Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

This year, Virginia celebrates 400 years and the title of the longest continuously serving legislative body in the Americas. Legendary thinkers set up the democratic processes we still follow today. Our history richly fulfills the American dream sought by many and tested on numerous occasions in battle. It is also blemished with inequities we strive to right within our democratic boundaries.

Discrimination in any form is just un-American as well as unacceptable for a free people. Whether it be women’s roles and pay inequities, racism, obstacles based on gender preferences and/or ferocious attacks on immigrants seeking a better life, we are still fighting to make things right in this great land. We do that at the ballot box and in Virginia we do it annually. Sometimes we grow weary from this yearly exercise, but it is so important to have the opportunity to make leadership adjustments and public policy without shedding blood.

The 2019 election in the Commonwealth is what we refer to as the “off, off year” election for the 140 seats that make up the General Assembly. There is no “top of the ticket” with coattails and it often does not have the same magnetism to draw people out. But make no mistake about it; this fall’s elections for state and local government have very deep effects on your individual success and quality of life.

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Since this last column came out, there have been three mass shootings in this nation. The death toll continues to mount, rivaling the battlefields of war. Wounded survivors and the families affected by this degree of unmitigated violence are left to pick up the pieces of shattered lives and broken dreams. There are no boundaries in this civil war within the U.S. The violence is perpetrated on children, women, men, the young, and the old. It is preventable and in 2020 we will lead the Commonwealth to address gun violence prevention. I can’t stress enough the importance of flipping the majority in both the Senate and HOD if we are to move forward on this issue.

It is usual and customary in late August for the Governor to address the combined money committees about the state of Virginia’s economy. There is expected fallout from the trade war with China and other reckless federal policies being implemented. We have planned and budgeted for any future down turns. The Commonwealth is well positioned with the rainy day fund and the cash reserve fund, which ensures the best possible rating from Standard and Poor.

As we sent our young adults off to their university, you may have noticed Higher Ed is still trying to recover from the previous recession. Public schools are being funded at a level we saw back in 2008. Aging infrastructure and a shortage of professional teachers are top priorities when we set to work on the biennial budget during the upcoming General Assembly. The quality of one’s education shouldn’t be determined by one’s zip code. Fighting for our kids’ future is foremost for flipping the majority in the Senate and HOD.

Earlier this week, we celebrated working Virginians on the 125th anniversary of Labor Day. Labor has fought hard for fair wages, safe working conditions, and family friendly benefits while building this nation and its economic wellbeing. It’s not a partisan issue to be able to put food in the mouths of children as the family breadwinner. Today’s economy continues to evolve and requires a vision for a skilled workforce. This is another priority for crafting the next budget.

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The work on Metro platforms continues with an anticipated completion date later in September. Work on I-395 and I-66 is also coming along. Investing in infrastructure is essential to the quality of life in the region.
I must also share that recent changes in federal law will end the HOV exemption for most vehicles with the “clean special fuel” plates. This change is effective Sept. 30. This change does not impact the Express Lanes as hybrid vehicles are not exempt on the Lanes, but this information may come as a surprise to some. In addition to that change in federal law, once the 395 Express Lanes open this fall the remaining vehicles will no longer be exempt from the HOV rules on I-395. Read more at www.dmv.virginia.gov/vehicles/#cleanspecialfuel.asp.

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