We are one week into the 2017 General Assembly session which gaveled in on Wednesday, Jan. 11. This year is a short session, lasting 45 days, during which the General Assembly will review about 1,500 bills and make amendments to the state budget. It is also an election year for all 100 members of the House of Delegates as well as the Governor, Lt Governor, and Attorney General.
No single issue seems likely to dominate the session, but there are a few things to watch. Voting rights, including the issue of how we deal with the voting rights of convicted and former felons, will be a hot topic, as will how we deal with the need to diversify Virginia’s economy.
Here are some highlights of my legislative agenda:
Student Loan Debt
Tackling the Student Loan Debt crisis will once again be one of my major initiatives in 2017. Over a million Virginians are saddled with over $30 billion in student loan debt right now. I’ve introduced HB 1916 to bring back Virginia’s Student Loan Education Authority with the authority to refinance existing student loans at lower interest rates and on better terms. You can see the full video of the press conference on my YouTube page. In addition, I’ve introduced HB 1915 which establishes an ombudsman office under the SCC, regulating loan servicing companies and outlining a borrower’s bill of rights.
Ethics and Transparency
One lesson from the 2016 elections is that Virginians and all Americans are looking for more accountability and transparency from their elected officials. It’s critical that we increase faith and trust in our political institutions and elected officials.
I am excited to be working with the Governor to pass a bill (HB 1446) to prohibit the personal use of campaign funds. This will be my fourth try in four years.
I’ve also introduced HB 1794 which requires the Supreme Court of Virginia to make every state court’s case management database fully accessible to the public. While this information is already public, it is not easily accessible; this legislation will not only increase access but provide a database that is searchable by party name, charge (for criminal cases), filing type (for civil cases), hearing date, and case number across all localities.
My constitutional amendment HJ 540 removes the one sentence in the Virginia Constitution that continues to disenfranchise an entire class of adults, denying them the right to vote.
By simply striking the last remaining sentence Virginia will no longer automatically disenfranchise individuals simply because they are convicted of felony. If successful, Virginia would join Maine and Vermont as the only other two states that have no restrictions on the voting rights of felons.
When Virginia ratified its 1902 Constitution after Reconstruction and at the beginning of the Jim Crow era, the felon disenfranchisement voting clause was, along with poll taxes and literacy tests, one of the tools deliberately designed to prevent African Americans from casting their votes.
Town Hall & Blood Drive
On Saturday I held my Annual Legislative Town Hall meeting to discuss the session and answer questions from the community. Several issues were raised, including raising the minimum wage, bipartisan redistricting, restrictions on TANF, gun violence prevention initiatives, and accountability for VDOT projects. It was great to have so many in attendance and learning of your priorities helps me better represent you!
For the first time (and what I plan to make another annual event), I sponsored a blood drive at the Falls Church Community Center with INOVA Blood Donor Services. The drive was part of an annual day of service event honoring Martin Luther King Day weekend and National Blood Donor Awareness Month.
I’m proud to say that we had a total of 27 donors, including myself, which amounts to two gallons of donated blood, 10 red cell units, two plasma units, and two platelet units.
This one donation event will help approximately 90 patients throughout the Metropolitan D.C. and Northern Virginia communities. If you have questions donating blood or want to make an appointment, call 1-866-BLOODSAVES or visit inova.org/donateblood for more information.
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov