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Progressive Voice: Key Priorities for a Busy Session

Alfonso LopezBy: Del. Alfonso Lopez

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

The Virginia General Assembly kicked off what is sure to be a challenging and fast-paced 2016 legislative session this week. In just two short months, we will make judicial appointments and consider approximately 2,000 bills.

During the session, you can expect the Virginia Democratic Caucus to work on key issues affecting the lives of Virginians:

  • Increased investments in K-12 education and higher education
  • Strengthening economic and workforce development efforts
  • Improving transportation and transit options in the region
  • Securing the expansion of Medicaid and enhanced health care options for all
  • Preserving the natural environment and investing in renewable energy
  • Passing sensible gun violence prevention measures
  • Defending against attacks on civil rights, voting rights, and immigrant communities

Serving as Whip for the Democratic House Caucus, I will be working on floor advocacy, bill tracking, and messaging efforts to move Caucus legislation and our agenda forward.

You can find the Virginia House Democratic Caucus’ list of priorities here.

In addition, a major focal point of the session will be the adoption of Virginia’s budget for the next two years.

In December, Gov. McAuliffe introduced a budget that includes key investments in health care, K-12 and higher education, economic development, environmental protection, and veterans’ services.

The budget proposal may present opportunities for bipartisan agreement. There appears to be support for significant — and long overdue — investments in K-12 and higher education this year. We should expect to see agreement on important improvements to workforce development programs.

I believe we will see some victories for and a renewed focus on economic development and diversification of Virginia’s economy.

There will also be considerable challenges, including a Republican plan to remove an eminently qualified Supreme Court Justice from Northern Virginia for purely partisan reasons.

Other Republican bills threaten to demonize immigrants and refugees, block same sex marriage, roll back sensible gun violence prevention laws, and block compliance with the Clean Power Plan, to name just a few areas where the General Assembly majority is working against Arlington’s priorities.

My own bills this session include:

Small Business Definition Reform — Changing the definition of small business in Virginia to be fairer for women and minority-owned businesses by incorporating federal small business standards.

Affordable Housing — Creating a dedicated source of revenue for the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund so that it can be implemented more effectively across the region and Commonwealth.

School Environmental Protection Act — Banning the use of federally “Restricted Use Pesticides” within a quarter of a mile of a public or private elementary or secondary school in Virginia.

Zero Tolerance for Repeat Polluters Act — Significantly increasing the civil penalty that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality can impose on repeat offenders.

Default Sales of Firearms — Banning default sales for gun purchases if the background check takes longer than 72 hours.

Concealed Carry Training — Ensuring that in order to be qualified for a concealed carry permit in Virginia, an individual must do more than just take online and video courses.

Restrictions on Firearms Use by Children — Update child firearm restrictions to prohibit children four and under from using a firearm regardless of adult supervision.

Renewable Energy — Fixing Virginia’s definition of renewable energy to promote efficient biomass energy generation.

Child Labor in Tobacco Farms — Placing significant restrictions on the use of child labor in tobacco farming operations in Virginia.

In addition, as founder and Chair of the bipartisan Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy (VERE) Caucus, I’ll be promoting legislation to increase renewable energy production and improve energy efficiency. The General Assembly must not let the opportunity to create a sustainable energy future and mitigate the impacts of climate change slip away.

We will also be working to defend against attacks on sensible efforts to address climate change through the Clean Power Plan. The Plan presents Virginia with a tremendous opportunity to grow and diversify its economy through investments in clean, sustainable energy — solar, wind, etc. — and green technology.

Rest assured that I will continue to fight for our community’s values and priorities in Richmond so that we can keep Virginia moving forward and improve the quality of life for all Virginians.

Alfonso Lopez represents the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates.  He and his family are long-time residents of Arlington.

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