On the day before the session started, we learned that Virginia Beach voters had elected Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse to the state Senate in a special election to replace now-Congresswoman Jen Kiggans. That changed the party composition of the Senate to 22 Democrats and 18 Republicans. Senator-elect Rouse will be sworn in this week after his election is certified and he will be a welcome addition.
The Governor delivered his State of the Commonwealth Address to a joint session of the legislature during our first week. While it appears the Governor has presidential ambitions, I was disappointed that he used the occasion to blame President Biden and former Governor Northam for national and international trends like inflation and learning loss instead of offering more solutions that we could work together on. The Senate has common ground with him on issues like bolstering investments in mental health.
Governor Youngkin’s presidential ambitions appear to have prodded him to focus on China at the expense of his state’s needs. He focused part of his speech on banning Chinese land purchases. The next day, we learned that he had cut off negotiations with Ford Motor Company on the construction of an electric vehicle battery plant in Halifax County. Ford’s plan would have created 2,500 jobs in a county that has a median family income of $45,000 per year – 40 percent of Fairfax County’s – because Ford had chosen to partner with a Chinese technology firm to produce the batteries. While China bashing is a popular sport right now with other presidential hopefuls, raising this topic in a speech historically meant to address the state’s problems, puts personal, national ambitions ahead of Virginians’ needs.
I am carrying 31 bills and about a dozen budget amendments. Among them, I have introduced legislation to expand transparency in our utility policy process. Many people have concerns that Virginia’s regulated monopolies, like electricity transmission, have too much influence in making policy by moving billions of dollars around annually through your utility bills. While we have attorneys to help draft legislation, the General Assembly has no permanent policy staff to brief us and provide objective advice on many issues. My legislation would require the Virginia Commission on Utility Regulation to meet regularly, hire permanent policy staff and help better inform legislators. With so few professional, knowledgeable staffers working for the General Assembly, I fear that too many legislators rely too heavily on industry lobbyists. We have made massive changes in our energy laws in the last three years, involving billions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars, and we need enhanced, professional policy support to transition to a clean energy economy.
I am also carrying legislation to protect Virginia women in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs reproductive choice decision. Several out-of-state attorneys general are targeting those who facilitate abortions. I am concerned that a Virginian could be charged for giving a ride or otherwise helping a friend seeking this medical care. My bill would prevent their extradition.
Today’s smartphones can log your every move and it is very easy to purchase data that shows who has visited a reproductive healthcare clinic. Several phone applications also allow women to track their menstrual activity. My bill would allow a person to sue if any information regarding their reproductive health history is sold by a third-party data broker. Senator Barbara Favola is also proposing similar legislation prohibiting Virginia prosecutors from seizing such information by search warrant.
The Virginia 529 Plan has generated a $1.2 billion surplus due to investment management fees and lower-than-anticipated tuition inflation. I have proposed to create an endowment, fund it with the surplus and create 2,500 full scholarships for Virginia students who agree to remain in Virginia for eight years after graduation.
Finally, I am hosting my Mount Vernon town hall meeting this Saturday, Jan. 21, 9 to 11 a.m. at Walt Whitman Middle School with Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Paul Krizek. I will hold meetings in Franconia District the next weekend and South County after that. If you have any feedback, please email me at email@example.com