From the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus:
RICHMOND – In honor of Crossover, we would like to provide a recap of what Senate Democrats have accomplished thus far in the 2017 legislative session. Over the last several weeks, we have been fighting tirelessly for economic development, fairness in our criminal justice system, and to preserve our democratic values. Below are some of our accomplishments to date.
- Senator Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) fought hard to pass a landmark bill, SB 1398, to clean up coal ash deposits while creating good paying jobs. It passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support, 29-11. Along with creating blue-collar jobs, this initiative will protect our downstream communities from having their water contaminated.
- Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) got SB 1188 passed, a bill to end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for non-driving related offenses. These suspensions serve as roadblocks to our constituents getting to work. Our bill will help keep Virginians getting to work and able to provide for their families.
- Senator Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg) got her signature “Ban the Box” bill, SB 1171, passed to help individuals who have paid their debts to society re-enter the workforce and become tax-paying members of their communities. The law permanently changes the application process for those seeking state employment by deferring questions about an applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. While this is currently the policy in state employment as a result of an executive order by Governor Terry McAuliffe, it is not yet in the Code of Virginia. This will reduce recidivism and strengthen our economy.
- We passed two important non-discrimination measures again this year: SB 783, introduced again by Senator Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), and SB 822, carried by Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun) to help our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community find jobs and housing without facing discrimination. Senator Ebbin’s SB 783 codifies non-discrimination in state employment as the official policy of the state. Senator Wexton’s SB 822 bans housing discrimination against the LGBT community. As we have seen in neighboring North Carolina, discrimination drives businesses away. These policies will make Virginia a more welcoming environment for business.
- We passed SB 1527, a bill introduced by Senator Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), and SB 1053, a bill championed by Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), to provide transparency and financial assistance to students dealing with the ever skyrocketing costs of higher education. SB 1527 will broaden the categories of students eligible to receive financial aid grants to non-dependents who are taking at least 15 credit hours. SB 1053 will require student loan servicers to obtain licensure by the State Corporation Commission before servicing loans to Virginia’s students. These bills will make it so that students aren’t saddled with unsustainable levels of debt that cause so many Virginians to delay buying their first car or home.
- We also got SB 1126 through the Senate, an initiative carried by Senator Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) to protect Virginia borrowers from predatory online loan schemes. Too often, Virginians fall victim to schemes that lure them in with misleading advertisements and leave them owing five times more than they originally borrowed. This bill will make sure these companies are regulated as consumer finance companies, not as fly-by-night payday lenders who take advantage of our taxpayers.
FAIRNESS IN OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
- We passed SB 1047, a bill by Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), to bring about what is known as community-engaged policing.These policies have shown to improve community relations with law enforcement by implementing training standards on impartial policing, verbal de-escalation, and recognizing the needs of special populations.
- We passed Senator Wexton‘s SB 829 and SB 1082 to break down the school-to-prison pipeline. Both bills give principals latitude to work within their schools’ disciplinary structures to deal with children instead of referring them to law enforcement at the first sign of bad behavior. Virginia has one of the highest rates of its children being referred to law enforcement in the nation. The school-to-prison pipeline stunts students’ academic growth and makes them much more likely to be involved in the correctional system later in life. This bill will ameliorate those concerns, allowing students to gain the quality education they deserve.
- We passed SB 816, a bill co-patroned Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) and Senator Surovell, to bring Virginia’s grand larceny threshold in line with what is reasonable for the 21st century. Virginia’s current $200 threshold is outdated and counterproductive. As Senator Petersen said, “Theft is wrong but facing a 20 year jail sentence for stealing a pair of sneakers is outrageous.” This bill, among others, will keep Virginians out of the criminal justice system and integrated in our New Virginia Economy.
PRESERVING OUR DEMOCRATIC VALUES
- In these uncertain times, it is important that citizens feel free to voice dissent. However, a bill by Senator Richard Stuart (R-Westmoreland), SB 1055, would have heightened the penalty for unlawful assembly from a fineable offense to a jailable offense. Senate Democrats stood united and helped kill this proposal; even convincing a few of Senator Stuart’s colleagues to change their votes from committee.
- In an effort to make our local law enforcement responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws, Senator Dick Black (R-Loudoun) proposed SB 1262 and Democrats stood together as a Caucus to defeat the measure, forcing Senate Republicans to pass it on a party-line vote.
- In an effort to make it legal to supply minors with lethal weapons, Senator Richard Stuart (R-Montross) proposed SB 865. Democrats stood in strong opposition to this bill and forced Republicans to pass it through the Senate on a party-line vote.
- In an effort to block ex-felons from having their voting rights restored, Senator Tommy Norment (R-James City County) proposed SJ 223 — which, in essence, will permanently disenfranchise those attempting to re-integrate into society after being convicted of a “violent” felony.
We will do everything in our power to make sure the Governor never signs these terrible bills. However, they highlight why it is more important than ever that we have a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion next year. Without the Governor’s veto, most of these dangerous proposals by Republicans will become law. Yet, our efforts cannot end there. We must have Democrats in office at all levels to block these initiatives and deliver the progress Virginians continue to vote for.