the Small, Women, and Minority (SWaM) owned business public procurement program is fewer than 250 employees OR less than an average of $10 million in annual gross receipts for the past three years. This definition covers over 95% of all businesses in Virginia. As a result, women and minority-owned businesses have a competitive disadvantage when it comes to procurement with the Commonwealth. Moreover, this overly broad definition allows large companies to technically become certified as small businesses and unfairly compete for small business procurement contracts. My legislation will make a small change to the definition of small business – replacing the word “or” with the word “and” – partially getting rid of the loophole allowing companies to take advantage of the SWaM procurement process. For instance, a company with $4.5 billion in annual receipts and 13 employees should not be certified as a small business in Virginia. (There actually is such a business…) This bill was reported favorably by the General Laws Special Joint Subcommittee Studying the Virginia Public Procurement Act over the summer.
GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION
Similar to legislation on the books in other States, this is a commonsense gun violence prevention measure that will make it a Class 1 misdemeanor to knowingly authorize a child at age four or younger to use a firearm. Nationwide, hundreds of child mortalities result from a child discovering an unlocked and loaded firearm and pointing it at himself or herself, at a friend, or at a sibling. Handing an infant or child a loaded gun goes beyond child endangerment, neglect, or improper handling of a firearm. A 3‐4 year old child is only just becoming capable of correctly naming colors, remembering parts of a story, counting, understanding time, and sorting objects by shape. They are not yet capable of handling the responsibilities of firearm safety. In Virginia, it is illegal to hand a gun to a person with the mental capabilities of a four-year-old. This bill would make it illegal to hand a gun to an actual four-year-old.
This legislation will make the possession and transfer of unnecessary high-capacity ammunition magazines (more than 20 rounds) a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $250. An exception is made for individuals who have registered with the State Police and have undergone a background check. However, the registrant is limited to three high-capacity magazines.
This legislation amends Virginia’s current statute defining stalking to include “by any action, method, device, or means” to the conduct necessary to get a conviction for stalking. The problem is that stalking technology is currently outpacing Virginia Code, which could lead to victims of cyber stalking receiving inadequate protection. This inclusive definition will ensure that no matter what technology is developed in the future, all Virginians will be protected from this malicious behavior. The bill also provides that a tenant who is a victim of stalking may terminate his or her rental agreement if the tenant has obtained a protective order or the stalker has been convicted.
This legislation adds powdered or crystalline alcohol to the definition of alcoholic beverages, prohibits it from being sold or shipped in the Commonwealth, and creates a Class 1 misdemeanor for anyone who uses, purchases or sells this product. In April of 2014 the FDA approved but quickly revoked approved of this substance saying it was made in “error”. The potential use for abuse far outweigh any value it may have. This multi-fronted response protects all Virginia citizens, but most importantly our youth, from health and safety concerns.
Between May and October 2013, Human Rights Watch interviewed 141 children, some as young as seven, who worked on US tobacco farms in 2012 or 2013. The children worked in four states — North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia — where nearly 90 percent of tobacco grown in the US is cultivated. Young children should not be working in direct contact with tobacco. They are especially vulnerable to nicotine poisoning due to their size and stage of development. Indeed, a recent report from the Surgeon General suggests that nicotine exposure during adolescence may have lasting negative consequences for children. In order to protect kids from the hazards of tobacco farming, this legislation prohibits the employment of a child under the age of 18 to work with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves unless he or she is employed by a parent or guardian that owns their own farm/business.
EXPANDING VOTER ACCESS
Virginia is one of only four States that do not automatically restore the voting rights of felons once they have paid their debt to society. This is a remnant of our segregationist past. My legislation authorizes the Virginia General Assembly to provide for the automatic restoration of voting rights for individuals convicted of nonviolent felonies who have completed their sentences. The current law leaves this determination up to the whim of the Governor. While Governor McAuliffe works tirelessly to review as many application as possible, this bill would remove this burden from the Governor’s office and create a consistent process for all Virginians.
As taxpayers and voters, Virginians deserve insight into how their government conducts elections. This legislation requires electoral boards to report information regarding officers of election, voting systems, and provisional ballots to the Department of Elections before and after any election in order to create a more open and transparent system. In doing so, it creates a single portal where citizens can access the information and saves general registrars and the Department of Elections from having to respond to multiple inquiries seeking identical information. In addition to making our electoral system more efficient, this bill will also provide the necessary information to help us improve our electoral process.