Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

The final month of the year is often the busiest for many reasons. Along with widely-celebrated holidays, the weeks leading up to the New Year and the 2020 General Assembly are jammed packed with much activity. Since we secured the majority in both chambers, the old adage of “with great power comes great responsibility” has been resonating in all corners of the Commonwealth. The shift from a rural-dominated society to the urban crescent has never been more pronounced. Leadership for both the House of Delegates and the State Senate is now concentrated in our region. I am looking forward to continuing our efforts to bring about fair and balanced policy which enables the Commonwealth to retain its stature as one of the best places to live, work, and raise a family. With those tangible goals in mind, I intend to proceed as Majority Leader and chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor.

A key priority going into the General Assembly is to make the Commonwealth a welcoming place where Virginians have a fair shot at succeeding. The economy continues to steadily improve with one of the lowest unemployment rates in history. This has not happened by accident and Virginia is once again enjoying the recognition of being one of the best places to do business. Senator Janet Howell, my seatmate, is the incoming chair of the Senate Finance Committee. We have both served on this committee for decades. Some of the priorities for spending may shift a little but we remain determined to be the best stewards of public funds.
Working men and women should be able to support themselves and their family, should they choose. Many bills have been introduced that will address things like the minimum wage, local option for prevailing wages, theft of wages, and other critical measures that empower workers. We will continue to explore additional ways to access and afford healthcare coverage. Catastrophic illness should not be the runway to personal bankruptcy.

Look for bold steps in attempts to curb gun violence in the Commonwealth. Several bills have already been submitted that are likely to see their way to the desk of the Governor. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee will take up measures that the previous majority failed to act on. Two things of note… There was a recent article on the NRA and the use of its membership dues. The lion’s share of the dues have not been going towards member services. After recently introducing several measures to address the years of rolling back common sense firearms laws, some of the vilest comments are now aimed at legislators who were given a mandate to address the issue.

We have been taking a long look at higher education for ways to reduce student debt. Watch for thoughtful investments in pre-K through higher education. Our community colleges are moving in the correct direction for helping students to graduate debt-free with credentials to excel in their industries. Developing the future workforce is an essential component of economic development in the Commonwealth. Having a vision that starts in the most formative years is a proven theory with a measurable track record.

Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was among the first bills filed in both the Senate and House of Delegates. I expect that measure to pass the General Assembly within the first couple weeks of the session. Unlike the previous governing trifecta of a Republican Governor and majorities on both sides of the Capitol, the Democratic majorities will be used to break down the barriers for women that made their way into law in the past decade. This will be a “Might for Right” effort that doesn’t come at the expense of persons of color, our LGBT friends, immigrants and others who have felt the cruel sting of discrimination.

My Northern Virginia office will be transitioning to Richmond effective Jan. 1. In the meantime, we have added additional staff to the team to be of further service. This will be a 60-day legislative session. On Dec. 17, the Governor will introduce his proposed budget for the biennium. My colleagues and I stand ready to govern around the vision for a just and fair Virginia. Please visit us on line at www.dicksaslaw.com to sign up for e-newsletters during the session.

Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at district35@senate.virginia.gov.