Mark Obenshain: Quick update from Richmond

obenshain2It’s hard to believe that we are already in the fourth week of the General Assembly session. Hundreds of bills are making their way through Senate committees in Richmond, as “crossover day” approaches. Today, all the bills in the Senate must be acted upon so that they can cross over to the House. As you can see, my office has been a very busy place over the last two weeks and I’d like to share with you some updates.

I’m pleased to report that many of my bills/resolutions have been positively received and are moving their way forward in the legislative process. Here is a quick update:

SJ256 Charter Schools – Once again I am carrying a constitutional amendment to expand charter schools in Virginia, which would provide another option to parents in their pursuit of providing their children with the best education possible. This issue is important to me, and I believe we should move beyond partisan politics when it comes to Virginia’s students.

Charter schools are one of the great educational success stories of recent years, giving new hope to students in major cities like Philadelphia, New Orleans, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. They are, moreover, a bipartisan success story, the product of Democrats and Republicans working together all across the country to improve our educational system. In fact, a recent Democratic poll found that 60% of Democrats support the growing school choice movement, demonstrating that this issue has bipartisan appeal and can transform America’s education system.

Unfortunately, Virginia has one of the most restrictive charter school laws in the country, but I remain committed to changing that. The Senate may vote on this amendment today, and it is my hope that we can finally pass this commonsense legislation to increase educational opportunities for Virginia’s children. If you share my concerns, please contact your legislators and urge them to support SJ256 to allow charter schools to flourish here in the Commonwealth.

SB1059 Outside Counsel – I am pleased to announce that my transparency in government bill passed the Senate floor earlier this week. This bill would set contingency fee caps on outside counsel retained by the Office of the Governor or the Office of the Attorney General. At times, outside counsel is required to help litigate important cases for the Commonwealth and can result in returning millions of dollars back to the Commonwealth. The cap on contingency fees ensures that Virginia gets to keep most of the return and limits the fees paid to these large law firms. Additionally, it would make public any contract for outside counsel, so the taxpayers of Virginia know what this is costing. I thank my Senate colleagues who voted for this measure.

SB1102 Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) – My legislation was rolled into Sen. Watkins SB1025, which was passed by the full Senate earlier this week. The legislation provides a process for TNCs, such as Uber, to gain authority to operate from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and provides requirements for driver background checks and insurance. Under this legislation, TNC drivers will undergo a thorough background check, and TNCs will be required to provide $1 million insurance protection whenever a vehicle is on its way to pick up, or while carrying, a passenger.

SB1187 DNA Expansion – I am pleased that this bill was reported from Senate Courts of Justice to the Senate Finance Committee last week. This legislation will expand DNA samples taken to those convicted of certain misdemeanor crimes, which has the potential to help solve cold case crimes and prevent felony crimes in the future.

Late last week, I was honored to have Sheriff Chip Harding of Albemarle County and Gil Harrington, mother of Morgan Harrington, testifying in support of this public safety measure. They shared compelling testimony related to the recent Hannah Graham case in Charlottesville. If the alleged accuser in that case had been sampled back in 2005 under his misdemeanor conviction, he would have been linked to a sexual assault case in 2010, been incarcerated if convicted, and Hannah Graham may still be alive today.

Finally, we have been fortunate to have a number of groups visiting the General Assembly over the past week, including: the Virginia Farm Bureau, Rappahannock County School Board, Lord Fairfax Community College Foundation, Harrisonburg School Board, Rockingham County and Page County Treasurers, local Commissioners of the Revenue, Harrisonburg/Rockingham Free Clinic, representative of Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Bridgewater College students, JMU President Jonathan Alger, Massey Cancer Center, UVA/JMU students, and the VT Corps of Cadets. Additionally, I even got to meet with the 2015 Virginia Teacher of the Year, Jaclyn Roller Ryan, from our very own Shenandoah County! I thank all of you for taking time out of your busy schedules to come to Richmond and remain involved in the legislative process.

As always, if you have any concerns about legislation, need help with a constituent service matter, or want to schedule a meeting while you are visiting the General Assembly, please don’t hesitate to contact my legislative aide, Jenni Aulgur, at or at 804.698.7526 (Capitol office). I’m always happy to hear from, and meet with, my constituents on the issues that are important to all Virginians.

Mark Obenshain is a member of the Virginia Senate.

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