The Virginia General Assembly is in session, and as your representative to the House of Delegates, I would like to share a few important issues that the General Assembly is currently working on now that we have reached “Crossover”. This is the mid-point of the session when the House and Senate must complete action on all of their respective bills and send ones that are decided upon favorably over to the other body.
With over 1,400 House bills to consider, I will be unable to include information on every issue that comes before the General Assembly, but I hope that you will contact me at DelALopez@house.virginia.gov if you have any questions or concerns regarding these bills or any other specific pieces of legislation.
My 2013 Legislation
This year I introduced 15 bills (the maximum allowed in the House this session) and two Budget Amendments. My legislation addressed, among other things, Affordable Housing, Education, Voting Access, the Environment, School Based Mental Health, Small Business Assistance, Renewable Energy, and High Capacity Ammunition Magazine regulation. The following are status updates for a few of my bills.
Virginia Housing Trust Fund – I am happy to report that my legislation (HB 2005) to codify the Virginia Housing Trust Fund has passed through the House of Delegates and will now go to the State Senate for approval. This bill will create stability for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund as well as Virginians hoping to apply for affordable housing assistance and organizations seeking to address homelessness. I am proud to be able to continue the legacy of Senator Mary Margaret Whipple who fought for many years to create and fund an Affordable Housing Trust Fund in Virginia.
Election Efficiency Improvements – I am also proud to report that the House of Delegates has passed my legislation (HB 2158) to allow local registrars to move officers of election to different precincts on Election Day to meet staffing needs and assist with high turnout volumes. Allowing local officials to make real-time changes on Election Day would increase overall efficiency and reduce long lines that are caused by understaffing.
More Clean and Efficient Cars in Virginia – My legislation (HB 1944) to make it easier for converted electric vehicles to obtain a key safety inspection was passed by the House of Delegates. By removing this barrier that would have prevented owners of converted electric vehicles from being able to safely and legally operate their cars in Virginia, my legislation will lead to more clean and energy efficient vehicles on Virginia’s roadways.
Virginia DREAM Act – This year my legislation to allow undocumented students to earn in-state tuition made it further than at any other time in the history of the House of Delegates. Indeed, prior to this year it had never passed out of a House Subcommittee. However, after working day and night to lobby other Members and bringing together a broad coalition of business groups, universities, religious groups, educators, and immigrant rights organizations, this session it was passed unanimously out of the House Education Subcommittee and then passed by a vote of 17-4 in the full House Education Committee.
Despite these positive outcomes and a negligible budgetary impact, the bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee at the last minute in order to kill it. After several meetings, the House Appropriations Committee refused to take up the bill prior to the Crossover deadline. Although the bill has been defeated this year, I am very proud of the progress made on this legislation and will continue to fight for the Virginia DREAM Act every year until it becomes the law of the Commonwealth.
Renewable Portfolio Standard Definition of Renewable Energy Credits – I have been working to fix the problem in the Renewable Portfolio Standard definition of qualifying Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). Currently this definition allows utilities to get credits for 30-year-old, or 70-year-old, or 100-year old “renewable energy” plants (basically 100 year old dams – as opposed to new facilities). Starting in 2013, my negotiated bill (HB 1946) would have changed the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) program so that only credits from zero emission facilities, such as wind and solar – and not dirtier Tier 2 RECs, could be applied towards the RPS goals.
For several weeks I worked with the Southern Environmental Law Center, the League of Conservation Voters, the Virginia Conservation Network, Dominion Power, Appalachian Power, the Attorney General’s Office, and other environmental groups to reach an agreement. In an amazing turn of events – we were successful. All of these diverse interests stood up and spoke in favor of my legislation.
Despite this – the representatives of the dirtier Tier 2 RECs stood in opposition to the compromise measure. After a long debate – the bill was defeated for the year. I look forward to being able to bring the parties together soon to hammer out a compromise solution on this difficult issue in advance of next year’s session. In the future, we hope to eventually have a mandatory RPS program. This legislation represented an incremental step in the right direction.
Additional Legislation – If you would like to learn more about other legislation that I sponsored this year, please visit my website – www.AlfonsoLopez.org – and click on my Legislative Agenda for the 2013 Session.
Major Issues Before the General Assembly
Transportation – I believe the Governor’s transportation plan will do nothing to solve Virginia’s long-term need for new transportation funding. His plan simply continues to shuffle the chairs on the deck of the Titanic without addressing Virginia’s critical transportation shortfall.
One of the largest components of the Governor’s plan ($252 million) is unlikely to materialize. The bill relies on Congress to pass legislation allowing Virginia to tax out-of-state vendors for products that are purchased online by Virginians. However, it is far from certain that Congress will pass this legislation.
The Governor would also take additional money from the General Fund that we currently use to pay for essential services such as education and public safety. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a real solution to our transportation crisis. There is also no mechanism authorizing the regions of Virginia with the most acute transportation needs (Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads) to raise local revenue.
In addition, the Governor has proposed to eliminate the gas tax, increase the state sales tax by 0.8% and charge the drivers of alternative fuel vehicles an additional $100 registration fee per year. These policies would shift Virginia’s transportation funding from a user based fee (the Gas Tax) for which a larger percentage of the fee is paid by out-of-state residents, to a universal fee (the Sales Tax) which requires all Virginians to pay more.
I believe that a strong transportation plan for Virginia must include the following: 1) It must provide at least $1 billion in new revenue annually; 2) the funds must be certain and reliable – from a dedicated funding stream; 3) the money must NOT raid the General Fund – that pays for education and public safety; 4) it must include money for construction, rail, and transit – not just maintenance; 5) the funding must be available this year; and, 6) we should provide the regions with the most extraordinary needs the authority to raise their own funds.
The Governor’s plan is a bad deal for Northern Virginia and the entire Commonwealth. We need additional transportation funding that supports more transit projects for Northern Virginia and does not penalize Virginians who are reducing congestion and driving environmentally friendly vehicles. Now that the Senate has defeated the Governor’s plan, I hope we can work together on a package that is comprehensive, fair, and truly addresses our long-term funding needs.
Uranium – I am happy to report that bills in both the House and Senate that would have ended Virginia’s 30 year moratorium on uranium mining were withdrawn. The General Assembly will not be lifting the ban on uranium mining this year.
Medicaid Expansion – Although the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have signaled a willingness to expand Medicaid coverage, we are still fighting to ensure that Virginia expands its Medicaid program next year to take advantage of full federal funding to cover 400,000 uninsured Virginians. Expanding Medicaid would greatly improve health outcomes for uninsured Virginians, save Virginia’s healthcare system money, and create 30,000 new jobs, which will help grow Virginia’s economy.
Senate Redistricting - While everyone was celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Inauguration of President Obama for his second term, the Virginia Senate pushed through a surprise redistricting bill that would have dramatically changed Virginia’s State Senate districts. The Senate was only able to pass the bill because Senator Henry Marsh, a celebrated civil rights leader, was attending the President’s Inauguration and was unable to cast a deciding vote to block the bill.
This legislation was unconstitutional, undemocratic, and set a terrible precedent for partisan redistricting. Once again, a small group of Virginia legislators put partisan politics above addressing the Commonwealth’s most pressing issues such as transportation, economic development, education, and public safety. This is exactly the type of divisive, partisan politics that has gridlocked Congress and would only serve to keep Virginia from moving forward.
Thankfully, the Senate Redistricting power grab was defeated. The dramatic Senate Redistricting changes were added as an amendment to a House bill that made minor technical adjustments to House districts. In this case, the Speaker of the House of Delegates ruled that the amendment was not germane, which means that the amendment was rejected because it strayed dramatically from what would be considered appropriate minor, technical adjustments.
Women’s Health and Reproductive Freedom – I am disappointed that the General Assembly has killed every piece of legislation this session that would have rolled back the attacks of the last two years on women’s health and reproductive freedom. This includes legislation that would have removed the ultrasound requirement imposed last session that made Virginia a national laughing stock as well as legislation to repeal the TRAP regulations for women’s health clinics throughout the Commonwealth.
Gun Violence – The Virginia General Assembly has killed every single bill that would limit access to high capacity magazines, assault rifles, or privately owned firearms without a required background check. Despite the fact that a Quinnipiac University poll of Virginians conducted just a few weeks ago showed that Virginians overwhelmingly supported these measures, the General Assembly refused to move forward with any of them.
While I greatly support the increased focus of the General Assembly on providing additional mental health services for children and adults throughout the Commonwealth, this is only one component of the larger issue of preventing gun violence. I am very disappointed that we have been prevented from moving forward with common sense restrictions to make it harder for criminals to obtain military grade weaponry.
Restoration of Rights – In spite of support from the Governor’s office, the Attorney General’s Office, a coalition of progressive organizations from across the Commonwealth, and bipartisan support from Members of the House of Delegates, my legislation to amend Virginia’s Constitution to allow nonviolent felons to have their rights restored was killed by a House Privileges and Elections Subcommittee. While similar legislation has been passed by the Virginia State Senate, I fear it will face the same opposition in the House of Delegates.
Fox Penning – A bill to end the cruel practice of Fox Penning in Virginia has been passed by the Virginia State Senate. The bill will now be taken up by the House of Delegates.
The Reappointment of the Rector of the University of Virginia – Legislators voted to re-appoint Ms. Helen Dragas for a second four-year term on the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. Last summer, Ms. Dragas led the effort to oust President Teresa Sullivan, who was reinstated after an outcry on campus. By her conduct I believe Ms. Dragas did serious damage to the reputation of Virginia’s flagship university. I did not vote for her reappointment.
Education – Elements of Governor McDonnell’s problematic schools package are working through the General Assembly. Included in the package is a measure to create a top down statewide school division to take over management of failing schools. I strongly disagree with this proposal to create a new unaccountable bureaucracy to take over and manage schools, potentially indefinitely. Also, changes to the teacher contract and grievance process also passed the House of Delegates and are before the Senate. The Governor proposed a 2 percent pay raise for instructional staff but made it contingent on passage of these problematic contract and evaluation measures.
Workplace Discrimination – The Senate has passed a bill that would establish state anti-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian state workers. I strongly support this legislation and will fight for its passage in the House.
Texting While Driving – The House of Delegates and State Senate have passed measures that would make texting while driving a primary offense — meaning an officer could pull over a driver solely for texting while driving. I supported this measure when it came to the Floor of the House of Delegates.
If you ever need help with a state agency, want to express your support or opposition to a bill, or arrange a meeting with me down in Richmond or at home in the 49th District, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (571) 336-2147 or DelALopez@house.virginia.gov.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Alfonso H. Lopez
Member, 49th District
Virginia House of Delegates