As members of Virginia’s General Assembly have begun pre-filing legislation to be considered in the upcoming session, the Senate Democratic caucus has announced its priorities for the session. Considering they campaigned upon similar themes this year, it shouldn’t be too surprising that they’ll be focused in on gun violence prevention, health care, education, equality, and voting rights.
“Virginians elected Democrats to tackle the challenges facing our Commonwealth,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chair for Policy Jeremy McPike. “We’re proud to prioritize commonsense legislation that addresses equality, gun violence prevention, and economic security.”
In a statement released earlier today, the Caucus made it clear they will have a busy first ten days of session once the Senate convenes in Richmond. During that period, leadership says they’ll prioritize ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), implementing universal background checks for firearms, making it illegal to deny someone housing based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity, and allowing no-excuse absentee voting.
As we’ve seen pre-filed bills trickling in, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that Dick Saslaw seems to have taken his new Majority Leader title to heart and has taken the lead on some of the efforts to help end gun violence. He introduced the bill for universal background checks and another one banning bump stocks.
The Majority Leader also introduced a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. If passed, the bill would raise the minimum wage to $10 in 2020 and then increase it by $1 an hour each year until it hit the $15 mark. Although this would still result in someone struggling to get by in Northern Virginia, it’s far better than the federally mandated $7.25 an hour that’s currently used in the Commonwealth.
That being said, there’s still a significant amount of concern about Sen. Saslaw’s leadership on some progressive issues. This is especially the case in regards to environmental issues and the hesitation comes from Saslaw taking an enormous amount of money from Dominion over the years. As most Democrats have tried to distance themselves from the energy company and refuse to take donations from them, the majority leader has bragged about his relationship with the corporation.
The refusal to even give credence to the criticism of Dominion is why many environmentalists haven’t been thrilled with the Senator’s leadership. Lowell over at Blue Virginia pointed out that the over $400,000 in donations “Dominion Dick” has received from Dominion means he’s not likely going to take the lead on doing things like “moving Virginia to 100% clean energy.”
With all that being said, it’s good to see the Democrats are responding to what the public told them during the campaign season and are moving forward with a solid agenda. Much of the legislation is something that Virginians can rally behind, but Republican leaders had used parliamentary tricks to block from even being considered by the full General Assembly in the past. It’ll therefore be great to see some productive and meaningful legislation being considered starting in January.