February 10 is known as Crossover at the General Assembly. This is a turning point in the legislative process when bills introduced in each chamber must be acted upon. Those that are passed by the respective body will then “crossover” to the other for action.
This year thousands of bills were introduced in the House of Delegates as well as the State Senate. All initiatives are to be scrutinized and deliberated upon in the short window of 45 days. Needless to say, the pace at the General Assembly has been fast and furious. Many of you have witnessed this first hand when you came to the Capital for the various advocacy days. I am most appreciative of your efforts to have your voices heard.
With “polite” consideration during hearings, it came as no surprise to see common sense, gun violence prevention measures thwarted by the heavy hand of the Citizens Defense League and the NRA lobby in this election year. What is chilling, are the outcomes of their successful mission. Even a bill to keep guns out of the hands of four-year-olds was defeated. Many of us have heard only about the tragic outcomes of children playing with loaded weapons. Some Virginia legislators are having short-term memory issues of when the commonwealth was known as the gun running capital along the Iron Highway of the east coast. This crowd will even allow domestic abusers to legally tote their weapons.
One of the highlights this week was on gun safety. On a bipartisan vote, the Senate defeated a measure that would have allowed for the possession of concealed handguns on school property. I spoke on the Senate floor to remind my colleagues that nothing good could come from legislation like this. We do not need to be weakening Virginia’s gun-free school zones.
Right up there in the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” category is the continued obsession with keeping the minimum wage at a level that requires government subsidy in the form of food stamps, charity based health care/Medicaid or the alternative of working two and three jobs to keep bread on the table, pay the rent and eke out a living. As a husband, father, and grandfather who appreciates the women in my life, I cannot figure out why my colleagues from across the aisle do not believe women performing the same jobs should not be paid equally to their male counterparts. As I travel the district (and the commonwealth) it is abundantly clear that Virginians have spent their life savings, mortgaged their homes or borrowed extensively for their sons and daughters to be educated. A young husband recently asked me why would he want less for his wife when they went to the same university and both are working to put together their future? There is no logical reply.
The next several weeks will be dedicated to making necessary budget adjustments. There is a proposal to give state employees a two percent raise, and I favor it.
Recently we had some very good news for Virginia’s veterans. There is bipartisan consensus that we need to do more to support Virginia veterans and so the Senate Finance Committee approved funding for the Northern Virginia Veterans Care Center project. This bill is important because Virginia is home to over 750,000 veterans and it will help the men and women who have served our country get the care they’ve earned. A similar bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously.
One other hot topic that has cropped up this year is the decriminalization of marijuana. I supported a practical proposal to decriminalize the possession of marijuana under an ounce. The measure was defeated on a party-line vote. This is an issue that deserves serious consideration because there are many compelling reasons to update our drug policies. Right now there is a bill moving to the full Senate floor to permit the dispensing of cannabidiol oil, used in successfully treating intractable epilepsy.
The Senate passed the legislation to establish a pilot “vote center” program during primary elections. In low-turnout elections (usually in June), this measure would group polling locations together. It aims to save localities money by giving them the flexibility to cut down on the number of polling locations. This bill is now headed over to the House of Delegates for consideration.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]