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As She Prepares to Head Off to the U.S. House, VA State Sen. Jennifer McClellan Announces Superb Legislative Agenda for 2023

Great stuff on education, energy, housing, democracy, health care, economic development, etc.

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From VA Sen. Jennifer McClellan…great stuff in here, as McClellan serves her last session of the General Assembly and prepares to head off to Congress in late February!

McClellan Announces Legislative Agenda for 2023

RICHMOND, VA – Today, Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) announced her legislative agenda for the 2023 General Assembly Session.

McClellan’s 16 pre-filed bills and one amendment focus on investing in Virginia communities and public schools, protecting reproductive freedom, making Virginia electric bills and housing more affordable, and helping Virginia businesses grow.

“This session, we must fully fund Virginia schools, protect abortion rights, and expand health care access for all,” McClellan said. “As Virginians feel the impact of rising costs, the legislature should move forward on lowering energy bills, and creating a new state child tax credit to relieve the burden on parents. I look forward to working to protect Virginia’s progress and to move forward on critical pocketbook issues for Virginia families.”

McClellan serves on the following committees: Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources; Finance and Appropriations; Judiciary; Privileges and Elections; and Transportation.

McClellan’s bills this session are:

EDUCATION

  • Standards of Quality: McClellan’s bill would implement the Virginia Board of Education’s 2021 Standards of Quality to fully fund K-12 schools and increase educational opportunity for Virginia children. McClellan will also introduce a budget amendment to fully eliminate the arbitrary 13-year-old cap on state funding for support staff. McClellan passed legislation and budget amendments over the past two years to implement SOQ recommendations, including: ensuring all elementary schools have a full-time principal, setting a ratio of 3 support staff per 1,000 students, and lifting the support staff cap by one-third. The 2023 bill would implement the rest of the SOQ recommendations, including increasing funding for school counselors to ensure there is one counselor for every 250 students, increasing funding for English learner students based on proficiency, and increasing a host of other critical support positions in schools and programming. In the City of Richmond alone, it would mean more than $5 million in state funding, 20 new specialized support positions, 19 new school counselors, and 26 new assistant principals. Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill, and Delegate Jeffrey Bourne (D-Richmond) is patron of the House companion bill.
  • Local School Construction Funding Options – McClellan, the chair of the bipartisan Commission on School Construction and Modernization, introduced a Commission-recommended bill to allow all localities in Virginia the option to increase school funding by putting a referendum on the ballot for an up to 1% local sales tax increase. The funding could only be used for school construction or renovation. Under current law, such sales tax is only permitted in nine specific localities. Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill, and Delegate Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun) is the patron of the House companion bill.
  • Student Data Transparency – McClellan’s bill will create a centralized dashboard for all state-supported assessment data for Virginia students. Virginia’s current system lacks portability as students move from school to school and risks non-compliance with federal law. The Virginia Department of Education will collect all state-supported assessment data and provide every family, teacher and school leader in the Commonwealth with user access to view a data dashboard on demand. Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill, and Delegate Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield) is patron of companion House legislation.

AFFORDABILITY

  • Child Tax Credit: McClellan’s legislation would establish a new state child tax credit in Virginia to provide a $500 refund for every child under the age of 18 in households making up to $100,000 in adjusted gross income. Among Virginia families with children, 44% reported experiencing difficulty paying for their usual household expenses – a challenge made more difficult by the expiration of the temporary federal child tax credit. This state child tax credit will provide financial relief to more than 700,000 Virginia families and bring fairness to the state tax code. Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill, and Delegate Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) is patron of a companion House bill.
  • Affordable Energy Act: McClellan’s bill would establish accurate electricity prices and better protect Virginia consumers from being overcharged on their utility bills. The bill restores the State Corporation Commission’s historic authority to lower electric utility rates when the agency determines that customers will be overcharged. The 2023 legislative session is the last opportunity to restore the SCC’s authority to prevent customer overcharges before APCO’s rate review in 2023 and Dominion’s in 2024. Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegates Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) and Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax) are patrons of a companion bill in the House.

HEALTH CARE:

  • Constitutional Amendment for Reproductive Freedom: McClellan introduced an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia to establish the fundamental right to reproductive freedom – including abortion care – without interference or discrimination. The amendment protects against the criminalization of pregnancy status and outcomes, and protects providers from punishment. This process is a multi-year effort that must pass the General Assembly two years in a row with an intervening House election before letting the voters decide. Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) is the co-chief patron of the Senate amendment, and Delegate Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) is patron of the House companion.
  • Cover All Kids – Nearly 100,000 children in Virginia do not have health insurance, representing 4.9% of Virginia’s under-18 population. Sen. McClellan’s Cover All Kids legislation would help close the gap of uninsured children by creating a health insurance program similar to the Family Access to Medical Insurance Security Plan for undocumented children, as recommended by the work group established by budget language in 2021. Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill, and Delegate Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) is patron of a companion bill in the House.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:

  • Codifying CDFI Fund: In 2021, McClellan carried a budget amendment making Virginia one of the first states to create a Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, with a mission of expanding economic opportunity for underserved people, rural areas, and communities by supporting the growth and capacity of Virginia community development lenders, investors, and financial service providers. CDFI fund grantees have successfully closed 165 loans, resulting in the creation or retention of 314 jobs. McClellan’s bill would recapitalize the CDFI Fund, codify it in the Code of Virginia, and expand eligibility requirements to include commercial real estate, housing development, and homeownership financing as eligible uses. Senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegate Danny Marshall (R-Danville) is patron of a House companion.
  • Cannabis Incubator: Sen. McClellan’s bill establishes a framework for the creation of the Virginia Cannabis Incubator Project, to create incubators where farmers, processors and aspiring entrepreneurs can obtain micro-grower, processor and retail licenses to start, cultivate, and scale their businesses. The bill creates a regulatory structure for the Incubator Project to be administered by the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority. The bill has a delayed effective date pending legalization of the manufacture, sale, and distribution of cannabis in the Commonwealth. Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill.

TRANSPORTATION:

  • Bus Infrastructure and Emissions Reduction: McClellan’s bill would modernize bus infrastructure in Virginia by enabling Virginia’s Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP) to utilize funding to improve bus safety and accessibility, and help transit agencies transition to zero-emission bus fleets. The infrastructure investments would include bus shelters, sidewalks and lighting. Zero-emissions bus investments would include supporting local planning initiatives, training programs for transit workforce and identifying charging infrastructure needs. Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegate Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) is patron of a companion House bill.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

  • Tribal Nation Consultation: McClellan’s bill codifies a 2021 gubernatorial executive order directing state permitting agencies to consult with Tribal Nations when evaluating state permit applications for activities with potential impacts to environmental, historic and cultural resources. Such consultation enables time for meaningful input from Tribal Nations about any potential environmental or cultural concerns regarding the proposed projects, and strengthens Virginia’s government-to-government relationship with Tribal Nations. Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) is the co-chief patron of the Senate legislation, and Delegate Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax) is patron of companion House legislation.
  • Healthy Communities Strategy: McClellan’s bill would allow Virginia localities to adopt a healthy communities strategy during their comprehensive plan review. A healthy communities strategy enables localities to identify sources of pollution and hazardous waste, and explore strategies to reduce health risks in impacted neighborhoods. Additionally, localities may encourage feedback from those impacted communities, and create a plan that incorporates strategies and programs that could target and improve the planning process. Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) is the co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegates Shelly Simonds (D-Newport News) and Jackie Glass (D-Norfolk) are patrons of House companion legislation.

ENERGY:

  • Energy Efficiency Savings: McClellan’s bill improves energy efficiency programs to enable more Virginians to save money on their electricity bills. The bill creates a performance standard for energy efficiency programs for low-income, elderly, disabled and veteran customers to ensure they receive bill savings from weatherization upgrades. The bill also provides regulatory certainty for utility efficiency spending with permanent, annual energy efficiency performance targets, and ends restrictions on utility energy efficiency spending. Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill.

HOUSING

  • 14-Day Eviction Protection: McClellan’s bill would help Virginians avoid evictions by extending the window to pay rent plus late fees from five to 14 days. This 14-day window will enable tenants to catch up on rent before facing costly eviction proceedings. Landlords will receive the full amount of rent they are owed instead of spending additional money on court fees to get a judgment they may not be able to collect. Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegate Cia Price (D-Newport News) is patron of the House companion.
  • Inclusionary Zoning: McClellan’s inclusionary housing bill would authorize any locality in the Commonwealth to provide for an affordable housing dwelling unit program by amending the locality’s zoning ordinance. Current law restricts such authorization to counties with an urban county executive form of government or county manager plan of government and certain other localities. The bill also requires the comprehensive plan of each locality to show the connection between affordable housing and other needs of its residents, such as job creation, educational opportunities, and parks and recreational activities. Senator Ghazala Hashsmi (D-Chesterfield) is the co-chief patron of the Senate bill; Delegate Betsy Carr (D-Richmond) is patron of a House companion.
  • Affordable Housing Access for Pet Owners: McClellan’s bill increases access to affordable housing for pet owners. It prohibits Virginia’s housing redevelopment authorities from creating barriers for pet owners to find the affordable housing they need through arbitrary restrictions beyond those of local zoning ordinances. Senator Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill. Delegate Angelia Williams Graves (D-Norfolk) is patron of a House companion bill.

DEMOCRACY

  • Recall Reform: In recent years, Virginia’s broad recall laws have been used as a political tool to undermine duly-elected officials and thwart the will of voters. Sen. McClellan’s bill would reform Virginia’s recall procedures to prevent abuse by political entities. The bill would raise the threshold for signature to require a recall to be consistent with other states. It would also make removal decided by an election, rather than in a court process. Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) is co-chief patron of the Senate bill.
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