Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This past Sunday marked the end of the 2019 General Assembly Session! It has been an eventful seven weeks to say the least. The days and nights were full of debate on important issues facing the Commonwealth, work on legislation, and visits from constituents and policy advocates.
The General Assembly tackled issues as varied as tax reform, legislative redistricting, education funding, climate change, reproductive rights, and the budget—to name just a few.
There have been many successes this year that we can take pride in:
- A 5% teacher pay raise
- Increased funding for affordable housing and greater tenant/eviction protections
- Expanded voting rights through no excuse absentee voting
- Improvements to the child welfare system
- Raised the smoking and vaping age to 21
- Negotiated a compromise enabling schools to set a school start date before Labor Day
- Passed the first stage necessary to create an independent redistricting commission
- Removed the cap on autism insurance coverage
- Increased access to school counselors
That being said, there is a great deal more that the slim GOP majority refused to act on:
- Blocked the Equal Rights Amendment
- Defeated every sensible gun violence prevention bill
- Refused to pass in-state tuition for Dreamers and DACA students
- Passed legislation that would make it harder to protect the environment and address climate change
- Defeated efforts to raise the minimum wage
- Blocked passage of most common sense energy efficiency bills
- Defeated most criminal justice reform bills, including those dealing with driver’s license suspension
- Failed to pass most of the renewable energy bills presented
- Blocked efforts to allow automatic voter registration and early voting
- Defeated legislation banning child labor on tobacco farms
- Failed to pass LGBTQ non-discrimination protections
And the list goes on…
The following is an update on some of the work we did during the last week of session. We will be mailing our annual comprehensive summary of session highlights and legislation in the coming weeks.
➤ Passing the Budget: While this is not a perfect budget (it does not effectively address the social safety net, environmental protection, the arts, women’s health, and 2020 census accuracy), I voted for the final version once several improvements were made to the language.
On top of the amendments we addressed, the budget also dealt with how Virginia can manage the new revenue coming in from the recent federal tax code changes. Some of the highlights of the budget bill included:
- The budget includes an additional $3 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to increase access to affordable housing and homelessness prevention efforts. This will raise the total for the biennium to $14 million. This is far below the $19.1 million requested by the Administration and the significant increase I requested.
- The budget included $85.7 million in net new funding for K-12 education – which means more state aid for Arlington and Fairfax schools.
- Increases funding for At-Risk students – up to 14.5% more per eligible student in FY 2019 and up 16% in FY 2020.
- We were able to increase teacher salaries up to 5% - which brings us closer to the national average and helps us address Virginia’s teacher shortage.
- The budget will also allocate $12.2 million to increase the counselor-to-student ratio in public schools.
- Invests $15 million for areas of Virginia that don’t have proper broadband coverage and an additional $1 million for Enterprise Zone grant programs to encourage the deployment of solar equipment in economic revitalization areas.
- An additional $10 million for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which is used to help urban areas meet Chesapeake Bay restoration requirements.
- We have ensured that Virginia maintains cash reserves (“rainy-day fund”) of $1.45 billion by the end of the biennium. This is roughly 6.7% of general fund revenues and helps us keep our AAA bond rating. It also helps ensure that the Commonwealth easily gets through any potential economic downturns.
- The budget includes $15.5 million in new in-state undergraduate financial aid. A deal was also reached with Virginia colleges and universities for them to receive $57.5 million in additional funding as long as the institutions freeze tuition rates at FY 2019 levels.
- We added $5 million in operating support for the Virginia Community College System and allocated an additional $16.6 million to the Tech Talent Pipeline to increase the number of computer science degrees.
➤ Equal Rights Amendment: On Thursday, the General Assembly failed to adopt the rule changes I co-patroned with Delegate Hala Ayala and Delegate Marcus Simon that would have allowed for a vote on the House Floor to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Doing so would have made Virginia the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA.
Though one House Republican voted with the House Democrats in favor of the measure, it ended up being defeated with a 50-50 tied vote. This vote was our final chance to vote on the ratification of the ERA during the 2019 session, but given the grassroots enthusiasm and the momentum behind the ERA, I am optimistic that we will be successful in 2020!
➤ Redistricting Reform: The House finally got to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that will make changes to how we draw our legislative boundaries. Although I was not completely happy with the final version of the language since it is does not create a truly independent commission, I did not want the perfect to be the enemy of the good on redistricting reform.
The compromise would establish a Virginia Redistricting Commission comprised of 16 members tasked with establishing legislative districts every ten years. The membership would consist of eight legislative members and eight citizen members. The citizen members would be selected by a committee of five retired Virginia judges. Any redistricting plan must have the vote of at least six of the eight citizen members and six of the eight legislative members. If the commission does not agree, or the General Assembly doesn't adopt the plan recommended by the commission, then districts would be drawn by the Virginia Supreme Court. The resolution must pass in identical form next year, and then go to the voters for ratification in November 2020.
➤ Last week, Delegate Jay Jones gave an impassioned speech on racism in Virginia to mark Black History Month, the full text of which can be read here.
In his speech, he discussed his family's history in the Commonwealth and touched on his own personal experiences with racial discrimination, even within the halls of the General Assembly. It was a thoughtful and timely address in a difficult time for Virginia and I am proud to call him my colleague and friend.
➤ Later in the week, the Virginia House Pages got to participate in a Mock Page Debate on the House Floor. The pages, who are middle school students selected from every corner of Virginia through a rigorous application process, must write their own bills and defend them in a staged debate with other pages.
The pages all did very well and I was impressed by their research and ability to think on their feet when asked difficult questions. Thanks very much to all the incredible pages who participated in the 2019 session!
➤ On Saturday, I had the honor of inviting Dr. Leonard N. Smith, the Senior Minister of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Arlington, to give the morning prayer on the Floor of the House of Delegates. Pastor Smith gave a very moving invocation and I was glad to have the opportunity to lead the House in thanking Pastor Smith for his visit and congratulating Mount Zion on the work and accomplishments of their congregation over the last century and a half in our community!
➤ Sessions in odd years are constitutionally capped at just 45 calendar days, but session was extended by an extra day this year in order to work out a final compromise with the budget. As a result, the House of Delegates concluded its work and adjourned Sine Die on Sunday, February 24th, 2019.
➤ I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my amazing 2019 Session Team: Chief of Staff Kevin Saucedo-Broach, Administrative Aide Samantha Cox, and our interns Michaela Mizrahi and Kiara Davis. Each of them did an outstanding job representing the people of the 49th House of Delegates District in Richmond.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
➤ New Bill Would Let County Waive Fees for Affordable Developments, A Key Change Sought By Advocates, ARLnow
"A new bill just passed by state lawmakers could soon allow localities like Arlington to start waiving many fees for new affordable housing developments, a change that advocates expect could have big impact on the county’s housing crunch.
New legislation backed by Dels. Lamont Bagby (D-74th District) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) would let officials across the state pass ordinances to do away with any building permit fees or other local levies on affordable housing plans, in a bid to ease the construction of such projects..."
➤ On Friday, I submitted the first of my paperwork to the Virginia Department of Elections to qualify for the Democratic Primary on Tuesday, June 11th for reelection to the House of Delegates!
➤ This Saturday, my campaign team greeted voters and neighbors at Arlington's annual Feel the Heritage Festival, held at Drew Community Center.
➤ One of the highlights of the last week of session was a visit by the Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated. The Tuskegee Airmen are a renowned group of African American pilots, navigators, and personnel who served during World War II as the first black military aviators in American history. I was honored to have the opportunity to meet Dr. Harry Quinton, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, and thank him for his service to our country!
➤ No session would be complete without the chance to see my great friend—and old boss—U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.
Many of you may have begun to receive my 2019 Constituent Survey in the mail over the last few weeks. I send out this survey annually to get as wide a sample of opinions and perspectives as possible from folks all across my district on the issues that matter most to them. If you have not received a survey in the mail, or would prefer to submit your survey electronically, please visit the link here. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
As always, it is an honor to serve as your Delegate to the General Assembly. If there is any way that my office may be helpful to you, please feel free to contact us by email at DelALopez@house.virginia.gov or by phone at (571) 336-2147. Additionally, you can always visit my website at www.alfonsolopez.org.
Rest assured that—working together—we will build a Commonwealth that lifts everyone up and leaves no one behind!
Member, 49th District
House of Delegates