This year’s General Assembly session is now past the halfway point, with Tuesday’s crossover day now behind us.
I knew coming in to the session that it would be different than any of my previous four. After all, we have a new Governor, a new Speaker, and 19 new members, including 16 new members of my caucus, bringing the balance of power from 66-34 to 51-49.
It’s certainly been interesting for my bills. Early in the session, Republicans decided to play games with my bill to create a public financing program for elections using vouchers (HB 263). The bill was based on a successful program that debuted last year in Seattle. The bill as introduced was a work in progress that I expected to be able to work on through the subcommittee and committee process.
Instead, the Republican leadership used a rare parliamentary process to take my bill directly to the floor for a vote. After a 40-minute discussion in which I highlighted the absurdity of our current campaign system, where regulated industries largely fund the campaigns of members who regulate them, my bill died on a vote of 98-2 with only my very loyal seatmate joining me in voting in favor.
The outcome was appropriate given the process by which the bill came to the floor.
Not everything went so poorly. Overall, I have six bills headed to the Senate. On crossover day, the last of my six bills to get to the House floor passed by a similarly lopsided 99-0 margin, with one member not voting. Unfortunately, that one member was me. I was so busy watching the board to see if the bill would pass unanimously, I didn’t notice that my own vote didn’t register.
So, I was one of only two members to vote for my worst idea of the session, and the only member not to vote for what was probably my best idea of the session, a bill to require recurring automatic renewal contracts to provide consumers conspicuous disclosures on how to cancel and affirmative consent before charging you.
Rate Freeze | Dominion Bill
A bill to remove the current electric rate freeze and resume regular rate reviews passed the House, after Democrats forced through an amendment to make certain additional consumer protections were added to remove a potential “double dip.” Because that makes the bill different than the Senate’s, we’re likely to have to vote two more times on versions of this legislation. I like the direction the bill is going in, as it requires providers to reinvest any over-earnings in grid modernization and renewable energy projects that the SCC wouldn’t otherwise allow them to spend ratepayer money for. I voted yes to keep the process moving forward.
Felony Larceny Threshold
Under current Virginia law, any theft over $200 constitutes the felony of grand larceny in Virginia. After many years of trying, bills to raise that felony larceny threshold to $500 passed both houses. While not as big an increase as I would have liked, any increase would have been impossible under the old balance of power.
Very different solutions to providing a dedicated source of funding came out of the House and the Senate. I voted “no” on Delegate Tim Hugo’s bill which contained unnecessary anti-union provisions that misplace the blame for Metro’s woes. I expect to be able to vote for a bill that emerges from the Senate or a conference committee before session is over.
Student Loan Debt
While my bills to create a student loan refinance authority failed to escape the Appropriations Committee again this year, a version of our student borrower bill of rights passed the Senate and our bills to create an Office of Student Loan Ombudsman in Virginia passed both houses.
Personal Use of Campaign Funds
I was deeply involved in the House Courts of Justice Committee rewrite of Delegate Mark Cole’s HB 122, which addresses personal use of campaign finance. This is another issue that I’ve been working on since my first session and I’m pleased that the legislation is moving forward.
Upcoming Town Hall
For an update on my legislation, join me at a town hall at the Falls Church Community Center on Saturday, Feb. 17 from 10:30 a.m. – noon. Happy to discuss all these issues and more.
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]