Lawmaker Dispatches: Monday, Feb. 15

Featured: Mary Margaret Whipple, Rob Bell

Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple: Crossover

Tomorrow is “crossover day” down here in Richmond, meaning each chamber must act on all pending legislation if they want it considered by the other. Consequently, your Senate Democratic Caucus is working hard to pass our priority legislation and send it to our counterparts in the House of Delegates where we hope it will find a warm reception.

Since my last update, we’ve gotten some great legislation through the Senate and kept a few bad bills from getting out. Last week we passed two very important equality bills, both sponsored by Democrats. Sen. Donald McEachin of Richmond introduced SB66 to prevent discrimination in the state workforce, including on the basis of sexual orientation. This important protection has traditionally been enacted by Governor’s Executive Order, but we felt it was important enough to put in the law. This basic protection means that all employment decisions in Virginia state government will be made based on talents and abilities, just as they should be.

The Senate also passed SB451 that will allow local governments to extend the insurance policies of their employees to other family members—including domestic partners or grown children—as the locality sees fit. I introduced this bill as a way to keep Virginia localities competitive against other localities and private business when attracting top talent.

Democrats also won passage of two constitutional amendments that you should look for on the ballot in November. Sen. Toddy Puller of Prince William has long championed veteran’s issues, and the Senate passed her amendment to exempt certain severely disabled veterans from taxes on their homes. It is a small but meaningful way to support men and women who have made great sacrifices for us.

Sen. Chap Petersen of Fairfax won passage of an amendment that would allow localities to provide a tax credit for certain green buildings, equipment, or renovations that conserve energy. This amendment can be a powerful tool for localities to incentivize smart, efficient construction and is one piece of a larger green energy and jobs platform that Senate Democrats are building.

Also last week, Senate Democrats defeated a measure that would have allocated phantom revenues from offshore drilling. Proponents of the measure would have you believe this was a referendum on offshore drilling, but it was really just a trick to make folks think that revenue was on the way. If any revenue from drilling comes in the distant future we will allocate it at that time, but we did not want to start dedicating imaginary money.

Finally, as we move into our sixth week of session, we continue to work through the difficult process of balancing the state’s budget. We continue to press Gov. McDonnell to present a plan for addressing the shortfall and get involved in this challenging process. His threat to veto any new revenues means that $4 billion will be cut from the state’s budget over the next two years. The $4 billion in cuts that Gov. McDonnell needs to make will likely result in massive layoffs to critical public servants like teachers, sheriff’s deputies, and healthcare providers. Please know that the Senate Democrats understand the severity of the coming cuts and are working hard to find ways to mitigate their impact. We hope the governor will publicly present a plan in the coming days to make his $4 billion in cuts. Even if he does not, the Senate will fulfill its duty to create a balanced budget.

On another quick note, I am very excited this week to announce a new way for you to keep track of the happenings in Richmond. The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus has launched our own YouTube channel! We hope to offer a wide variety of clips, including floor debate, speeches, and news conferences. You can find us at, so please check in occasionally and catch up with us.


Del. Rob Bell: Richmond Report

After all the snow, we entered the last full week before the “cross-over” deadline, when all the bills must cross over to the Virginia Senate. I was pleased to have a large number of my bills pass the Virginia House of Delegates or a House committee, including the following:

Restricting CDLs: HB 916 would require the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to confiscate the commercial driver’s license (CDL) of any commercial driver who recklessly causes an accident that kills another driver. The bill was prompted by a fatal accident on Route 29 when a commercial truck driver ran a red light and killed an Albemarle High School student.

Registration for Sex Offenders: HB 912 would require each sex offender to assign a particular location as his “residence” for purposes of the sex offender registry. This bill is in response to a judge’s ruling that a sex offender who was homeless would not have to comply with certain reporting requirements. This should help make sure that law enforcement knows where to find offenders and will make sure the offenders have to report when they leave the area.

Immediate Sanction Probation: HB 927 would enable a judge to place a nonviolent offender on “Immediate Sanction Probation.” Under this program, an offender would be immediately brought back to court for probation violations, with the judge able to give out penalties for each violation. The goal is to modify conduct, and to do this; we need swift and sure penalties for misconduct. Waiting until a probationer works his way up to a serious violation and then packing him off to prison isn’t good for public safety or the offender.

Reporting Ethical Violations: HB 933 would require the Virginia House of Delegates Ethics Panel to report any knowing violation of conflict of interest laws to the Virginia Attorney General for possible prosecution. Current law gives the ethics panel the ability to keep these secret. I believe that when the ethics panel finds that there has been a knowing violation of the law, it is critical that they get the information to law enforcement.

Victim Visitation: HB 913 would require prison officials to create policies to allow crime victims to visit those who hurt them. Some victims find this an important part of the healing process. When it can be done safely, I think it should be allowed.

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