A founding principle of our country is that each citizen is entitled to a free and fair electoral process including equitable representation. The practice of gerrymandering violates these principles. It allows representatives to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives. This practice needs to stop.
Recently, Democrats have introduced numerous proposals to take the power away from legislators and end gerrymandering. Since 2002, Democrats have introduced 87 bills to fight partisan gerrymandering while Republicans have only introduced 3. I cosponsored legislation in 2016 and 2017 which would amend the Constitution to create nonpartisan redistricting commissions. I remain steadfastly committed to creating non-partisan redistricting in Virginia. We have seen what can happen when our two parties worked together for the betterment of Virginia with the expansion of Medicaid. We need that same attitude now to ensure a fair electoral process ahead of the 2021 redistricting process.
The men and women of our armed services put their lives on the line each and every day to protect our country. When they return from their tour of duty, we need to provide them with all necessary resources to thrive as they adjust to civilian life. I will work to provide veterans with access to high-quality jobs in the 44th district, affordable housing, and the comprehensive healthcare they need to live healthy, successful lives.
One of the greatest issues facing our society today is the mental health crisis. This epidemic is especially pronounced in our schools. As a member of the House Select Committee on School Safety, I saw first hand the critical need for additional mental health services at schools. I was proud to work with my Republican colleagues to enact legislation to ensure counselors are spending a majority of their time on counseling work versus administrative tasks. However, there is still much more work to be done. I support reducing the ratio of counselors to students to the recommended 250:1, increasing the number of social workers and school psychologists, and creating an environment where students feel comfortable coming forward with any issues they are having. These changes are preventative steps that will ensure the wellbeing of our future generations.
Gun violence has shattered too many Virginia families. I know sensible gun violence prevention legislation will help end this epidemic. I am a staunch supporter of enacting a bump stock ban, keeping guns away from domestic abusers, and expanding background checks for those looking to purchase guns. Stopping these tragedies is within our grasp if we have the courage to enact these common sense reforms.
Here in Virginia, we have a lot of work to do to make it easier to vote. A recent study by Northern Illinois University ranked Virginia as the 2nd most difficult state to vote in, behind only Mississippi. We are one of 13 states that do not have some period of no excuse early voting, and we have neither automatic voter registration nor same-day voter registration. Additionally, individuals are required to provide a photo I.D to vote, which studies have shown disproprotionately disenfranchise minorities, the elderly, and low income communities.
Going forward we must prioritize making Virginia a leader in voting rights. We need to institute automatic voter registration, no excuse early voting, and loosen our photo I.D. requirements. There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than exercising our right to vote and we should not inhibit, stifle, or suppress that right.
End Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is the business of stealing freedom for profit. Victims of trafficking are deprived of their basic human rights, dehumanized, brutalized, and objectified. Traffickers coerce their victims for labor or sex through force, fraud, and deception. Human trafficking business makes over $100 billion annually, more than Apple, Starbucks, Microsoft, and Nike combined. In 2017, the Human Trafficking Hotline reported 156 human trafficking cases in Virginia, 70% of which were sex trafficking cases. A closer look at this through the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Initiative reports 526 identified victims, 312 of these victims were recovered from 2013-2016. 94% of these cases were victims of sex trafficking. This past session I was proud to introduce and pass legislation that will create a Sex Trafficking Response Coordinator within the Commonwealth of Virginia. This coordinator will be the crucial first step Virginia needs to align efforts and create a statewide response plan that will save countless lives, many of them just young teenagers.
Give Dreamers and Immigrants with New Legal Status In-State Tuition
As the son of an immigrant mother and the grandchild of immigrants on my father’s side, I know first hand how important opportunity can be to a family, and that our country is truly a nation of immigrants. I favor providing in-state tuition eligibility and driving privileges for the children granted legal status under the DREAM Act. I support common-sense immigration policies like this that allow law enforcement to focus on keeping families safe, keeping families together, rewarding those who follow the rules, and allowing those who have arrived in Virginia to build a better life to have the same opportunity that was extended to the rest of us.
The mission of full LGBT+ equality does not stop with marriage equality. Too many of our friends, family, and neighbors still live with systemic inequality, and even the fear of physical violence. LGBT+ Virginians are not protected from being denied housing and employment because of who they are. I support amending the current Virginia hate crimes legislation to include gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation in the list of protected classes, and support equality for every Virginian. As an adoptive parent, I know how discrimination, which is so hurtful, must never be allowed to keep loving potential parents from the wonderful opportunity to adopt a child. I will fight discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or religion.
It is long past time for Virginia to become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and finally correct the historical exclusion of women from the Constitution.
Support the Environment and Slow Climate Change through Energy Conservation and Renewables
I support funding of renewable energy grant programs and incentives to assist the development of new energy businesses and technology. Any efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through efficiency, conservation, and education is critical. A clean, safe environment is part of the debt we owe the next generation of Virginians. I will carefully weigh the environmental impact of all legislation before the House of Delegates and support legislation to clean up and beautify our most precious natural reI sources, especially our Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Ensure Equal Access to Health Care
All people have a right to decide for themselves what to with their body. This includes women who choose to terminate an unplanned pregnancy. It is a deeply personal decision that should be between a woman and her doctor. I am staunchly pro-choice and believe it is wrong to stigmatize women who have an abortion.
One of my top priorities in the legislature will be to work with other stakeholders to repeal Virginia's restrictive TRAP laws, which infringes upon women's' right to equal access to healthcare, as well as the requirement that women have mandatory ultrasounds and are forced to wait 24 hours for a procedure. This places an undue burden on women who are forced to travel several hours across the Commonwealth to their nearest abortion provider.
Further, I will vote to maintain and increase funding to healthcare providers like Planned Parenthood, which provide critical care to women across Virginia, including mammogram screenings and STI testing.
Nobody working full-time in Virginia should be forced to live in poverty. As a longtime charity executive, I recognize that working people cannot survive on the current minimum wage, especially in this region. I strongly support legislation to raise the Virginia minimum wage to $15 an hour. Increasing the minimum wage will improve Virginia’s economy and reward the hard work of our friends and neighbors in the district.
I also support repealing right-to-work in Virginia to make the Commonwealth a more worker-friendly state. Moreover, it is important to note that workers in “right-to-work” states earn far less than workers in states without “right-to-work” policies, are less likely to be provided with health insurance through their jobs, and are also more likely to be exposed to unsafe working conditions. A state that doesn’t value its workers won’t succeed for long. There comes a point where workers will pick up and move to where they are valued and treated with respect. It is the workforce that makes a strong business.
Great public schools are the cornerstone of a vibrant, thriving community. During the 2019 General Assembly session, we secured funding in the budget for a 5% pay increase for our hard-working teachers to continue to attract and maintain the best educators in the country for our children. While this was a wonderful step in the right direction, we can still do more to support our teachers and avoid losing talented educators to neighboring states. Fairfax school enrollment, especially along the Richmond Highway corridor, is growing fast and our facilities desperately need to catch up. I will fight for more state funding as well as work with local elected officials to find more funding. I am a strong proponent of expanding access to early childhood education, preschool, and quality childcare. Every dollar spent on education creates greater savings down the line, and makes Virginia stronger.