SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESS
For the past four years, I’ve introduced legislation to improve Virginia’s definition of small business in the Small, Women, and Minority-owned (SWAM) public procurement program. Under the current definition, all businesses are required have fewer than 250 employees or less than $10 million dollars in annual revenue. This overly broad, one-size-fits-all standard makes it difficult for truly small, women, and minority-owned businesses to compete with large companies that still qualify under the definition. Last year, the General Assembly agreed to adopt the U.S. Small Business Administration’s small business size standards, but required a task force to evaluate this change outside of session. Throughout the year, we’ve reviewed the legislation and identified additional changes that need to be made. This legislation makes this change permanent so that businesses in Virginia are classified as small based on their industry in a fairer and more transparent process.
Last year, I introduced legislation to dedicate a portion of Virginia’s recordation tax collection to the Virginia Housing Trust Fund in order to support affordable housing projects and grant programs throughout the Commonwealth. While the bill was unsuccessful, the Virginia Housing Commission studied this idea outside of session and recommended that the General Assembly dedicate 20% of the recordation tax collection each year over $325 million to the Housing Trust Fund. With the Housing Commission’s endorsement and bipartisan support in the House of Delegates, I am hopeful that we will be able to create a dedicated source of funding for Virginia’s Housing Trust Fund this year.
This bill redefines biomass in Virginia’s definition of renewable energy to ensure that only energy sources with a low carbon footprint are considered renewable. The current definition allows large-scale biomass generation to be considered renewable, which can emit about 50% more CO2 per unit of energy than coal.
PROTECTING OUR ENVIRONMENT
This legislation creates a quarter mile buffer zone around all elementary and secondary schools in Virginia where the aerial application of agricultural restricted use pesticides is not allowed. According to a recent study in California, the rate of poisoning from pesticides was 69 times higher for residents in five agriculturally intensive counties compared to other counties. Children are especially vulnerable. Those who live in areas of high agricultural activity in the U.S. from birth to age 15 experience a significantly increased risk of childhood cancers. We need to protect our children so that they can safely play and learn at school.
According to a recent study conducted by Environment Virginia, the Commonwealth was named as the fifth worst state for toxic dumping. We need to increase the penalties for violating Virginia’s environmental protections in order to send a clear message to polluters their actions will not be tolerated. This legislation increases the maximum fine per violation from $32,500 to $50,000 and raises the allowable cap from $100,000 to $1,000,000 for all violations.
Under current Virginia law, polluters have twenty-four hours to notify the Department of Environmental Quality or the appropriate Board if there has been a pollution spill in state waters. In order to increase our chances of effectively mitigating any damage, we need to shorten the notification requirement to twelve hours.
PREVENTING GUN VIOLENCE
When a background check is requested by a licensed dealer in Virginia, the State Police have until the next business day to complete the check or the gun can be legally sold. This bill closes that loophole and gives State Police five business days to conduct the background check so that we can ensure an individual who would otherwise fail the check does not walk away with a gun.
This legislation requires Virginians to obtain a permit before purchasing a handgun. In order to obtain the permit, you would submit the same information that is required during a background check. Once you receive approval, the permit will be issued. Requiring a permit closes the background check private sale loophole because all purchasers will have obtained a background check in order to receive their permit. Licensing laws in other states have helped prevent the crime of guns trafficking.
In order to receive a concealed carry permit in Virginia, you need to demonstrate competency with a handgun. Unfortunately, one of the ways you can demonstrate competency is by watching a video online, taking a quiz, and paying companies to send you a certificate without ever having owned, fired, or held a gun throughout your entire life. Taking an online course does not demonstrate competency with a handgun. This legislation would remove this provision so that online and video courses no long qualify as demonstrating competency with a handgun for the purposes of obtaining a concealed carry permit.
This legislation makes it a class one misdemeanor to give a child who is four years old or younger 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, a parent, 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 the magazines with the State Police. However, the registrant is limited to three high-capacity magazines.
EXPANDING HEALTH CARE COVERAGE
This legislation expands the current mandate for insurance companies to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder to children through age fourteen. Treatment for autism can be very expensive, but without insurance, many parents would be unable to get their children the treatment that they need.
INCREASING DRIVER SAFETY
This legislation allows Virginians who have “withholding of removal” status to obtain a driver’s license. These Virginians are here lawfully, have a work permit, and are valued members of our community. Unfortunately, due to the wording in Virginia code, immigrants with other similar statuses are allowed to obtain driver’s licenses while these Virginians are left out. Not only is this the right thing to do, it will also increase the safety of our roads because these Virginians will undergo the training and testing required to obtain a license.
HELPING VIRGINIA WORKERS
This legislation increases the tipped minimum wage in Virginia from $2.13 to $5.00 per hour. Tips are notoriously unreliable and can vary dramatically from night to night. Increasing the tipped minimum wage would give tipped employees a raise and a greater sense of stability in their pay checks.
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.
STRENGTHENING THE SOCIAL SAFETY-NET
Virginia has been using the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants to supplant state funds and balance the state budget rather than comply with the TANF purpose of providing services to the poor. This bill would eliminate that practice so that we can use the TANF block grant funding to provide adequate assistance to our most vulnerable Virginians.
This legislation requires local departments of human services in Virginia to allow participants in the Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare (VIEW) program to enroll in high school equivalent, technical education and apprenticeship programs to get the education and training they need to obtain gainful employment. The bill also directs the department to assist participants in enrolling in these programs.
This bill allows Virginians who have previously been convicted of a drug-related felony to still obtain the TANF benefits they need to make ends meet and build a better life for themselves and their families.
EXPANDING VOTER ACCESS
This legislation allows Virginians who are sixteen and seventeen years old to preregister to vote so that they are automatically registered when they turn eighteen. Preregistration increases democratic participation by making it easier for young people to vote and engaging them in the voting process at a younger age.
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 applications as possible, this bill would remove this burden from the Governor’s office and create a consistent process for all Virginians.
The Office of the Attorney General’s Division of Human Rights (DHR) investigates complaints of discrimination in employment, educational institutions, and places of public accommodation. This legislation would give DHR the authority it needs to efficiently and effectively investigate complaints of discrimination.