Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this message finds you and your families safe and well in the New Year!
I am writing this letter from Richmond just as the first week of the 2019 legislative session is ending. As we now move into Week Two, the work of the House of Delegates will ramp up significantly over the next several days. With that in mind, I wanted to provide you with:
- A few updates about the first week of session
- A brief outline of my 2019 legislative agenda
- Ways to stay in touch and follow the legislative session
- An announcement regarding a recent donation to my campaign
The 2019 Session of the General Assembly officially convened on Wednesday, January 9th. This year’s session is especially significant for the Commonwealth as it marks the 400th anniversary of the first meeting the Virginia House of Burgesses—the first representative legislative assembly in the New World and the predecessor to the modern Virginia House of Delegates.
During the session, I keep my office door open so that any constituents or advocates who happen to be in town can chat with me about the issues that are most important to them—or even just to say hello!
I was very happy that my first visitor of the 2019 session was a counselor at W&L High School and volunteer with the Virginia School Counselor Association, Ms. Pam McClellan. She spoke with me about the importance of supporting school counselors in the Commonwealth. My late mother was also a counselor at W&L High School and spent several decades as an educator and school counselor for Arlington Public Schools. A love of public education runs deep in my family and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to connect with another school counselor and hear about her work.
I also had the chance to join Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni and address the counselors as they gathered in the General Assembly Building before visiting legislators’ offices!
Later that same morning, Delegates Mike Mullin, Schuyler Vanvalkenburg, and I were proud to join the Virginia LGBT+ Democrats as they held a rally in support of passing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Virginians.
That afternoon, I was visited by several activists and friends from the 49th District advocating in favor of another issue that is near and dear to my heart: the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. I have been a strong supporter of the ERA throughout my public career (I introduced the Constitutional amendment during last year's session) and am very optimistic that this will be the year it is ratified by Virginia once and for all!
I spent Wednesday evening attending Governor Ralph Northam’s second State of the Commonwealth Address, where I was proud to hear him announce his plan to end the suspension of Virginia driver’s licenses due to an inability to pay court fines or fees! I will be carrying the Governor's legislation in the House of Delegates this session. This is an issue that I have worked on for several years and am very glad to be working with the Governor to get it passed in 2019!
On Thursday, I was incredibly honored to be visited by members of the Virginia Conference of the American Association of University Professors, who presented me with the 2019 Colonel Michael S. Norris Award for "exemplary service in support of higher education."
The AAUP selected me to receive the Colonel Michael S. Norris Award due to my years-long work to pass the Virginia Dream Act and secure in-state tuition access for undocumented students, as well as my consistent efforts to lower tuition rates and increase college affordability for all Virginians.
Finally, I was visited Friday morning by activists with Moms Demand Action, who thanked me for my work on gun violence prevention—particularly my bill in previous years to ensure that children aged four and under did not have access to firearms.
2019 LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
HB 2388: Virginia DREAM Act—Tuition Equity for Undocumented Students
Over 1,000 students (including many in the 49th District) currently enrolled in Virginia colleges and universities are under threat of losing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and with it, their hopes of being able to afford tuition at Virginia's state colleges and universities. This bill will grant access to in-state tuition at Virginia colleges and universities to undocumented students. It would also cover Virginia residents seeking asylum in the United States and their children.
These children know no other home but Virginia. We have invested in their education from kindergarten through twelfth grade. This legislation will allow us to fulfill our investment so that these students can stay in the Commonwealth and help build a new Virginia economy. I have been working on this legislation since my first year in the House of Delegates and will keep fighting until it is the law of the Commonwealth!
HB 2389: Securing a Dedicated Source of Funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund
I believe that housing infrastructure and affordable housing should be a State concern on par with education, transportation, environmental protection, economic development, and the social safety net. That is why I fought for my legislation creating the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund in 2013. This legislation goes further and implements the recommendations of the Virginia Housing Commission that the General Assembly dedicate 20% of the recordation tax collection each year over $325 million to the Housing Trust Fund. We must create a dedicated source of revenue for our Housing Trust Fund if we want to make a substantive investment in affordable housing throughout Virginia.
HB 2390: Automatic Voter Registration
This bill would provide for the automatic voter registration of Virginia citizens through the Department of Motor Vehicles—along with an opt-out for those who choose not to register. This bill will encourage more participation in our elections and ensure the protection of voting rights for all Virginians!
HB 2391: Solid Waste Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act
Tens of thousands of tons of municipal solid waste are dumped into Virginia's landfills each year, which then leech almost a million tons of methane—a greenhouse gas—into the Earth's atmosphere. This bill would seek to address that problem by charging a fee for each ton of out-of-state waste dumped into Virginia landfills, the proceeds of which would then be deposited into a special account dedicated to addressing the effects of climate change in Virginia.
HB 2392: Repealing Laws that Require the Reporting of Undocumented Immigrants to the Federal Government
This legislation would repeal several sections of the Virginia Code that mandate the reporting of undocumented immigrants to federal authorities by various law enforcement officials and county clerks. It would also prohibit the police from reporting the immigration status of any crime victims or witnesses. This is necessary in order to encourage victims and witnesses of crimes to come forward, report crimes, and assist in prosecutions without fearing that their immigration status will be questioned. It strikes the right balance between giving police the latitude they need to effectively investigate violations of state and local law and giving immigrant victims and witnesses the assurances they need to feel safe about contacting the authorities. This will improve improve overall public safety across the Commonwealth.
HB 2393: Banning Child Labor on Tobacco Farms
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.
HB 2394: Protecting Children and Firefighters from Dangerous Chemical Flame Retardants
Flame retardants in upholstered furniture and children’s products are not needed, ineffective, and no longer required by state regulators. Despite not being required in Virginia, manufacturers nationwide have added them to upholstered furniture and a variety of baby products to comply with a 1975 California flammability standard. In 2013, California changed its requirements, but this legislation would ensure that products sold in Virginia are free of the worst of these chemicals to protect the health of both firefighters and children. Flame-retardants added to polyurethane foam products have been shown to be ineffective in fire protection. They generate excessive smoke and toxic chemical byproducts that expose firefighters to a toxic soup, including cancer-causing chemicals.
HB 2395: Creating a Hazardous Waste Site Inventory
Virginia currently does not have a one-stop list of all the sites in the Commonwealth that pose a hazard to human health or the environment from toxic substances. The public has a right to know if one of these sites is in their community and poses a hazard to public health. This bill simply consolidates existing lists of hazardous waste sites maintained by the state and federal government and puts that information in a format that the public can easily access. It also provides a mechanism for DEQ to add new sites as it becomes aware of them.
HB 2396: Requiring Notification after Breach of Passport & Military ID Information
In Virginia, there is currently no provision that mandates immediate notification to people whose passport numbers or military ID numbers are stolen in a security breach. This bill would fix that hole in the Virginia Code.
HB 2397: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)—Opt-In to Improve Services
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.
HB 2398: Small Business Definition Reform
Since I was first elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, I’ve been working to improve Virginia’s definition of small business in the Small, Women, and Minority-owned (SWaM) public procurement program. Under the current definition, a business in Virginia is considered "small" if it has fewer than 250 employees or less than $10 million 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. My legislation moves Virginia closer to a more realistic—and more fair—SWaM procurement process.
HB 2399: Closing the Background Check Loophole
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. In compliance with expert guidance from the FBI, my 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.
HB 2488: Ending the Suspension of Driver's Licenses for Those Unable to Pay Court Fines or Fees
After working on this issue for a couple years, I am proud to be carrying the Governor's bill to end the suspension of driver's licenses due to the inability of someone to pay a court fine or fee. In Virginia, there are over 640,000 individuals with suspended licenses only for non-payment of court fines and costs. Many Virginia residents rely upon their driver’s licenses to get to work and complete other necessary daily tasks. When a person’s driver’s license is suspended, they may face a difficult dilemma: obey the suspension and potentially lose their ability to provide for their families, or drive anyway and face further punishment/fees, and even imprisonment, for driving while suspended. As Governor Northam said, we should not be putting families in this situation and we should be punishing folks for being poor.
HB 2610: Repealing the Reporting of Immigration Status by Colleges & Universities
This bill would repeal sections of the Virginia Code mandating that institutions of higher education report the immigration status of their students in certain cases.
Bill # TBD: Creating a Civil Rights Division within the Office of the Attorney General
I have been working with the Attorney General and his office to create a Civil Rights Division with the authority to investigate civil rights abuses across the Commonwealth. At the time of drafting this newsletter, the bill language has not yet been finalized—but will be available later this week!
WAYS TO STAY IN TOUCH AND FOLLOW SESSION
During session, please feel free to contact my Richmond office directly at (804) 698-1049. You can also always email the office at DelALopez@house.virginia.gov.
Please take some time to visit the Virginia General Assembly's website here. This website is a great tool to track legislation of interest, follow committee meetings, and obtain member contact information.
You can also watch each day's House of Delegates session live here.
In addition, please visit my website at www.AlfonsoLopez.org and follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Lopez4VA or on Twitter at @Lopez4VA for updates during session and all year long.
DECISION NOT TO TAKE DONATIONS FROM AMAZON
On a final note, the recent decision by Amazon to build half of the company's second headquarters (HQ2) in Northern Virginia has brought excitement, and some concern regarding the possible regional impact on affordable housing, income inequality, transit, transportation, and school capacity.
Prior to Amazon's decision and the announcement to locate HQ2 in the Arlington-Alexandria region, I received a campaign donation from the company. After the official announcement regarding HQ2, I decided to return the contribution and will not accept any campaign contributions from Amazon.
There are a great number of decisions that need to be made over the coming months regarding Amazon's HQ2 effort, and how it will be implemented locally. I look forward to many frank and productive discussions with my constituents, Amazon representatives, and other public officials as we work together to do what's best for our region and Commonwealth.
While I would never allow a campaign contribution to affect my judgement as an elected official, trust in the government is essential. Constituents should have no doubts about the independence of my judgement or think there are any motivations beyond doing what is right for our community. This is the right thing to do. Fostering trust in government is more important now than ever.
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 at your convenience.
Member, 49th District
House of Delegates