From the Virginia Grassroots Coalition:
Virginia Grassroots Coalition Says It “Won’t Back Down” in Protecting Recent Policy Gains: Representing more than 50 grassroots groups and 15,000 voters across the Commonwealth, Coalition leaders announce legislative priorities for 2023
Today, the Virginia Grassroots Coalition publicly released its full slate of legislative priorities, calling on its members and legislative leaders not to back down from progressive policy gains of the last few years.
“We won’t back down; we are thrilled with the momentum we have going into the 2023 legislative session, especially after special election wins,” said Coalition leader Luisa Boyarski, referencing the 1989 rock hit by Tom Petty as she rallied more than 200 attendees on a member call last Friday.
Appearing on a panel of Virginia state legislators, Senator Jennifer McClellan (SD-9) shared details on a proposed bill to address recall challenges that elected officials are seeing at all levels of government. “It should not be harder to get on the ballot than to remove someone from office. And in a democracy, the people who put someone in office should be the people who decide whether that person should be removed.” She said the streamlined SB1328 she is co-sponsoring with Senator Jennifer Boysko (SD-33) would require a prescribed process for recall elections for those that violate the trust of their office.
Delegate Sam Rasoul (HD-11), also on the panel, characterized “the power of the coalition,” noting that “the nature of politics is about building coalitions between lots of different groups and people at the table. Hats off to the Virginia Grassroots Coalition which has been able to artfully do that.” He highlighted bills he’s supporting to increase teacher pay to the national average (HB1566, HB2187, HB2188), “which should be the floor in one of the richest states in the nation” and adding counseling support to K-12 schools and ensuring those experts spend 80% of their time on counseling.
Senator Boysko focused her remarks on gun violence prevention efforts given the “sad” fact that today, “the number one cause of death for children in Virginia, and the United States, has become gun violence. More kids die from gun violence than die from an illness, than from an accident. It is an epidemic – we’ve got to do something about it.” Boyko’s bill (SB1139) simply requires safe, locked storage of guns and ammunition in homes where children under 18 are present. “Just yesterday I was in a hearing where one senator had a bill talking about how dangerous books are. Well, I think guns are what’s dangerous, and children need to be protected from them.” Similar bills in other states have made a big difference, she noted.
Virginia Grassroots Coalition leaders shared highlights of their collective legislative goals for 2023, including:
● Support for legislation that promotes clean energy, provides more funding for public schools, increases workers’ rights, and reforms the process for recalling elected officials.
● Strong opposition to legislation that could roll back gains previously made in clean energy, reproductive rights, transgender rights, voting rights, criminal justice reform, and gun violence prevention.
Amy Bergner, leader of WofA, spoke to the Coalition’s commitment to climate and clean energy legislation, “The electric power companies will be asking the General Assembly for many things in their sole interest this session, but we need to give power and oversight authority back to regulators, and to address the gross imbalance between the power companies and ratepayers.” The Coalition supports the Affordable Energy Act (HB1604, SB1321), a bipartisan measure that restores power back to the SCC and allows it to order the return of excess profits to the people who pay electricity bills. It also supports bills to advance access to and use of solar energy, and study the impact of data centers on our climate, and will work to defeat every single effort to roll back Virginia’s progress on clean energy, including attempts to repeal or cut back on Clean Car Standards, the Virginia Clean Economy Act, and Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Marianne Burke, a co-founder of 4 Public Education, said of determining the Coalition’s priorities for education legislation, “The pandemic impacted K-12 students and teachers in many ways, and our legislators stepped up and introduced bills this year to mitigate those impacts. One of the most publicized impacts was what some call ‘Learning Loss’ – the greatest impact on rural, low income, and immigrant communities.” The Coalition supports legislation that addresses an increase in English Language Learner resources and proposed legislation that creates ways to better communicate with parents of English Language Learners, early intervention services for reading and math, increased mental health support in schools, increased compensation for teachers and support staff, increased learning and mentorship opportunities for principals, teachers and staff, and also bills that seek to reduce the ratios of staff to the number of students in each school. Panelist Senator Jennifer McClellan said she thinks that “we will be able to find areas for common ground and pushing forward, and I do think we’ll find success on some of the bills we heard today…, particularly on K-12 funding and investing in our mental health system.”
The Coalition made clear that it is focusing its 2023 criminal justice reform advocacy on protecting the progress made with evidence-informed criminal justice reforms including prohibiting pretextual policing, permitting evidence of mental illness at trial, probation reform, and ending presumptions against bail. “Virginia made tremendous strides in criminal justice reform in 2020, 2021, and into 2022. There’s still a lot of work to do, there’s still a lot more progress to make. Unfortunately given some of the changes in the General Assembly we are now in a position where we need to focus on playing defense, and we’re not going to back down,” said Andy Elders, Board Chair of Justice Forward Virginia.
Nancy Morgan, leader of MoneyOut VA, spoke on the Coalition’s support of campaign finance reform legislation this session, saying “Virginia has some of the most lax campaign finance laws in the country, and the cost of elections has been skyrocketing over the years. Yet reform has been notoriously elusive in Virginia, and we all know that money in politics affects all the public policies that we care about.” Last year nearly two dozen bills were introduced, some by Republicans. But the session ended in a “whimper, not a bang” when only three bills were passed. This year the Coalition expects nearly 14 bills to be introduced. Key among them is a disclosure bill that forces disclosure of dark money groups, a few good limitations bills, a bill prohibiting foreign money in elections, restrictions on personal use of campaign contributions, and a resolution supporting a U.S. Constitutional Amendment essentially overturning Citizens United.
Marie Ann Leyko, a Virginia Grassroots Coalition Gender Equity working group member, presented the Coalition’s work on Women’s Rights and Family Rights legislation. Leyko said “Collaborating with several
Northern Virginia Groups, we have introduced SB 1248, sponsored by Senator Lousie Lucas, requiring corporations requesting tax breaks/incentives from the state of Virginia to have gender-balanced and diverse corporate boards. It is hoped that gender-balanced and diverse board members would advocate for programs that are important to working families without jeopardizing corporate profitability. Moreover, it is believed that gender-balanced and diverse boards members will have the ideas, skills and knowledge to sustain corporate growth, since gender-balance and diverse boards mirror corporations investors, their customers and their employees. Similar legislation has either been proposed or passed in 13 states in both Democratic and Republican state houses. Companies with gender-balanced and diverse boards have performed very well, showing that they are less risk averse, and carry less debt. A review [shows] the most profitable companies in the U.S. have gender-balanced and diverse boards. No one would question the success of these corporations. Additionally, it should be noted that the NASDAQ has issued a ruling that if your company does not have balanced and diverse boards, they will not list your company on the exchange.”
During the previous two sessions, the VA General Assembly passed numerous Gun Safety and Gun Violence Prevention legislation: Universal Background Checks, reporting requirements for lost or stolen firearms, the limit of one handgun purchase per month for most people, and an Extreme Risk Protection Order process that allows authorities to seize guns from people who pose an immediate threat to themselves or others. With a Republican majority in the Virginia House of Delegates and a Democratic majority in the Virginia Senate, the Coalition anticipates it will likely see many stalemates on the gun legislation front. Kathleen Murray, leader of WofA, said “However, we are confident there will be some sensible legislation that appeals to constituents on both sides…. Our bottom line is to retain the great progress that has been made over the last few years and see additional common-sense gun violence prevention legislation pass into law.”
Senator Jennifer Boysko said that during the 2023 Legislative Session, “in addition to the progress that we hope to make on a bipartisan measure on education and on mental health, that we’re going to be fighting to preserve the work we did on the environment, criminal justice reform, protection for the most vulnerable people, and equality… and we’re ready for the fight.”
Senator McClellan felt more confident that the 22-18 Senate Democratic majority’s ”brick wall” would “fight efforts to roll back the progress of the [last] two years,” and noted opportunities “to find areas for common ground for pushing forward… particularly on K-12 funding and investing in our mental health system.”
Delegate Rasoul agreed that both sides can agree on increasing school funding and measures to address substance abuse, noting that “the number of people we’ve lost to substance abuse over the last two years is equal to essentially [the loss from] two Vietnams. It’s a crisis for sure…. The good news is there is bipartisan support for these initiatives.”
A full video of the press conference can be viewed here.
About the Virginia Grassroots Coalition
The Virginia Grassroots Coalition, formed in April 2017, is made up of more than 50 Indivisible, Swing Left, Huddle, Our Revolution, and other groups. Coalition members have been involved in Virginia elections for the past six years. Collectively, they’ve developed a progressive legislative agenda for 2023. On December 2, 2022, the Coalition sent a letter to legislators listing its top legislative priorities. A second letter sent on January 13, 2023 highlighted specific bills they are urging lawmakers to pass or to oppose in the Virginia General Assembly’s 2023 Session.