With the June primary behind us summer is officially here. Children are out of school and the hometown parades for the Fourth of July are happening. I commend our forefathers for their work on our democratic experiment. Their vision and thoughtful discourse are the cornerstones our of nation and why we commemorate this holiday. Likewise, I salute the men and women who valiantly defend our liberties without hesitation or question. Our nation has a long history that we are proud of thanks to its heroes and leaders.
In Virginia, most new laws take effect on July 1. It will come as no surprise in an election year that more than 3,000 bills and resolutions were introduced by members. Of those, some 834 bills were signed into law by the Governor. I am also pleased 34 bills put forth by Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House were vetoed. The Governor’s pen used to either amend or veto certain legislation has been so important to positive governance. In the minority, we often play defense. Imagine the possibilities this November when those majorities may flip to the Democratic side of the aisle. I think about that every day and am working tirelessly to ensure better outcomes for Virginians who live, work, and raise their families in this great Commonwealth.
One of the biggest achievements this year was restoring driving privileges to people whose licenses had been suspended due to the inability to pay fines and/or court fees. Some 600,000 Virginians will see their driving privileges reinstated. This is a major step in getting people to work so they can earn the money they need to support their families, including individuals paying child support. I believe this is a matter of public safety and a step toward eliminating a debtor’s prison type of retribution.
Another area we can be proud of is cleaning up coal ash. It was a great day when we passed legislation that protects our waterways and addressed the issue of yesterday’s usage. Beyond a reasonable doubt, we must do better with protecting and preserving our environment. My grandchildren are depending on us to curb the carbon footprint and leave them with a healthier planet. What does it tell you about climate change when the thermometer is climbing over 100 degrees in Paris in June? It tells me we have a small window to address this problem in a meaningful way.
I strongly encourage you to review the long list of session highlights found at www.lis.virginia.gov. We had some near misses with ensuring pay equity for women and men; curtailing the obstacles to being able to have one’s voice heard with voting privileges and other fundamental rights. It’s an election year and that means “brochure bills.” I firmly believe there will be change at the Capitol come 2020 and my caucus and I are poised to roll up our sleeves to make some serious progress.
It is also the start of the fiscal year with our amended budget. I am pleased to report the budget includes money for our colleges and universities that encourages them to freeze tuition. Our overworked and underappreciated teachers will be getting a 5 percent raise. This has been a long time coming and is both a positive step for these professionals and makes Virginia more competitive when it comes to attracting and retaining educators in the Commonwealth. As a budget negotiator and thoughtful steward of your taxes, I strongly encourage you to visit the budget summary at sfc.virginia.gov.
We should be doing more and I intend to revisit funding priorities when the Democrats are in the majority.
On July 9, the General Assembly will convene in a special session to address the issue of gun violence in the Commonwealth. It has been more than 12 years since the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. During that time, over 11,000 people have lost their lives from guns in Virginia. The Virginia Beach shooting was another senseless mass shooting right here at home. I am ready to take on this issue next week. We as Virginians and law makers should be doing more than offering condolences to the families of victims. Make no mistake about the opportunity that awaits us as we address this crisis gripping our Commonwealth.