Updates from Richmond – Politics and Policy Along the Pike – February 24th

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    Dear Friends,

    With only two weeks left in the 2012 General Assembly Session, the past few weeks have been extremely contentious with vigorous debate over Women’s Health, Immigration, and Gun Control.  Unfortunately with so much time spent on this regressive conservative social agenda, very little time has been spent focusing on moving legislation to encourage job creation or improving Virginia’s economy.  

    This week I will have updates on the Biennial Budget, immigration legislation, the anti-choice bills, and the status of some of my legislation.  

    Thank you for your continued support and for visiting!  As always, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Sincerely,

    Alfonso

    My Legislation

    HB 780 – Lopez Patron – I am happy to report that this week my first piece of legislation was passed by the full Virginia General Assembly.  The bill, HB 780, will create standards for converting gas-powered internal combustion engine vehicles into fully electric vehicles in Virginia. These requirements will also create titling and registration processes for these vehicles and guarantee that converted electric vehicles meet proper safety inspection and mechanical requirements.  

    The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia State Police, and University of Virginia professors worked with me to craft the necessary standards.  The requirements created by this legislation reflect the recommendations of these important stakeholders.

    University of Virginia professors James Durand and David L. Slutzky currently teach a program called Ride Forward. In this program, engineering students get hands on experience converting gasoline vehicles into electric vehicles. As the technology becomes more affordable, new green companies could provide the conversion service for customers interested in converting their current vehicles.  

    With the passage of this legislation, Virginia has taken a step forward towards a cleaner environment and a stronger green industry sector.

    HB 183 – Lopez Chief Co-Patron – I am also happy to report that HB 183 (Prenatal Care for Lawful Immigrants) has passed out of the Senate Education and Health Committee uncontested and received funding in the budget from both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

    The House Appropriations Committee agreed to provide $975,000 the first year and $1.7 million the second year while the Senate Finance Committee allocated $850,000 the first year and $1.4 million the second year.

    Whereas the same legislation, SB 568 introduced by Senator Ebbin, was passed by the State Senate 36-4, I am hopeful that this legislation will be passed by the State Senate and be sent to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

    HB 585 – Lopez Chief Co-Patron – This legislation (Microenterprise/Small Business Support) was reported from the Senate Finance Committee 11-0 and is currently on the floor of the State Senate. I am hopeful that the State Senate will pass this bill soon.

    HB 1167 – Lopez Chief Co-Patron – This legislation (Green Public Buildings Act) is currently still in the Senate General Laws Committee and will be taken up on Monday morning. Similar legislation, SB 160 introduced by Senator Petersen, was passed by the Senate General Laws Committee earlier in the session by a vote of 9-5.

    2012-2014 State Biennial Budget

    Protecting the Social Safety-net – I am proud to report that the House Appropriations Committee agreed with my Budget Amendment to restore all of the eliminated funding for Free Clinics across Virginia. These programs are vital to Virginia’s social safety-net, which provides health care services to Virginia’s uninsured and low income populations.

    In South Arlington, the Arlington Free Clinic is the community’s only free medical/health care safety-net provider. Free clinics are able to leverage $6 in care for every $1 they receive in funding. The state funding provided for Free Clinics in Virginia, including the Arlington Free Clinic, is absolutely essential to leveraging the necessary contributions and volunteers to keep the doors open.

    Last year, the Arlington Free Clinic received help from over 700 volunteers including 170 physicians and made a significant difference in the lives of 1,600 individuals and their families. Every month, the Arlington Free Clinic holds a lottery to accept new patients in which around 145 individuals wait to receive care, but due to Budget limitations only 25 are accepted.

    I am relieved that the Arlington Free Clinic, which provides an essential service to our community, will not have significantly curtailed services. We have far too many Virginians living on the margins and trying to make ends meet with a patchwork of part-time jobs and no health insurance. Free clinics are vital to these struggling families across the Commonwealth and a cost-efficient way to provide care.

    Child Advocacy Centers Addressing Child Abuse – On Thursday while the House of Delegates debates the proposed amendments to the budget on the House floor, I spoke up to amend the budget and restore the funding (which was entirely eliminated) for Child Advocacy Centers in Virginia.

    In the Governor’s proposed budget for the 2012-2014 Biennium, he eliminated the funding for Child Advocacy Centers (CAC) throughout the Commonwealth. These centers ensure that children who are abused receive a coordinated response that reflects research-based best practices and culturally competent services across the spectrum from initial report to investigation to prosecution to treatment.  

    Last year, CACs in Virginia served over 3,700 children that were new reports of child abuse requiring investigation. The research has shown that when comparing communities with and without CACs, communities with CACs are more successful in prosecuting offenders and providing victims with specialized medical and mental health services.

    Not only are CACs extraordinarily effective in helping child victims and bringing criminals to justice, but they are extremely cost effective. The $931,000 spent on CACs in Virginia saves $4.9 million in costs to state and local agencies that handle these cases. By eliminating this funding, we are increasing the cost to every agency that helps child abuse victims and reducing the quality of care provided to children who are victims of sexual and physical abuse.

    Unfortunately, the amendment was not added to the budget. I understand that when we look at the state budget that tough decisions must be made, but budgets are moral documents that reflect our priorities. The children helped by CACs are reported victims. This is not a prevention program, but a treatment program that also increases the chance that we accurately convict the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, which include child rape, forcible sodomy, torture, battering, and starvation among the many unimaginable verified incidents.  

    I will continue to work with the Senate to restore this funding in the final passed Biennial Budget.  

    Anti-Choice Legislation

    As I am sure you are aware, Virginia has been receiving significant national coverage for several pieces of invasive social legislation that would threaten women’s health and reproductive freedom. Thanks to the national coverage of this important issue – as well as spoofs by Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show with John Stewart – critical attention was focused on these bills.  This pressure at the national level and from Virginia’s grassroots activists has helped sway legislators in the General Assembly to abandon support for these bills.

    HB 1 – I am happy to report that HB1, the personhood bill, has been continued on until 2013, which means that it will not pass the General Assembly this year and must be taken up again next year.

    In addition to the intended consequence of restricting reproductive freedom, and even with an amendment protecting contraception, this extremely vague and flawed legislation would have significant unintended consequences, such as restricting in vitro fertilization and creating legal conflicts for all other mentions of ‘person’ in the Code of Virginia that were never intended to apply to an embryo.  

    HB 462/ SB 484 – HB462 is currently being considered on the Floor of the State Senate and SB 484 will go back to State Senate for consideration with an amendment passed by the House of Delegates. Senator Vogel, the patron of SB 484, has publicly stated that she would like to have the bill stricken.

    Both HB 462 and SB 484 would require an ultrasound before proceeding with an abortion. Thanks to national pressure and grass roots activism, the Governor and the Republican Party amended these bills to only require an external ultrasound and to offer patients the option to view the results.

    The reality is that this legislation serves no other purpose than to emotionally bully women who are already making important and stressful personal health decisions. If an ultrasound is medically necessary, a doctor will already offer and provide the procedure. By mandating an abdominal ultrasound, we have now required doctors and patients to undergo a procedure that is ineffective and completely unnecessary at the beginning of a pregnancy. These important medical decisions are personal and should only be between the doctor and the patient.  

    This legislation is the wrong path for Virginia and not why the citizens of the Commonwealth elected us to serve in Richmond.  

    Immigration Legislation

    HB 1001 / HB 1060 – I am happy to report that HB 1001 was continued on until 2013 by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee – effectively killing it this year.  I am also happy to report that HB 1060 was defeated in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.  

    HB 1001 would require the state police to enter into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security that would give them the immigration enforcement power of federal agents.

    HB 1060 would require that an arresting officer inquire about the immigration status of every arrestee/detainee.  

    In addition to straining the relationship between law enforcement and the immigrant community, both bills have serious flaws.

    Under the 287(g) agreement required by HB1001, law enforcement agents cannot act as federal agents without additional training, which would increase the cost to the Commonwealth of Virginia. In addition, HB 1001 has the superintendent of the state police enter into the 287(g) agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, but for each state that has entered into a 287(g) agreement, the Governor makes the agreement with the Department of Homeland Security. Moreover, Governor McDonnell has already requested a 287(g) agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, which would make HB 1001 completely unnecessary.  

    HB 1060 mirrors the inquiry requirement implemented by Prince William County. In order to enforce this policy, the Prince William police were required to undergo training that cost the county $4.5 million. This legislation would be an unfunded mandate on all localities to receive this important training.

    The only way to address the serious immigration issues in the U.S. is through comprehensive immigration reform at the Federal level.  We do not need a patchwork of immigration regulations from State to State.  We definitely do not need a patchwork of immigration regulations from locality to locality.  

    I wholeheartedly believe that these bills are not the right path for Virginia and that they do not convey the image we want to portray to the rest of the nation and the rest of the world.