This past Wednesday, the 2020 session of the House of Delegates opened with the crack of the gavel. During the opening session it is hard not to reflect on the incredible history of our Commonwealth, as well as the awesome responsibility we owe to the people of Virginia. We will not always agree on the best path, but it is important to engage in honest, civil debate - and be open minded and willing to be persuaded.
This year was particularly historic with the election of the first woman Speaker and the first woman Clerk of the House. I couldn't be more proud of my colleague Eileen Filler-Corn, who Gretchen and I have called friend for more than 20 years.
Your input is very importat to me! Each year I try to anticipate some of the bills that will be debated in my committees or on the House Floor. Please take a few moments to share your thoughts by filling out my 2020 Constituent Survey. At the end of the session, I will compile the results so that you can see what kind of feedback I am receiving from the community.
Town Hall - Save the Date!
One of my favorite events is my annual Town Hall meeting with Senator Chap Petersen. This year's meeting will be on Saturday, January 25 from 9 to 11 a.m. at Fairfax City Hall. It is a point of pride that so many constituents come out to hear what is going on in Richmond. I hope you can join us!
Final Committee Assignments
As mentioned in my last newsletter, I am honored to be the new chair of the General Laws Committee. I have also been reappointed to the Education Committee and the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee. In addition, I am thrilled to be newly appointed to the Appropriations Committee, where I will chair the Commerce, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Sleep? Not during this session!
My 2020 Legislative Agenda
So far this year I have introduced 20 bills. Some are big, while others deal with very specific issues. Here are just a few highlights:
Early Childhood Education (HB1012) - A child's earliest experiences - and particularly those in the critical years between birth and age five - have lifelong impacts on their likelihood of success. However, in Virginia, 40 % of students entering kindergarten lack the key literacy, math, and social emotional skills that predict success. Further, only 25% of Virginia's early childhood programs that receive public funding participate in the state's voluntary quality measurement system. This bill streamlines Virginia's early childhood education programs and directs the Board of Education to create a uniform quality rating system for programs that accept public funding. This will improve quality, foster continuous improvement, and help parents understand their options. The Governor's budget also includes $95 million to expand access to quality early childhood education , with a focus on at-risk four-year-olds and three-year-olds.
Security Freezes (HB509) - This bill prohibits a credit reporting agency from requiring a person to pay a fee to place a security freeze on a credit report. A security freeze is an important tool to protect personal information from identify theft and data breaches. Two years ago, the General Assembly reduced the fee from $10 to $5. Since there are three major reporting agencies, a family of five like mine would still have to pay $75 to protect our information. These companies make billions from collecting personal data. HB509 will eliminate the fee and allow families to take the steps they think are necessary to proactively protect their credit.
Transparency in University Giving (HB510 and HB1529) - These bills seek to tighten gift acceptance policies at public universities. A few years ago, George Mason University revealed that it had accepted donation conditions that did not meet academic independence standards. HB510 tightens up the language regarding what information a university must provide under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and clarifies that a donor cannot be anonymous if the donation deals with academic decision-making. This bill was reviewed and endorsed by the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council. HB1529 ensures that all conditions associated with donations are actually documented. I am pleased that GMU has taken aggressive steps to change their policies. These two bills will ensure transparency and consistency state-wide.
Hands Free Driving (HB512) - This bill requires drivers to use hands free technology when using a personal communications device. The measure would have passed last year with bi-partisan support, except for a last minute procedural move. While distracted driving has become an epidemic across the nation, Virginia has been particularly hard hit. According to a study reported by WUSA 9, Virginia has the most distracted drivers in the nation. In 2017, at least 208 fatalities were linked to distracted driving in Virginia compared to 248 deaths linked to drunk driving. These numbers are likely under-reported since it can be difficult to prove distracted driving.
Gaming - Banning So-Called "Grey Machines" (HB881) - Virginia, like many other states, is grappling with the rapid spread of unregulated electronic gaming devices that are popping up in convenience stores and restaurants everywhere. They are similar to slot machines, which are generally against the law in Virginia. However, they purport to have some level of skill involved - hence they are in a legal "grey" area. As a result, they are neither regulated nor taxed. This is both a consumer protection issue as well as a revenue issue - with Virginia Lottery and legal charitable gaming taking big hits. Virginia Lottery is a significant source of funding for public education. A report by the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission estimates there could be more than 9,000 of these machines as of last October. My bill makes it clear that these games are not legal. This year Virginia will be considering several efforts to expand gaming, including casinos, sports betting, and charitable gaming. Without getting a handle on grey machines, Virginia essentially becomes the Wild West.
Unmanned Aerial Systems (HB742) - This bill ensures that local governments have the authority to manage potential conflicts between drones and other uses on property owned by the locality. Over the past few years, Virginia has positioned itself to be a leader in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technology. I am proud of that, but it also comes with privacy and safety concerns. A few years ago, the General Assembly passed legislation prohibiting any regulation of drones by localities. This means that localities can't even establish reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on public property - including parks and schools. So, while local schools and parks may regulate pets, skate boards, etc., someone using a drone can do so without any interference whatsoever from the owner of the public property. This bill provides that authority back to localities.
I have also introduced bills to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure (HB511), encourage prospective home buyers to conduct a building energy analysis (HB518), provide consumer protection information to those seeking a private student loan (HB743), and encourage tree conservation during development (HB520). You can see my full list here.
I am looking forward to providing you with updates throughout the session. If there are specific areas you think I should highlight, let me know! As always, do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance.