The General Assembly has completed its 2017 legislative session. The House of Delegates will be up for election in November along with the statewide offices of Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. Being an election year, at times it was painful to listen to the debate, as well as view the content of proposals. The good news is that campaigns afford the public an in-depth look at the candidates. Those in office have a voting record that defines the kind of elected official they are. I believe the ballot box is the perfect solution for term limits and electoral corrections.
This General Assembly session is in full swing as we near crossover on Feb. 7. On the national front, it’s no surprise this President continues to wreak havoc domestically and internationally with directives that are meant to satisfy a far-right base of supporters.
Senator Dick Saslaw said of the endorsement: “Ralph Northam understands that Virginia’s economy needs to work for everyone, no matter who you are or where you live. Creating partnerships between our schools and employers to ensure a qualified workforce for the 21st century is a top priority he will carry on. Ralph is the only person that will keep Virginia on track to achieve a skilled pipeline of future workers.”
Said Senate Democratic Leader Senator Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), “As part of our plan to expand the economy, it is necessary to facilitate the licensure process, clear up the backlog and allow these contractors to set up more quickly. Democrats stand for economic growth and removing obstacles to earning a paycheck. When this Caucus has a chance to promote opportunity for all Virginians, we will take it. You can take that to the bank.”
Democrats will continue to be the leading voice for education, the workforce, economic development, and plain old common sense in the Commonwealth. We expect to see a social agenda from the Republicans during this election year that is out of touch with mainstream Virginia voters. While Republicans would rather legislate what Virginians do in their personal lives, Governor Terry McAuliffe’s leadership has driven the Commonwealth’s unemployment rate from 5.4 percent to 4.1 percent over the past three years. The state has also created 182,100 net new jobs and attracted more than $14 billion in capital investment.
Virginia State Senator Dick Saslaw and State Delegate Marcus Simon will be hosting a town hall on Saturday, Jan. 14 from 10 a.m. – noon at the Falls Church Community Center, located at 223 Little Falls St.
Another issue with the Electoral College is the manner in which it magnifies the importance of “swing states,” and thus in essence erases the votes of tens of millions of Americans. This year 33 states were decided by a margin of more than ten percent – essentially the outcome in those states was never in doubt. Collectively, the 71 million votes cast in those 33 states mattered a whole heck of a lot less than the 63.5 million cast in the other 17 states. Pardon the pun, but one can argue that under the Electoral College, the razor thin margins in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (a collective 101,000 votes) “trumped” all other votes in this election. It’s just plain wrong to have a system where one person, one vote doesn’t exactly ring true.
Next week we will have a newly elected President of the United States. After this long and contentious campaign season, my guess is that everyone will be greatly relieved our nation will be opening a new chapter in history beginning January 20, 2017. Here in Virginia we are quickly turning our attention to the upcoming General Assembly Session which will begin the second Wednesday in January.
The ticket of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine is the epitome of the “right stuff” in American politics. As a former U.S. senator, secretary of state, first lady, and a lifelong advocate for American families, no one is more qualified to be president than Hillary. She’s worked tirelessly on common sense issues like guaranteed paid family leave, high-quality preschool, comprehensive background checks for gun sales, and equal rights for all Americans, not just those of a particular race, religion, or sexual orientation.
We had the same bill before the legislature in 2016. I want to point out only Republicans voted for it with every one of my Democratic colleagues in both Chambers voting in opposition. Fortunately for the Commonwealth, Governor McAuliffe vetoed the measure. Again, it was the demonstrably pro business Democrats that sustained that veto. This was an evidence-based outcome with real consequences for our neighbors to the south.
Summer is well on its way and Labor Day is just a little more than a month away. The public school year will begin on September 6. Our colleges and universities begin their academic year even earlier To prepare for the opening of school Virginia will host a sales tax holiday over the first weekend in August.
The beginning of July is an important time for our nation and the Commonwealth. This week we celebrated the 4th of July – the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776 by the Continental Congress declaring the 13 colonies no longer part of Britain’s empire.
Last month I spent some time in this column discussing K-12 education and new pathways to college and careers for our Commonwealth’s high school students. This month we turn our focus to higher education.
We are celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week in Virginia. I join the Governor and Secretary Anne Holton in applauding those dedicated to Virginia’s children and molding them into their best. Thank you for your commitment to excellence, your patience and your perseverance. The adopted biennial budget is a step in the right direction for teacher compensation and education in general. It’s long overdue but sets the priority for future funding.
“I’m proud that we have sustained every veto to come before the Senate since the start of Gov. McAuliffe’s term — but these bills should never have been introduced in the first place,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax.
The biggest by-product from this year’s session is a new biennial budget. And without a doubt, this is the best biennial budget we have seen in some time. Growing revenues allowed legislators to make critical investments in our workforce, public education and higher education.
We are moving toward adjournment in a rapid stride to the finish. March 12 is the scheduled close of the 2016 General Assembly. Many bills are waiting to be voted on, and the debates continue in committee and on the floor. Reconciling the amendments to the budget bill are the top priority these days.
The Collaborative Jobs Development Act — patroned by Sen. Frank Ruff and Sen. Dick Saslaw in the Senate and Del. Tim Hugo, Del. Matthew James and Del. Randy Minchew in the House — encourages collaboration rather than competition on economic development.
Look for the budget to dominate the debate for the duration of the session. In December, Governor McAuliffe presented his biennial budget of $106 billion over two fiscal years to the General Assembly. The legislature has now submitted budget amendments exceeding $2.3 billion related to the general fund. The heavy work is in front of us as we reconcile priorities. Both the House of Delegates and the Senate must ultimately vote on a two year spending plan. According to Virginia’s Constitution, the biennial budget must balance.
But Senator Dick Saslaw points out that the governor was just enforcing a law that enjoyed bi-partisan support when the legislature approved it.
“I got news for you. Y’all voted for that law," he told colleagues on the Senate floor. "Well not you all," he added, " but the people who were here before you. They voted for it. They had to have the same requirements we had.”
And Saslaw notes some states that enjoyed reciprocity have done a poor job of screening those who got concealed carry permits.
“Apparently Florida, as of 2006, had already handed out 1,400 concealed weapon permits to citizens who had criminal records – 218 outstanding warrants including 14 wanted for murder.”
Saslaw spoke to the terrible irony of opposition to the extension of the Affordable Care Act to Medicaid in Virginia, something the Republicans in rural parts of the state, in particular, have been responsible for. In the poorest parts of the state, where these Republicans hold sway, the life expectancy is 65 compared to 81 in Northern Virginia, Saslaw said, adding that 20 percent of babies in the rural areas are born with opiate addictions, a third of the population smokes in Grundy and Buchanan counties and 40 to 50 percent of adults are “morbidly obese.”
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