January 19, 2018
What a week! We started with the inauguration of Governor Ralph Northam, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring. It was a warm and moving ceremony despite frigid weather. Governor Northam gave a memorable speech outlining his agenda and urging cooperation. Almost all legislators attended and were attentive to his words. Please take the time to read his speech.
On Monday the new Governor gave his first State of the Commonwealth Address. The mood had changed. The Republican legislators sat stone-faced as he outlined the issues that had carried him to a nine point victory. (Governor's Address) They were seething and the next day their leadership had a press conference objecting to his tone. They do not want to expand Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians and so they blasted the Governor for his determination to get it done
Things went rapidly downhill from there.
I had hoped and assumed that the massive Democratic victories in the House would have led to a moderating of positions. Clearly that has not happened.
In committee after committee Senate Democratic bills were defeated on party line votes. First, in Courts of Justice, reasonable gun safety measures were mowed down. One gun a month, background checks, and child access to guns bills were instantly defeated after opposition from the NRA and Citizens Defense League. We heard from the parents of Allison Parker, a TV News correspondent who was killed while on the air in Roanoke. We heard from one of the victims of the Las Vegas shootings who supported banning bump stocks. Their pleas were ignored by the majority. One of the very few safety bills to survive the committee was mine (SB 797) dealing with keeping persons with permanent protective orders against them for stalking from possessing firearms.
In Privileges and Elections bills about redistricting procedures also failed on party line votes. Bills setting up Redistricting Commissions were defeated. So were bills setting criteria for redistricting. My bill setting multiple criteria for consideration in redistricting was folded into another bill just dealing with compactness. It is now almost worthless.
And then came the Education and Health Committee. Despite a strong showing by our immigrant community, bills to grant in-state tuition to DACA students and a few refugees were defeated on party line votes. All bills dealing with women's reproductive rights were also defeated. Worse was the demeaning and insulting language used by some Senators when describing motives by women seeking help.
I know that I sound like part of the problem when describing these votes and events. I truly don't expect to win on most votes. The Senate is 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats. Obviously we will lose most votes. However, I do expect some incremental progress for Virginians on health, safety, and election issues. The Senate appears to be more divided than ever. I remain hopeful that we will be able to find some common ground and move our state forward.
You can follow Senate committee and floor sessions live here. All session tapings are archived and can be downloaded and viewed at the same link above.