Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

It’s been six weeks since legislators left the Capitol for their home districts. I appreciate the warm reception I am receiving as I visit with constituents. It is gratifying to hear support for the work we did during one of the most unprecedented General Assembly sessions. At no time did the law-making process take a break from Jan. 9 – Feb. 24. As a result of staying focused on the issues that matter most to Virginians and constituents in the 35th Senate district, close to one thousand bills were passed. My thanks to those of you that filled out our online pre-session survey as well. I value your input.

When the legislative session adjourned, the administration began its due diligence on the measures that passed both chambers. Hundreds of bills have been signed into law and most will become enacted on July 1. This week, the General Assembly reconvened for what is known as the Veto Session. As of this writing, the Governor has used his pen to amend nearly 40 bills and veto 17. These measures will be reviewed by the chamber in which they originated and if approved, they will then pass to the other body.

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Last year, 280 Virginians lost their lives in car crashes that involved distracted driving. SB 1768 is a bill I supported that has passed the House and Senate. It prohibits any person from holding a handheld personal communications device in their hand while driving a motor vehicle in a highway work zone, with certain exceptions. On March 26, I joined many legislators and family members of car crash fatalities in support of the Governor’s announced amendment to the bill. He has proposed a broader coverage of this initiative to include driving on all state roads and enforcement not just in work zones. This makes sense to me and in my opinion is long overdue to ensure the safety of first responders, police, and innocent people that become victims of distracted driving. It appears the Speaker will not allow this amendment to go forward. Should this be the case, look for further action in the 2020 General Assembly.

Keeping health care insurance affordable is a top priority during the session. Several bills passed that would give insured patients credit for co-pays and coupons that count toward their deductibles. “Skinny” plans and other high deductible measures such as SB 1027, SB 1240 and SB1674 are on the Veto list. Individuals should not be forced into bankruptcy by an illness. Nor should premiums be so steep that people need to choose a plan that neither allows them to meet their required deductible nor pay for a plan that does not cover things like mammograms and routine preventive care.

Despite many gun violence prevention bills failing to move forward, other NRA “approved” legislation did move forward. HB 2253 called for the State Police to issue de facto nonresident concealed handgun permits should the agency not complete the application review within 90 days. Since there may be extenuating circumstances working with other states and agencies, this is a veto that make sense. SB 1251 involves the sale and distribution of switchblades by manufacturers for distribution. Switchblades are outlawed in the Commonwealth and let’s keep it that way.

Negotiating the amended budget took front and center during the second half of the session. The Governor has a line item opportunity to amend and/or veto the proposal. To that end, he has suggested some 40 amendments. The priorities of investing in the long-term success of the Commonwealth, provide tax relief, and build cash reserves are in the budget as well as remain uncompromised with his proposed amendments.

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I call your attention to an amendment that would restrict the Commonwealth’s ability to join and use proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an important way for us to address the negative effects of climate change. Virginians expect more from their legislators when it comes to protecting the environment. Climate change is real in spite of what the Trump administration would like you to believe.

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