Although the session officially ended a month ago, the Virginia Constitution calls on all of us to return today at noon to vote on the Governor's 32 vetoes, 47 recommendations, and 30 budget amendments. As you read this, please know that I'm in Richmond right now working hard for you. I was thrilled to see Governor McAuliffe veto some of the worst bills to come out of this session, including bills that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, blocked the Clean Power Plan, and made it easier for criminals to have access guns (and even reduce criminal penalties for pointing a gun at someone). He vetoed bills that vilified undocumented immigrants, extended tax breaks for coal companies, and made it harder to register to vote.
I will travel back down to Richmond for several days next week in preparation for our reconvened session. In this session, we will consider 89 bills: Governor McAuliffe's 32 vetos and 57 recommendations. I'm reviewing the Governor's vetos and recommendations now. If you have views on any of them, please do not hesitate to write me at DelMLevine@house.virginia.gov.
I spoke on the House Floor this week in memory of 29-year-old Crystal Hamilton and in support of her 11-year-old son. Many of you know the tragic story of Ashley Guindon, the brave Prince William County Police Officer who was killed on her first day on the job. The same man who shot Officer Guindon and two other police officers had just murdered his wife Crystal. Their son heard the gunshots and ran for his life.
This week, the House passed a budget for the next two years. With two major exceptions (see below), it was a good budget that largely tracked what the Governor requested with some missed opportunities. Most importantly, the budget has significant increases in education funding, including a 3% raise for teachers and the Governor's proposed Cost of Competing Adjustment for school support staff in Northern Virginia for Fiscal Year 2018. It also retained most of the funds the Governor provided for economic development
This week included "Crossover," the date by which the House of Delegates had to finish work on all of its bills. As of Crossover, two of my bills had passed unanimously. I have every confidence the Senate will pass these bills as well, and they will be signed into Law by Governor McAuliffe.
Being a Delegate means taking tough votes, and this week was a good example of that. As many of you know, Gov. McAuliffe reached a compromise on gun measures that has attracted both praise and criticism. As for the good parts of the deal, I was proud to vote for a proposal from my good friend Del. Kathleen Murphy to require anyone under a permanent protective order to surrender their guns within 24 hours. If they are caught with a gun, it is not only a felony with mandatory jail time, but the abuser is banned from possessing firearms for life. As a longtime advocate for victims of domestic violence, I know this bill will save lives.
Two weeks ago, at 7:54 am on Sunday January 24 -- just as the massive snow storm was ending -- a Dominion Power electric transformer located on the corner of 18th and Fern Street in Crystal City (Arlington) failed, causing it to heat up rapidly. Pipes containing the mineral oil which normally cools this transformer leaked a massive 13,500 gallons of this mineral oil. Dominion reported the incident to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) almost 9 hours later at 4:40 pm.
I'm currently writing you from Williamsburg where the General Assembly met this weekend at the old Colonial Capitol. It was humbling to be part of this quadrennial tradition and to sit in the same location where Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and many others unanimously voted for Virginia's independence from Great Britain in 1776.
Most legislation in the General Assembly is heard not in public view in the ornate historical chamber of the House of Delegates, but behind closed doors in committee and subcommittee rooms in the workmanlike General Assembly Building. I plan to uphold what I call the Gold Standard of Transparency by directing my staff to video-record the proceedings on each of my bills as they come before subcommittee and committee. That way, every constituent can know exactly what was said and done on each of the 20 or so bills I introduce.
I believe constituents have a right to know what their elected representatives are up to, particularly with regard to legislation they introduce. Many liberal Democrats agree with me. But not only them. Newly-elected conservative Republican Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) also feels passionately about open government. So tomorrow at 4 pm, Senator Chase and I are announcing the formation of the Virginia Transparency Caucus. Our endeavor has already received some press attention in a major Virginia newspaper.