Delegate Alfonso Lopez’s 2014 Legislative Agenda
The Virginia DREAM/Tuition Equity Act
This bill will provide documented Virginia students who have been granted Deferred Action by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the opportunity to receive in-state tuition at Virginia state colleges and universities. This legislation is not only the right thing to do for these students who were brought here at no fault of their own, but also the right thing to do for Virginia’s economy. We invest millions of dollars in these students from kindergarten through twelfth grade, but put up a barrier to higher education that turns away top Virginia students. With the support of a diverse coalition of business leaders, religious organizations, education advocates, and immigrant rights groups behind this bill, I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to move this bill forward in the House of Delegates.
Expanding Voter Access
Virginia should be making it easier to vote – not harder. This bill will allow Virginians to vote in-person absentee before Election Day without an excuse. This is especially important for individuals in our community who work multiple jobs and may find it difficult to spend several hours trying to vote on a work day. I believe HB 800 is common sense legislation that will help alleviate long lines on Election Day and increase voter participation.
This bill will allow Virginians age 65 and older to vote absentee without an excuse. Virginia currently allows Virginians age 65 and older to request curbside voting; however, we do not allow these same Virginians to request an absentee ballot without an additional excuse. The increased use of curbside in 2012 contributed to some of the long lines that were experienced throughout Northern Virginia on Election Day. For these and other reasons, the Virginia Voter Registrar’s Association supports this legislation.
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 McDonnell worked 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.
This bill will add discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of unlawfully discriminatory housing practices. Simply put, no one should be denied a place to live as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This legislation would provide protection from a retaliatory eviction for tenants who have recently reported their landlord for a code violation, filed a suit against the landlord, joined a tenants’ organization, or testified against the landlord. Within six months of one of the above actions it shall be “prima facie” evidence that the landlord’s action was retaliatory. The current law requires the tenant to prove this action is retaliatory, which is nearly impossible.
Small Business and Job Growth
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. A company with $4.5 billion in annual receipts and 13 employees should not be certified as a small business.
This legislation will allow entrepreneurial Virginians eligible for unemployment insurance to instead receive seed money for starting a business. Essentially creating their own job (and possibly hiring others) rather than applying for a new one. This program has been very successful in other states – creating new jobs and providing critical entrepreneurial experience. By creating a pilot program that is limited to 100 participants, we can measure its effectiveness in Virginia and show why we should expand this program throughout the Commonwealth.
As this industry starts to take off with the help of legislation that I sponsored over the past two years, we need to keep improving Virginia’s code so that this industry can continue to grow and thrive. This legislation is a commonsense fix to a requirement that “converted electric vehicle” be displayed in a method that would end up being over three feet long on three different sides of the car. By making this requirement a smaller, bumper sticker size identification, we can protect the safety of first responders while ensuring these vehicles remain marketable for manufacturers.
Energy & the Environment
After numerous meetings throughout the year with Electrical Utility Companies, environmental advocates, and renewable energy industries, we have hammered out a compromise to move Virginia’s Renewable Portfolio Standards program forward. This legislation will place a five year limit on Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that are purchased by a utility so that utility companies will either have to purchase new renewable energy or create their own. Rather than storing RECs in perpetuity, this bill will incentivize new renewable energy production throughout the Commonwealth.
This bill will postpone the due date for the quadrennial updates to the Virginia Energy Plan from July 1 to October 1 so that Governor McAuliffe can have adequate time to effectively update Virginia’s energy plan.
This legislation will require VDOT to adhere to any tree replacement policy adopted by the locality in which a highway construction project is being undertaken. This has been a concern for parts of the 49th District in recent years.
This bill will require the Virginia State Corporation Commission, when required to approve the construction of any electrical utility facility, to consider the long-term price stability of any fuels used in the generation of energy from the facility. This would require the State Corporation Commission to give more consideration for renewable energy projects, which have a large up-front cost, but run on free solar, wind, and hydroelectric power after they are built.
This bill will bring back the Commission on Energy and Environment, which former State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple worked tirelessly to create and support. It functions as a Commission to review legislation with significant environmental and energy implications. If we want to keep Virginia moving forward with the development of new renewable energy and environmentally friendly legislation, we need a forward-thinking Commission that is specially designed to review these bills.
This bill will authorize the issuance of special license plates for members and supporters of the American Foreign Service Association.
This bill would include bicycles and non-motorized vehicles in Virginia’s following too closely statute. After coming so close last year to passing this legislation, I am determined to make sure we have adequate protection for bicyclists and other operators of non-motorized vehicles. With bipartisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly, I am optimistic that we will pass this legislation in 2014.
This legislation is designed to fix the far too common problem of “notario” fraud. In many foreign countries, notarios (notaries public) are equivalent to attorneys in that they are able to practice law and provide legal advice. Unfortunately, some notaries are taking advantage of this language discrepancy by advertising to provide legal advice on issues ranging from immigration to divorce proceedings even though they are not qualified to do so. This bill would require notaries public who do not have a law degree to include office signage (in all the languages that they provide service) and a disclaimer in all advertisements detailing that they are not qualified to practice law or provide immigration services.
Gun Violence Prevention
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 will require a background check for any and all private sales of firearms in Virginia. This is popular, common sense legislation supported by over 91% of Virginians (according to a poll conducted in 2012) and three out of every four Virginia-based NRA Members (according to a poll conducted in May of 2013).
This legislation will require the State Police to be available to perform background checks for non-firearms dealer sales at gun shows. These background checks would be voluntary. Also, the setup and staffing of the background check computer terminal/kiosk would be paid for by the owner of the gun show.
This bill will require that the written policy and procedure for conducting in-person and photographic lineups used by the State Police and local law-enforcement agencies conform to the model policy for conducting such lineups established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. According to a recent University of Virginia School of Law survey, many of Virginia’s law enforcement agencies do not follow best practices for lineup procedures. This can lead to incorrect identifications and wrongful convictions. In fact, 13 of the 16 individuals in Virginia who were later exonerated using DNA evidence were originally convicted with at least one misidentification. In some cases there were multiple misidentifications.
This legislation will add correctional officers to the list of public safety employees who are entitled to a presumption that hypertension, heart disease, and certain infectious diseases are occupational diseases compensable under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. Correctional officers have some of the highest rates of stress and infection due to the nature of their job. They should be treated equally with other law enforcement officers who experience the same circumstances.