The General Assembly has completed its 2017 legislative session. The House of Delegates will be up for election in November along with the statewide offices of Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. Being an election year, at times it was painful to listen to the debate, as well as view the content of proposals. The good news is that campaigns afford the public an in-depth look at the candidates. Those in office have a voting record that defines the kind of elected official they are. I believe the ballot box is the perfect solution for term limits and electoral corrections.
Gerrymandering makes it challenging to have competitive races in more that 60 percent of the House of Delegate districts. Several measures dealing with the criteria for redistricting (compactness and contiguous districts) and non-partisan redistricting passed out of the Senate, but met a swift “death” in House committees. Introduced bills in the House literally did not see the light of day, meeting their fate in an early morning subcommittee. Several people from the 35th Senate District traveled to Richmond for a 7 a.m. meeting where they were denied input.
Uncertainty of the Affordable Care Act weighed heavily on the session. Immediate repeal and replacement is unrealistic and problematic. Millions of Americans now have insurance coverage and value it. They think it a good thing to have their children (up to age 26) on their plans. Likewise, people with pre-existing conditions were relieved to have access to affordable healthcare. These are just a few of the highlights that both Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on. Many insurance bills came before us, including one to tee the Commonwealth up for this alleged repeal. Opioid addiction was also addressed with a look at prescription writing and other measures to stem this epidemic.
Virginia is home to some of the finest colleges and universities in the nation and our community college system is the envy of many states. I found it disturbing that some NOVa legislators sought fit to try and micromanage higher education with onerous proposals. One such measure was to limit out-of-state alums from leadership roles on the boards of visitors. Another called for capping out-of-state students, which would cause a financial imbalance in operating budgets. Mind you, our flagship UVa is charging out-of-state students $45,268 in tuition and fees. At the same time, in-state tuition and fees comes to $15,924. Currently, 69 percent of the student population at the nation’s second-ranked public university is comprised of students with in-state status. Undeniably, UVa’s national ranking is reflective of its diverse student body.
Several bills covering immigration also came forward. As a result, Governor McAuliffe requested a briefing from Homeland Security on the detention of immigrants, as well as the role of I.C.E. trolling near churches frequented by immigrants. Virginia’s Attorney General prevailed in a case concerning President Trump’s controversial order banning immigrants from Muslim countries.
The issue of underground power lines does not have quite the flash as others but in my opinion is vital for safety and the economy. SB 1473 builds on my 2014 bill and would help place more neighborhood power lines underground to reduce outages and shorten the length of outages when they do occur. We all remember the damaging storms of February 12 and the chaos that ensued during the morning rush hour. Restoring power faster gets businesses and telecommuting workers up and running sooner. SB 1473 passed the Senate and House with large bipartisan margins.
With respect to the budget, we did the best we could with the resources available. There is no shortage of needs – compensation for state employees, public education, workforce development and developmental disability waivers are just a few of the competing demands. I served as a budget conferee during the negotiations.
I appreciate the opportunity to share the news from Richmond in this column. Additionally, I have sent weekly briefings to constituents that sign up on www.dicksaslaw.com or reached out to my office.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]