Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After weeks of effort and advocacy on behalf of the 49th District and the people of the Commonwealth, we are entering the last week of the 2019 legislative session.
In this final week, I am working to shepherd legislation and budget amendments through the Virginia Senate. I have also introduced a number of joint resolutions to commend and honor local organizations and schools in our community.
I am also working with our caucus leadership to ensure positive outcomes on a number of issues from the Equal Rights Amendment to tax conformity and from redistricting to the state budget.
➤ Legislative Progress: I testified last week in Senate committees on behalf of two of my bills, which were both reported unanimously and will now be considered by the entire Virginia Senate. These bills are:
These are important consumer transparency measures that will help residents of the 49th District and the citizens of the Commonwealth have better information about hazardous waste in their communities and better security over their private personal information.
➤ Equal Rights Amendment: I was proud to join hundreds of activists rallying in support of the ERA on Thursday and supported the House Democrats’ plan to introduce several changes in the Rules that will allow the measure to get to the House floor for a vote. I have long been a supporter of the ERA and have introduced the constitutional amendment in years past. The House will act on this measure in the next few days and I pledge to do all I can to help make Virginia the 38th state to ratify the ERA.
➤ Driver’s Licenses: I’m very disappointed to report that a Senate measure to end driver’s license suspensions for the inability to pay court fines or costs unrelated to driving offenses failed in the House Courts of Justice committee last week.
I've worked on this issue for a long time—and carried HB 2488 again this year (in coordination with the Secretary of Public Safety, the Attorney General's office, and Members on both sides of the aisle). Over 600,000 Virginians have had their driver's licenses suspended over failure to pay court fees. This practice—a modern day debtor's prison—makes it harder for people to get to work and repay their court costs. Nowhere in the Virginia State Code should we be punishing people for being poor.
Rest assured—I will continue fighting for this policy change until it is the law of the Commonwealth.
➤ Gun Reform: Last Thursday marked the anniversary of the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida, and House Republicans continue to prevent any common-sense gun safety measures from being passed. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 47 children and teens are shot and killed each day in the United States. Yet the General Assembly continues to refuse popular reforms, like universal background checks. It is long past time for us to enact sensible gun violence prevention legislation in Virginia.
➤ Redistricting: In a victory for anti-gerrymandering efforts, a federal court issued an order on Wednesday finalizing new maps for House of Delegates districts beginning in this year’s election. Barring any further consideration by the courts or attempts to keep the current racially gerrymandered districts, these new maps will provide citizens with fairer and more constitutionally sound district lines.
Additionally, the House and Senate are still debating two versions of a constitutional amendment that would change the redistricting process. Constitutional amendments require the passage of the same resolution in two consecutive sessions separated by an election—so the resolution would need to be passed this year in order to be operative in time for the 2021 redistricting process. The Senate has passed a redistricting plan that would create a commission with substantial citizen participation such that legislators would not totally control the process. Although this bill is not perfect, it is far superior to the Republican House plan that would vest control of the process in the hands of a 12-person committee composed of legislators.
➤ Budget: The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have each approved their own versions of the state budget. As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, I felt that the House budget was a good effort, but that it missed historic opportunities to substantially invest in communities across the Commonwealth. Both the Senate and House budgets lack critical proposals from the Governor that would provide for investments in education funding, environmental initiatives, and affordable housing.
The Senate budget provides $40 million to local school divisions, but the local divisions must also dedicate local money to make the teacher raises occur. The House budget is more generous than the Senate in funding more school counselors, but cuts $35.6 million from the Governor’s plan to provide additional money to school divisions with higher at-risk populations.
To reconcile the differences between the two budgets, a conference committee has been formed of several legislators from each body. That committee will work over the coming days to craft a compromise budget that can win majority support in both chambers.
➤ Tax Conformity: The Governor has signed the “tax conformity” bill, which contained an emergency clause, enabling it to take effect immediately. This bill is expected to return about $390 million to 2.5 million taxpayers this year, including $110.2 million to more than 900,000 Virginians who earn less than $50,000 per year.
The standard deduction has also gotten a boost of 50 percent, providing some additional tax relief to thousands of Virginians who do not itemize deductions. Additionally we kept a cap on the total amount of itemized deductions that wealthy Virginia taxpayers can claim, averting a “double dip” at the state level that the Trump tax plan gave only to the wealthiest taxpayers at the federal level.
➤ Virginia Latino Caucus: The Virginia Latino Caucus gathered together this Friday for a group photograph to mark its membership for the 2019 session. Pictured here on the House Floor are (from left to right) Delegates Patrick Hope, Jason Miyares, Debra Rodman, Kelly Convirs-Fowler, Elizabeth Guzman, myself, Hala Ayala, and Sam Rasoul.
We are excited about the work we have accomplished together and have pledged to continue fighting for all Latinos, immigrants, and New Americans in Virginia over the coming years on issues ranging from in-state tuition to driver's licenses to efforts to ensure that immigrants feel safe in our communities.
➤ My office received another visit this week from the great activists with Moms Demand Action, who traveled to Richmond on the anniversary of the Parkland, FL shooting to thank legislators who have supported common-sense gun reforms in the General Assembly.
➤ I also had the opportunity to meet with President Irma Becerra of Marymount University, who visited my office to discuss the great work that Marymount is accomplishing in Arlington and across Northern Virginia.
➤ We had a number of activists and constituents visit Richmond on Thursday to rally for the Equal Rights Amendment, including these volunteers with the League of Women Voters of Virginia!
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
➤ On Wednesday, I spoke on the House Floor against Republican efforts to block Virginia from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Our Commonwealth is ground zero for sea level rise. Virginia is experiencing a climate crisis, with consistent flooding in every corner of the state—especially along the coast. RGGI would help Virginia by funding flooding solutions and improving economic development across the Commonwealth.
Watch the video of my full remarks here.
➤ A number of my colleagues wore red on February 14th to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Pictured here are (top row, left to right) Delegates Vivian Watts, Charniele Herring, Eileen Filler-Corn, (bottom row, left to right) Delores McQuinn, Roslyn Tyler, and Jeion Ward.
➤ Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus dressed up in different kente designs on Friday to commemorate Black History Month. Pictured in the upper photo are (from left to right) Delegates Hala Ayala, Jeion Ward, Roslyn Tyler, Delores McQuinn, and Cia Price.
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.
Member, 49th District
House of Delegates