State Sen. Dick Saslaw, the veteran Senate Democratic leader in Richmond, brought the same fiery rhetoric against campus rape, and what he called the “cover up” policy at the University of Virginia, back to Falls Church Saturday after similar remarks in the wake of the first release of the Rolling Stone magazine article on the subject to the Falls Church City Council last month.
Saslaw, who has served in the state legislature since 1975, said he hopes for passage of his bill, SB 734, making it a crime for any university official who is informed of an alleged felony to fail to report it to police within 24 hours. The crime would bring with it up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Saslaw underscored his conviction that the “problem” of failing to report crimes to police is mainly experienced at the University of Virginia. “It seems to be the biggest problem at the University of Virginia,” he said. “William and Mary doesn’t have this problem. They’ve called in the police. But at U.Va., it has been 10 years and no sexual assaults have been reported from there to police. Their policy is to try to get the parties in such a conflict together to work it out, instead. Can you imagine ‘getting them together?’” he exclaimed.
He noted that it was pointed out in supposedly unchallenged sections of the Rolling Stone article the case of a student who had raped two women on campus and was expelled but permitted to re-enroll and was graduated because university officials said they were afraid he would sue them otherwise.
He added, “I am sure that in the Yeardley Love case (involving a female U.Va. student killed in 2010), had she not died her case would never have come to light.” Saslaw added that his own daughter graduated from U.Va. in 1998, and she told him that “everyone knew the campus policy was to sweep things under the rug.”
Saslaw was joined by State Del. Marcus Simon, also a Democrat, to give a brief roundup of legislative action after the first week of this year’s 45-day Richmond legislative session and to take questions from more than three dozen people attending the meeting at the Falls Church Community Center last Saturday morning.
Simon said he’d wanted to introduce a bill to increase the minimum wage to $15.15 an hour (a version upping it to $8.25 failed in committee last week along straight partisan lines). He has another bill seeking to remove all references to gender in documents and forms required for marriage applications, given the state’s recent move to legalize same sex marriage.
Saslaw hailed Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s achievement of $5.8 billion in new business investment in Virginia in his first year, twice the previous level.
“There is stuff in the works that will make that new number seem minor,” he added.
Saslaw was highly critical of Republican Senator Dick Black from Loudoun, whose bill to deny in-state tuition to children of immigrants who’ve been deemed legal failed by a single vote earlier this week (See story, elsewhere this edition).
Saslaw said that Black’s comment during the debate on the measure that “discrimination is a minor distraction” was loathsome. “You’ve got to the brain dead to make a remark like that, Saslaw said.
But he said that “nothing really scary” is going to become law from this current legislative session, because Gov. McAuliffe will veto anything that’s seriously skewed.
He said that the GOP in Richmond is expected to turn only further to the right because “two Republican senators that we know of will be ‘primaried,’” a term referring to facing an opponent further to the right of an incumbent Republican in a low-turnout party primary.
Saslaw said the problem of the “ideologically pure” Republican right wing will begin to fix itself as a continually growing legal immigrant population begins to impact elections.
He said that the expansion of Medicaid in the state apparently will have to await such changes, although he views it as a pro-business matter that has the support of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce. “The business community is going to have to become a lot more vocal here,” he said.
The House Democratic Caucus held a press conference in Richmond this week to outline its legislative priorities that include expanding economic opportunity (“investing in people and infrastructure to grow the economy), ethics reform (“rebuilding government that citizens can trust”), education (“strengthening an education system with opportunities to learn and compete”), health care (“building a modern health care system that is there when you need it”), enacting “smart on crime” policies that promote public safety and security while reducing costs, and making voting easier and more accessible to more citizens.
More than 60 bills targeting aspects of these priorities have been introduced by House Democrats this session.