Delegate Lopez Announces 2013 Legislative Agenda
(Arlington, VA) Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-49) has submitted his legislative agenda for the 2013 General Assembly Session. He plans to introduce fifteen bills, which is the maximum number of bills allowed by the rules this year in the Virginia House of Delegates.
His legislation addresses a variety of issues including Small Business, Voting Reform, Education Access, Renewable Energy and Environmental Protection, Traffic Safety, Affordable Housing, and Gun Violence.
Below is a brief description of each of Delegate Lopez’s legislative proposals:
1) Modernizing the Definition of Small Businesses in Virginia – Changes the definition of "small business" to be a business located in Virginia that meets the definition of a small business concern set forth by the Federal Size Standards of the U.S. Small Business Administration. This moves Virginia away from the one-size-fits-all small business standard of 250 employees and $10 million in annual revenue. This standard – which covers 95% of all businesses in Virginia – does a disservice to women and minority owned businesses that must compete under the Small, Women, and Minority Owned business standards in Virginia.
2) The Virginia Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) Program – Traditionally, unemployment insurance has only been made available to individuals who were actively seeking a full-time job. Already proven successful in several other States, an SEA program enables an out-of-work entrepreneur to receive those same unemployment benefits, as long as they are working full-time to get a new company off the ground, build revenues, and hire others. Under the program, aspiring entrepreneurs would be provided with the traditional 26 weeks of unemployment benefits (roughly $10,000 to $13,000 in assistance). Or – more appropriately – the typical seed funding necessary to start a normal service based business – which have relatively low startup and operating costs. Under a new U.S. Department of Labor – passed as a part of the Federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act – Virginia is eligible for approximately $670,000 in Federal grants to implement, promote, and administer such an initiative.
3) No Excuse Absentee Voting – It should never take three to five hours to exercise your fundamental right to vote. Indeed, under such conditions, individuals that work longer hours or hold down several jobs may be dissuaded from voting. Rather than restricting the right to vote or making it more difficult, we should make voting in Virginia as convenient as possible. My bill would allow for qualified voters to vote absentee in person without providing an excuse or reason for not being able to vote in person on Election Day. The bill retains the present statutory list of specific reasons entitling a voter to cast an absentee ballot for those persons who vote absentee by mail. I originally introduced this legislation last year.
4) Restoration of Voting Rights for Non-Violent Felons (Constitutional Amendment) – Virginia is one of only a small handful of States that does not restore voting rights to individuals convicted of felonies who fully complete and serve their sentences. This policy is a remnant of the Byrd era in Virginia. My legislation authorizes the General Assembly to provide for the restoration of civil and voting rights for persons convicted of non-violent felonies who have completed service of their sentences. Presently the Virginia Constitution provides for restoration of rights by the Governor. The amendment retains the right of the Governor to restore civil rights and adds an alternative for restoration of rights pursuant to law for nonviolent felons.
5) No Excuse Absentee Voting for Individuals 65 Years of Age and Older – This modified version the bill focuses solely on making it easier for Senior Citizens to cast absentee ballots.
6) Easing Worker Rules for Co-Located Polling Places – In cases where two precincts share the same polling location facility or building there may be a time during Election Day where one precinct is experiencing high volume and the other is not. In an effort to ease the burden on poll workers at high volume polling places, this legislation would provide some staffing flexibility. The bill states that if the polling places for more than one precinct are located in the same building, the electoral board may designate officers of election who may work in any or all such precincts throughout election day as needed. The electoral board shall select the chief officer of election for one of the precincts who shall have the authority throughout Election Day to determine in which precinct such designated officers shall work.
7) The Virginia DREAM Act – The Commonwealth currently blocks undocumented students from qualifying for in-state tuition at Virginia colleges and universities. However, without in-state tuition rates, college is inaccessible to many of these students. I remain strongly committed to seeing that undocumented children are given the opportunity to continue their education. I introduced this legislation last year and I will continue to introduce the Virginia DREAM Act every year until it becomes law. Many incredibly talented immigrant students who grow up here and graduate from Virginia high schools are undocumented – through no fault of their own. At best, they may be able to take our substantial investment in their K-12 education to another state. At worst, they may decide to drop out of high school because college is not a realistic goal. Virginia should be joining states such as Texas, Kansas, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, New York, Washington, and Oklahoma in opening this narrow window of opportunity for students. These states understand that college opportunities reduce dropout rates and save long-term criminal justice and public benefits spending and costs. My bill, which mirrors Executive Orders put in place by Governors Warner and Kaine, would provide in-state tuition for undocumented students who meet certain strict requirements.
8) In-State Tuition Benefits for Eligible Students Participating in the Federal Deferred Action Program – Similar to the Virginia DREAM Act, under this bill a student shall be eligible for in-state tuition if (i) she has graduated from a public or private high school in the Commonwealth or has received a General Education Development (GED) certificate in the Commonwealth, (ii) she has resided in the Commonwealth for at least one year immediately preceding her registration as an entering student in a public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth, and (iii) she has provided an affidavit to the public institution of higher education for which she has registered stating that she has been approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
9) Consideration of Fuel Price Stability When Developing Electrical Utility Facilities – This bill would level the playing field for new renewable energy facilities in Virginia. Currently, the higher upfront costs of renewable energy facilities are preventing them from moving forward. This legislation requires that the Virginia State Corporation Commission, when considering the construction of any new electrical utility facility, take into account the long-term price stability of any fuels used in the generation of energy from the facility.
10) Inspection of Converted Electric Vehicles; Fee – This legislation allows safety inspectors of converted electric vehicles to charge an additional fee of no more than $40 for such an inspection. This bill would allow inspectors to be reasonably compensated for the more extensive inspection required for converted electric vehicles.
11) Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Improvements – This bill significantly strengthens the existing renewable energy portfolio standard program in Virginia. The legislation would require that for calendar years 2016 through 2025 a utility shall (i) only be able to take credit for renewable energy generated or purchased in Virginia, off its coast, or represented by a renewable energy certificate from eligible sources in Virginia or off its coast and (ii) that annual renewable energy sales or renewable energy certificates from electric energy derived from any combination of sunlight, onshore wind, offshore wind, wave motion, tides, or geothermal power meet at least 40 percent of the sales requirement for the RPS Goal in that year. The measure also eliminates provisions that give double or triple credit toward meeting the RPS Goals for energy from specified sources.
12) Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund – This bill would take the significant step of codifying the Housing Trust Fund agreed upon in the 2013-2014 Biennial Budget. The Virginia Housing Trust Fund already has approval for a $7 million appropriation in fiscal year 2014.
13) Bicycle Safety and Following Too Closely – This bill would provide a technical fix to the current Virginia law and close a loophole that prevents bicyclists and other non-motorized vehicle operators from enjoying the same protections as motorized vehicle drivers. The language removes the word “motorized” from Virginia’s current “following too closely” law so that it applies to motorized and non-motorized vehicles.
14) School Based Mental Health Commission – This legislation would create a Virginia Commission to address the need for increased access to mental health providers for children and adolescents. The Commission will consider the use of school based mental health programs. This may also include training/guidance for teachers to identify problems faced by children and adolescents when confronted by stressors (from home, school, and community) before those stressors manifest into trauma. This will include a review of Virginia Mental Health Commission Report on Law Reform and an expansion on its findings for altering the mental health system post-shootings at Virginia Tech to better meet the needs of children and youth.
15) Ban the Sale and Possession of Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines – This legislation criminalizes the sale and possession of large capacity ammunition magazines. These restrictions would limit the ability of a rogue gunman to efficiently and effectively fire large amounts of ammunition and inflict mass casualties in a short period of time.