A few weeks ago, the General Assembly wrapped up the two-day reconvene session to take action on the Governor’s amendments and vetoes. I am happy to report that all of Governor McAuliffe’s 17 vetoes were sustained and the Legislature was able to find common ground on many other issues—ultimately passing 800 pieces of legislation in 2015.
Most important, I believe that the 2015 legislative session helped move Virginia in a positive direction. We produced an amended budget that will help Virginia families; made critical investments for the future; and passed meaningful legislation. One significant item was finding funding to get Virginia’s deputy sheriffs off of food stamps. We also worked toward increasing the salary for our public school teachers.
A major issue addressed at the General Assembly was to craft legislation dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. There were a number of bills introduced to address this topic. After working with the stakeholders, we forged a common-sense compromise. SB 712 gives law enforcement a seat at the table when colleges and universities are investigating sexual assaults on campus. It respects the victim’s rights and privacy while giving authorities the tools to combat sexual assaults on collegiates. We also passed a transcript notation bill to inform colleges when sexually violent predators transfer to a new schools: the aim is to prevent assaults from repeat offenders.
The Senate and the House of Delegates agreed to strengthen existing ethics laws. I maintain that no ethics legislation is perfect because you cannot legislate the ethics of every politician – bad individuals will always find a way to game the system. However, guidelines will make it harder for public officials to cross the line. In an attempt to meet the standards of the current Administration, we adopted an annual limit of $100 aggregate for any tangible items. This includes any meals with lobbyists. No member of the General Assembly should have their lifestyle upgraded because of their public service. It is just not right. An ethics commission has been established. However, I always tell my colleagues, “When in doubt, do without.” I suspect this reform is still a work in progress and that it will be revisited.
The Legislature passed measures to put in place restrictions on the use of unmanned aerial drones by law enforcement to gather evidence without a warrant. The legislation placing limits on license plate readers and the collection of personal information was vetoed by the Governor last week because the measure would have unintended consequences and impact law enforcement’s ability to fight crime.
I am happy to report that Senate Democrats and the Governor were able to put a stop to the attack on our public schools that was waged in Richmond. We successfully held the line on funding for public education, and as a result, our schools will not experience cuts from the General Fund – the sole source of funding for public education. We were able to uphold the Governor’s veto of the Tebow Bill, a measure that would allow home schooled students to participate in varsity sports. Most constituents realize the competitive nature of the school athletic programs. I am not aware of any shortage of enrolled students when it comes to fielding a team for the public conferences.
Governor McAuliffe has done an outstanding job of bringing new jobs to Virginia and finding new ways to diversify the local economy. We need to continue this move forward by implementing responsible public policy that will put the families of Virginia first. Our success is no accident; it is the result of world-class public education, a skilled workforce, and a welcoming business climate. We continue to work on providing the best infrastructure to move people in our region to their jobs and back to their homes every day. Light rail, mass transit and walkable options remain critical components to that mission.
I support Governor McAuliffe in his efforts to build a new Virginia economy. Moving Virginia forward is a team effort, and we are lucky that our Governor has been so successful in leading the charge to bring new companies to Virginia and better paying jobs to our workforce. Growing our economy is a year-round endeavor and I will keep you posted on our progress.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]