Richmond Report: Fourth Week
Saturday morning, State Senator Chap Petersen and I hosted our annual town hall meeting in Vienna. We had a great turnout of over 70 folks, and we enjoyed a lot of engaging and informative discussions with constituents.
I want to thank everyone who came to the meeting, many of whom stayed to talk with us for over an hour beyond the announced end time of 10:30 am!
Big thanks to Vienna Town Council Member Edythe Kelleher and the American Legion Post 180 Auxiliary for arranging the event. And thanks, also, to Mayor Laurie DiRocco and all of the other Town Council Members for attending.
As I mentioned at the town hall, let me share some highlights of the first half of the 2015 Virginia General Assembly (23 days are done out of the 46-day regular session). These are some of the major bills that the House will send to the Senate this year:
Campus sexual assaults: In the past few years, a number of young women were assaulted or murdered on or near Virginia college campuses. In addition, a recent article alleging a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house was published in Rolling Stone magazine before it was discredited.
In response to these tragic circumstances, the House Courts of Justice and Education Committees worked together to produce three related bills:
• HB 1930 would expand and enhance the role of threat assessment teams on each college campus by including a federally-required "Title IX coordinator" and Commonwealth's attorney staff to review allegations of sexual violence. The bill would protect the confidentiality of a victim's identity and also establish procedures for when and how a faculty member or administrator would report information that an act of sexual violence may have been committed against a student.
• HB 1785 would require campus police and local law-enforcement authorities to notify the Commonwealth's Attorney within 48 hours of beginning any investigation involving felony criminal sexual assault occurring on property owned or controlled by colleges.
• HB 1888 would require colleges to include a prominent notation on the transcript of each student who has been suspended or permanently dismissed for a violation of the college's code or rules governing the conduct of students, and also provide a process to remove the notation if the charges are expunged in the future.
Because of the intensely sensitive nature of this issue, we are working closely with all stakeholders to ensure that these bills will accomplish their goals while protecting victims' needs. These bills may be further amended as they head to the Senate.
As a member of the House Education Committee and a former member of the House Courts Committee, I supported all three of these bills and will continue to work closely with their sponsors until they become law this year.
Ethics Reform: Last year, in response to the criminal indictments against former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, the General Assembly adopted tougher limits on gifts to government officials and added numerous additional disclosure requirements. During the McDonnell trial and eventual guilty verdicts, more facts came out that indicated the need for even more restrictions on the gift rules we adopted.
After further consideration, the House Special Subcommittee on Ethics drafted and passed HB 2070 which would prohibit government officials from receiving gifts over $100 (reduced from the $250 limit set last year), eliminate the distinction between tangible and intangible gifts, require pre-approval from the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council before being allowed to accept travel or payments for attending meetings, and expand the definition of "covered family members," among other changes.
This comprehensive reform measure includes many proposals from Governor Terry McAuliffe and from bills introduced by several Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, neither of the ethics reform bills I introduced, which would have created a new Division of Anti-Corruption within the Office of the Attorney General and an Ombudsman within the Department of Elections to enforce campaign finance violations, were included in HB 2070.
One of the outstanding and unresolved issues is the question of who and how the new ethics rules will be enforced, which is the issue that my bills would have addressed. Nevertheless, I plan on supporting HB 2070 when it comes to the House Floor next week.
Crowdfunding for New Businesses: I was pleased to cosponsor a bipartisan bill to create a "crowdfunding" exception, which will allow Virginia entrepreneurs to find Virginia investors, to existing securities laws. Following a recent change to federal laws, HB 1360 would allow up to $1 million per year to be raised with no more than $10,000 from any single purchaser unless the purchaser is an accredited investor. As a member of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, I joined the committee's chairman and other colleagues, along with some entrepreneurs, at a press conference in Richmond to announce this new initiative.
Medical Marijuana and Industrial Hemp: As a sign of progress in Virginia, a bill to allow medical use of marijuana oil and another bill to legalize industrial use of hemp both passed the House unanimously! HB 1445 would allow possession or distribution of marijuana pursuant to a valid recommendation issued by a medical doctor for the treatment of cancer, glaucoma, or epilepsy. HB 1277 would allow the licensed cultivation of industrial hemp, which is the plant Cannabis sativa with a concentration of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) no greater than is allowed by federal law.
Next week is "crossover," when the House and Senate must complete work on our own bills and begin working on the other chamber's bills. We will also begin working on the budget bill to amend the state's operating funds for the remaining portion of the 2014-2016 biennium.
I look forward to sharing more updates on the budget and other legislative developments next week. In the meantime, please contact me with any questions you may have.