We are at the halfway point of the 2015 legislative session. This past week the Senate passed key initiatives which will now be taken up by the House of Delegates. Likewise, the Senate will debate and take action on bills that have passed the House.
Compromise on Key Energy Bill: Soon the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will issue final guidelines for each state to reduce carbon emissions, including energy sources like coal-fire plants. In anticipation of these new regulations, SB 1349 was introduced. For several weeks the bill was worked on by many stakeholders to get a balanced, thoughtful compromise which I supported. With the League of Conservation Voters and the Southern Environmental Law Center supporting this measure, I believe this is the best option for Virginia families as well as the long-term interest of the Commonwealth. I believe this bill will help us to maintain our affordable energy advantage.
—Right now our electricity rate is $115.95 per 1,000 kilowatt hours. The average for the East Coast today is $146.37.
—In the next five years, the residential base rate for households with Dominion Power will drop to $109.49 per 1,000 kilowatt hours.
In order to comply with the potential EPA regulations, Dominion will absorb $82 million in costs that will NOT be passed on to consumers. The company will also take on any additional costs that may arise from natural disasters (hurricanes, snow storms, etc.).
Absentee Voting Update:. This measure will allow for “no-excuse” absentee ballots for Virginia seniors, 65 and older. It will now be taken up by the House of Delegates for consideration.
Nondiscrimination Legislation: One of this week’s highlights in the Senate was the passage of SB 785, a bill to bar discrimination in public employment on the basis of sexual orientation. Upon final passage, it will be a part of state law. It now heads over to the House of Delegates.
Quality Education for All: On a party-line vote, a controversial charter school amendment cleared the Senate. Republicans are attempting to amend Virginia’s constitution to allow the State Board of Education to create charter schools in local school districts across the Commonwealth— with or without local support. I strongly opposed this move because it would take away precious funding from public schools and there are no assurances that the quality of education would improve.
Ethics Reform: Both the House and Senate are working on legislation to reform Virginia’s ethics laws. Right now there is a consensus that we need to limit gifts to public officials to $100 and put a cap on "intangible" gifts — things like meals, trips or tickets to sporting events. This issue remains a work in progress.
Plastic Bag Legislation:Democrats and Republicans joined together to advance legislation that would allow localities the option to ban plastic shopping bags. Reducing the number of plastic bags that make their way into Virginia’s waterways is an important step toward protecting the environment. I supported this measure.
Visitors to Richmond: I met with many visitors from Northern Virginia this week at the General Assembly; including advocates for dyslexia awareness, the League of Women voters, Virginia NOW, and Equality VA. On the floor of the Senate, I had the privilege of introducing Rabbi Steven Rein of the Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria. Rabbi Rein delivered the invocation for the Senate on Tuesday morning.
The Week Ahead: There are many different pieces of legislation coming together right now, and issues are being ironed out by legislators and stakeholders. The Senate will take up legislation to address the treatment of sexual assaults on college campuses. We need to make sure that Virginia’s institutions of higher education can no longer conceal sexual assaults, that perpetrators of these crimes face justice, and that the survivors get the privacy and the support they need. Amendments to the budget introduced last December by the Governor, have been presented by the Senate and the House. In the next several weeks, any and all differences found in those proposals will be resolved.