2016 Session Photos

With Miss Virginia 2015 - Savannah Morgan Lane

 

With Senate colleagues

 

With the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce

2016 Session Photos
Workforce Development
Economic Growth
Fighting For Virginia Schools
Fiscal Responsibility

Welcome

I am honored to have the privilege of representing you in the Senate of Virginia. Serving constituents in the 35th District is a responsibility that I take very seriously. I hope you will find this website useful to communicate with me about legislative matters of concern and issues facing our community. Together we can keep Virginia moving forward in a positive fashion.

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Senator Saslaw's Blog

Crossover has come and gone, and all Senate bills are finally headed over to the House for its consideration. The first few weeks of session have flown by in a flurry of bills, resolutions and budget considerations.  We now have three weeks left to discuss all the House bills that have made it to us in addition to budget amendments and resolutions.

In a throwback to the 1950s, the ironically named “Government Nondiscrimination Act,” HB773, passed the House 56-41. Its Senate counterpart, SB41, narrowly passed on a 20-19 vote. The reality of these two bills is that they are licenses to discriminate, as they would allow religiously affiliated businesses to deny services to same-sex couples, transgender individuals, and those who have sex outside of marriage. As Delegate Mark Sickles pointed out on the House floor Tuesday, there are hundreds of Virginia businesses and organizations that stand in support of equality, looking to keep Virginia an open and diversified state than can attract qualified workers and the businesses we need to grow the economy.  Delegate Vivian Watts demonstrated the detrimental effect bills like these can have on the economy by citing Indianapolis, which lost $60 million in future convention business due to a bill of a similar nature becoming law. Nothing good can come out of either of these bills; they would only result in Virginians being treated like second-class citizens, and businesses may choose to stay away from Virginia.

As you know, I opposed the state displacing local authority when it comes to establishing charter schools. From the emails and phone calls I have received, you agree with me. After much debate, the charter school amendments and resolutions were all defeated on the Senate floor, including SB588SJ6, and SJ93. These proposals would have taken away education flexibility from the local governments, and allowed the state to establish charter schools. Not only that, the legislation would have taken money away from K-12 public schools, whose funding is already stuck at pre-recession levels. Current lawauthorizes a locality to establish a charter school. 

Proud to stand with my fellow legislators in supporting survivors of sexual assault at Rosemary Trible's Fear2Freedom event.

After long deliberation in committee and on the Senate floor, SB416 passed the chamber. Otherwise known as the Airbnb bill, the arguments against it came from hotels, saying that Airbnb is not subject to the same regulations or taxing issues that apply to the hotel industry, putting hotels at an operating disadvantage. The fact is there are more than 1,000 Airbnb rentals available in Virginia currently without a framework for collecting state sales tax and local occupancy taxes. On the plus side, SB416 calls for collection of these taxes by Airbnb on behalf of its listings.  To be clear, even if we had not passed this bill, Airbnb (part of the new sharing economy) would continue to operate. This legislation enables the collection of tax revenue back into localities through a system (VA Department of Taxation) that is already in place. 

The sheen that was discovered on the Potomac River last week has been traced back to Dominion’s Crystal City substation and a spill of approximately 13,500 gallons of mineral oil used to cool transformers. Dominion has accepted responsibility. As they should, the power company will be paying for cleanup as well as the costs of the investigation. If you see any impacted wildlife in the area, please dial the Coast Guard Office of Unified Communications at 311.

The final weeks of the General Assembly will be dominated by budget negotiations between the House and Senate.  We are constitutionally bound to have a balanced budget for the Governor to sign. Once again, Medicaid expansion appears not to be embraced by the Majority. Many aspects of the budget have, instead, shifted towards education, and building a new Virginia economy by incentivizing businesses to come to Virginia and improving workforce development.  The budget reports will be revealed on February 21. Look for more details to follow shortly.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions at district35@senate.virginia.gov.

This past Saturday, Senator Marsden and I held our annual town hall meeting at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School. Despite the bitter cold, a good number of people came out to talk to us about what has happened this Session, and what we have remaining over the last 20 days. I am glad I was able to answer some questions and provide some insight on what we are working on at the Capitol.

Town Hall with Senator Dave Marsden at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School on Saturday

With Crossover occurring this week, committee meetings have been longer and more frequent so that all Senate bills are heard. Floor sessions are also long. We will have discussed and debated 982 bills, resolutions, and joint resolutions by the 16th, and this does not even include the number of House bills and resolutions that have already crossed over to our side. I am most appreciative of the many constituents who have continued to reach out to my office and/or met with my staff.

I am pleased to report my bill regarding the Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program, SB440, passed the Senate. The bill provides an opportunity for full-time students to receive tuition assistance grants.  They are incentivized to complete their degree in four years by increasing the full-time status to 30 completed hours annually. Speaking to the bill, Secretary of Education Anne Holton cited the plight of many working students faced with financial challenges, who often do not complete their degree but are saddled with large amount of debt from being a part-time student. SB440 has been embraced by our colleges and universities as a pathway to reducing student debt and accelerating entrance into the workforce. We continue to diligently work on measures intended to make our economy grow with skilled and globally competitive workers.

Another major initiative occurred when Governor McAuliffe announced the first comprehensive, bipartisan plan to relieve congestion on I-66 in 30 years, which should be completed by 2020. The proposed plan should cut down commute times inside the Beltway through a number of measures including:

  • Widening the highway between the Dulles Connector road and Ballston
  • Allowing single drivers to drive on I-66 inside the Beltway during rush hour by paying a toll, which will lessen the amount of cars merging outside the Beltway and keep traffic moving
  • Improved transit service
  • Promoting carpools

All of these actions will make it so working commuters are no longer sitting in  gridlock while trying to get to work in the morning and home to their loved ones in the evening.

Standing by Governor McAuliffe as he announces the plans for I-66.

Sticking with the theme of economic development, SB449 establishes the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board, which will administer grants to projects that spur economic and workforce development here in the Commonwealth. Councils created across the state can also submit proposals for projects in their areas. This bill contains years of hard work and dedication by a number of Senators, Delegates, members of the Governor’s office, businesses, and local communities to try and establish the best way to help promote and build a new Virginia economy.

There was much debate over SB671 regarding the treatment of Lyme disease. The bill would have allowed physicians to use treatments listed on the National Guideline Clearinghouse as opposed to following the Board of Medicine Guidelines. There were a few problems with this piece of legislation, which is why I chose to vote against it. The National Guideline Clearinghouse lists some controversial and unconventional treatments on their website, and it would open the door to allowing these methods be used for more than just Lyme disease.

In addition to Senator Howell’s SB49 and Senator Edwards’ SB715 passing the Senate last Friday, Senator Vogel’s bill, SB626, allowing victims of domestic violence who obtain a protective order against their abuser to carry a concealed handgun for 45 days, was passed in the Senate. Currently, if a victim wants to carry a concealed weapon they have to wait for a permit. This bill allows a victim the opportunity to carry a concealed weapon while under a protective order. I supported this legislation because I see stories every week about victims of domestic violence being killed by their abuser. This puts more control in the hands of victims and allows them to feel safe.

Another bill that has garnered a large amount of attention is the bill to “legalize” and regulate Airbnb rentals. Currently, there are approximately 4,100 Airbnb rentals listed in Virginia, and even though it is technically illegal in Richmond, 300 of those are here in the capital city. The biggest opponent of legalization of Airbnb services is the hotel industry. The fear is similar to what taxi companies felt with the rise of Uber: that an unregulated organization is going to come in and take over, as they are not subject to the same regulations that hotels are and can therefore charge lower prices. 

The issue of Certificates of Public Need is a difficult one, and a gradual elimination of the process has been proposed in SB561. Those opposed to the system argue that COPNs are unfair as they encourage monopolies and allow hospitals to have complete control over the system. Ultimately, I tend to side with the hospitals. One large issue with getting rid of COPNs is that hospitals are not receiving the funding that Medicaid expansion should have given them, approximately $1.1 billion dollars, and the upheaval of the COPN process could potentially result in huge financial difficulties for the hospitals. This is a closely contested issue that is likely to be revisited in the second half of the General Assembly.

My final topic for this week is women’s health. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer kills more than 270,000 women each year and death rates are the highest in the southern and eastern part of the country, including Virginia. Women can reduce their risk of developing serious cancers by getting regular cancer screenings and health check-ups, however, this can be expensive. Planned Parenthood spends 9% of their funding on cancer screenings and 11% of their funding on other women’s health services. By focusing on a single aspect of what they do, we are drawing attention away from other important health issues that Planned Parenthood and other women’s clinics deal with on a day-to-day basis. We need to increase access to quality, affordable healthcare, especially to organizations that provide preventative cancer screenings and health check-ups.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions at district35@senate.virginia.gov.

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