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Progressive Voice: Good, Bad, and Ugly of the 2017 General Assembly Session

Alfonso LopezProgressive 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.

By: Alfonso Lopez

This past weekend, the 2017 General Assembly Session adjourned after reviewing almost 2,000 bills and numerous changes to the two-year State Budget.

While we saw bi-partisan support around many budgetary issues and took some important steps forward, there remains much work to be done in job creation and economic development, public education, transit and transportation infrastructure, environmental protection, affordable housing, and protecting civil rights of all Virginians.

Instead, Republicans wasted time pushing Trump-like messaging bills attacking immigrants, the LGBT community, and women’s health care providers. They pushed legislation protecting polluters and predatory towing companies while opposing legislation to help working families in Virginia. As a result, Governor McAuliffe will have to use his veto pen, as he already did with legislation that would restrict access to women’s health care and expand access to deadly weapons.

State Budget

We were able to close a budget shortfall while protecting core services, like K-12 education. We secured overdue raises for state police, teachers, and state employees and increased funding for opioid treatment and supportive housing for those suffering from mental illness. Other bright spots included $11 million for Virginia’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, $1.3 million for the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, and a 2.5% increase in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. 

Unfortunately, this budget does not fund Virginia’s solar development authority and the Republican majority continues to refuse federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage for those Virginians most in need. They also shortchanged programs such as the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant Program that helps train Virginians for unfilled jobs. 

The Good

My legislation to cut red tape for small businesses that want to become certified as Small, Women, and Minority-owned passed, as did my legislation ensuring fair treatment for tenants. In addition, I am working with the Governor to improve lead and copper safeguards for our drinking water.

Other victories included requiring insurance company coverage of birth control pills for up to 12-months, ensuring that school systems test drinking water for lead in pre-1986 buildings, and requiring community colleges to award academic credit for individuals that complete registered apprenticeship credentials. We also passed the METRO Safety Compact that establishes a safety oversight authority and creates financial/operational improvements for WMATA (Metro). 

The Bad

Among the steps backward was a bill making it harder for Arlington to address predatory towing. Despite this being a real problem in our community, Northern Virginia can no longer use commonsense protections available in other Virginia localities. 

By extending coal tax credits despite market forces that have driven down demand for coal, we continue to give away millions to polluting coal companies while they slash jobs in Southwest Virginia.

Despite major pressure to end partisan gerrymandering, the General Assembly refused to support nonpartisan redistricting. To avoid going on the record, the majority used a procedural tactic in subcommittee over member objections to avoid a recorded vote. 

Also defeated were stricter oversight of the student loan industry, common sense felony larceny threshold reform, and universal background checks to reduce gun violence. 

The Ugly

The General Assembly continues to push legislation demonizing immigrants and stoking anti-immigrant sentiments for political gain. These bills ignore the complicated nature of federal immigration law and make it very difficult for Virginia’s cities and counties to use effective policies that build trust among police departments, public schools, and immigrant communities that is essential for greater public safety.

We saw more bills designed to restrict women’s reproductive rights and give people license to discriminate against LGBT Virginians. We should never be writing such discrimination into the Virginia Code. 

Reconvened Session

On April 5th the General Assembly will return to Richmond for the Reconvened Session to consider the Governor’s amendments to bills and vetoes. We intend to sustain the Governor’s vetoes of legislation that “…makes Virginia less safe, economically vibrant, or open to people and businesses from every walk of life.”

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

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