With the excitement of move-in and the inauguration out of the way, the pace of the General Assembly is rapidly ramping up. New staffers from Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration are circulating the halls with updated policy and agency contact sheets and committees are just beginning to receive “administration input” on legislation. With a new Speaker and new committee chairs, the House of Delegates took some time to begin hearing legislation, while the Senate began right away. After months of anticipation, the Republican agenda is becoming clear in Richmond.
In the first meeting of the Privileges and Elections Committee, where I serve as Vice-Chair, we headed off and defeated early efforts aimed at limiting access to the ballot box on party line votes. One was a proposal from Senator Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) to end same-day voter registration, something that has yet to even go into effect. Another bill introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) would have reinstated the unnecessary and sometimes onerous voter ID law. Just last November, due to changes made over the last several years, we held a safe and free gubernatorial election where more Virginians voted than ever, according to the Virginia Department of Elections Post Election Report this “proved, once again, that elections can be administered in a way that guarantees access to the ballot, all while maintaining secure processes that ensure safe, secure, fair, and free elections.”
In the Commerce and Labor Committee we heard another bill from Senator Peake (R-Lynchburg) that would have cancelled a scheduled increase in the Virginia minimum wage to $12.00 an hour on January 1, 2023. The minimum wage in 2020 was just $7.50 an hour, the same as the federal minimum wage. Thanks to legislation passed two years ago, it is now $11 an hour. Especially in Northern Virginia, the minimum wage has been too low for too long, forcing hard working neighbors into poverty, extended credit, and reducing access to the freedoms that home and vehicle ownership provide. I was glad to make the motion and vote to defeat this misguided piece of legislation.
While there are legitimate policy debates to be had about the above proposals, we have also seen some truly off the wall bills. Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) offered a slew of anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-public health proposals. These bills, drawn from the darkest corners of the internet, would fine small business owners $10,000 if they required their employees to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine or wear a facemask to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. In a time of spiking infections especially among healthcare workers, children, and the unvaccinated, I was glad to vote down these proposals. I asked Senator Chase directly “If I’m a parent of an immunocompromised child, and I don’t want them to come into contact with COVID, and, would this allow another child who’s COVID-positive to possibly come in to school and sneeze on them without a mask?” Senator Chase responded with a hemming non-answer, but the text of the bill was clear — it absolutely would.
Two of my 25 bills have already passed out of the Senate. SB278 preserves electric vehicle charging stations for electric vehicles to ensure and expand access to charging infrastructure. SB286, which I introduced at the request of Alexandria City, allows localities to require homes purchased in local historic districts to have their properties surveyed to ensure homeowners know their exact property lines and reduce disputes with neighbors or the local government when additions or alterations are made to properties.
With divided control among the two houses of the legislature, major policy actions will be more challenging to advance. However, an area where I look forward to making real wins for the 30th Senate District is through the budget. With a surplus of $2.6 billion — the largest in Virginia's history, and $800 million in American Rescue Plan Dollars still to be allocated, there are rare opportunities for historic investments. I have proposed amendments to former Governor Ralph Northam’s introduced budget to alleviate economic strain on businesses and workers, preserve and maintain historic resources, and invest in outdated government infrastructure.
I am working to include a tranche of federal relief dollars to create a hospitality and tourism industry COVID-relief program which would especially be of benefit to the hotels and restaurants which make up a large portion of the economic and social engine of the 30th District. I have also requested an additional forty million dollars for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund which supports the development and preservation of affordable housing. It is my hope that with these additional dollars we can invest more in the development of deeply affordable housing for the poorest and most at risk Virginians. Additionally, I requested $500,000 in state dollars to restore and preserve Douglass Memorial Cemetery in Alexandria — a historic African American cemetery in need of major restoration. I have also proposed funding to update ten Department of Corrections facilities across the state to install air conditioning. In this era of extreme weather events 5,600 inmates are currently without air conditioning.
While there is a notable air of contention on many legislative proposals in the Capitol, I am hopeful that with a carefully cultivated budget surplus, there will still be a plethora of opportunities for bipartisan wins for Virginians.
It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District,
Adam P. Ebbin
Member, Senate of Virginia
The media often focuses on the legislation on the Senate floor, when bills face debate and votes by the full body. However, the majority of the General Assembly’s work occurs in committee and subcommittee meetings. In these hearings, legislators present their bills for the first time, fine-tune language, and assess the fiscal and agency impact of their proposals. During the new administration of Glen Youngkin, our committees are also meeting with his newly appointed cabinet members before we vote on whether to confirm their appointments.
In the Senate, we have asked each new cabinet Secretary-designate to attend a meeting of the subject matter committee most closely related to their expected role in the administration. I have enjoyed their testimony and the opportunity to question them on their plans for the next four years. The Finance and Appropriations Committee heard from the incoming Secretary of Finance, Stephen Cummings — who will oversee the financial transactions of the Commonwealth including taxes collection and distribution of state aid to localities. Mr. Cummings has an extensive background in the banking and finance industries and has chosen a talented team of deputy secretaries including a well trusted former staff member of the Senate Finance Committee. I asked several questions of him, including how the administration plans to pay for the $3.5 billion in new spending on tax rebates, charter schools, and economic development they have requested. His answer did not outline a clear plan for this significant change to our two year budget, which our constitution requires be balanced.
In the General Laws and Technology Committee, we have heard from Secretary of the Commonwealth Kay James and Secretary of Administration Lyn McDermid. Ms. James - who will oversee appointments to boards and commissions, manage clemency petitions, and oversee restoration of voting rights - previously served under Governor George Allen as the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, and most recently was the president of the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank. I was heartened by her public commitment to “easily and seamlessly'' restore voting rights of felons who have completed their sentences. However, I had a number of questions on her public support of “natural law” — a conservative theory opposing same sex marriage, her opposition to the federal Equality Act, and whether she supported the newly formed LGBT advisory board, which makes policy recommendations on LGBTQ issues to the governor. Her responses indicated that she would uphold the laws we have established to support LGBT rights, and I look forward to working with her office to ensure that is the case in reality. Secretary McDermid, will manage procurement and state buildings, administer employee policies and benefits, and oversee elections. I complimented her focus on cybersecurity and interagency data sharing to improve government services. However, I was concerned she may share Governor Youngkin’s support for attempts to roll back access to the ballot and use of “election integrity” on the campaign trail. I asked her if she believed Virginia's elections are free and fair and she agreed this was true despite Governor Youngkin making “election integrity” one of his top campaign issues.
As the various Secretaries make their way through their respective committees, my colleagues and my focus is on ensuring that Virginia is in the best possible hands, and continues on a trajectory of shared success. However, some appointments are more controversial than others. My office has received over 500 emails opposing Mr. Andrew Wheeler’s nomination as Secretary of Natural Resources, for example, but every appointment requires attention. We will make those final determinations when their appointments come to the floor for a final vote. Last week I was honored to be appointed as the Chair of the Privileges and Elections Committee, which reviews and takes initial votes on these appointments. The Privileges and Elections Committee traces its historic roots back to the first Committee of the Virginia House of Burgesses, which was founded in 1619. George Washington, whose Mount Vernon Estate is in the 30th District, served as the Chair of the House Committees committee during the 1760s.
It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District.
Adam P. Ebbin
Member, Senate of Virginia
The Virginia General Assembly gaveled into session on Wednesday, January 12th with a new House majority, and Saturday saw a political change in all three statewide offices: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. The Executive branch in Virginia holds vast authority over the structure and direction of our government — including the appointment of cabinet secretaries and deputy secretaries, all agency heads, and 3,300 board and commission members, strong veto powers, and the ability to choose how to enforce and enact many of our laws and regulations. The weight of gubernatorial power is hefty in Virginia, and vested with a Constitutionally mandated single four-year-term, must be mastered and wielded quickly if an Administration is to successfully accomplish the promises made on the campaign trail.
A newcomer to Virginia government and politics, Glenn Youngkin began that process on Saturday, January 14th at the Capitol in Richmond when he was inaugurated as our 74th Governor. The weather on Saturday was a a frigid 30 degrees and was followed on Sunday with an icy winter storm. Whether that signals a slippery start for Governor Youngkin is yet to be seen, but, as for any new governor, the learning curve is steep and the stakes high for their upcoming term. I will work hard to find areas where we find common interests, and think we will be able to agree on many things, particularly on much needed increases to school funding, systemic improvements at the Virginia Employment Commission, and support for our veteran community.
I was heartened by the unifying and optimistic themes Governor Youngkin outlined in his inaugural speech. However, I will be measuring Youngkin’s performance by deeds, not words. Just hours after his inclusive address, the Governor signed eleven divisive executive orders including attempts to ban the teaching of critical race theory in k-12 schools, banning local authority to mandate the wearing of facemasks for students' health in schools, and withdrawing Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which caps carbon outputs and provides much needed flooding resiliency funding to our community. These actions are in direct violation to our Commonwealth’s laws and the principle of separation of powers, and a sharp about face from the lofty rhetoric of his swearing in. In fact, Article VIII of the Virginia Constitution vests the power to set curricula with the Board of Education, so the banning of critical race theory, a topic that has never been taught in our K-12 schools, is both unconstitutional and unproductive to improving public education. Under Virginia law local school boards must adhere to CDC guidance, which recommends the wearing of masks in schools to protect those not yet vaccinated. The Executive does not rule by fiat in Virginia.
Where necessary, I plan to provide a wake up call for proposals dangerous to our common safety, prosperity, and welfare. On climate change, any proposals to divert public education dollars from public schools, and attacks on reproductive rights, however, the Democratic Senate majority will serve as a firewall against the forces of short sighted partisan policies.
Challenges are coming — for sure — especially with a new House majority and new Speaker at the dais. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) took the gavel on Wednesday with a slim (52-48) majority. With differing parties controlling each house of the legislature, the number of bills passed and signed may winnow from the close to 2,000 we passed in 2020 down to the hundreds. The reconciliation of the proposed two-year budget will be more contentious and prolonged than it has been in recent years, when one party held power over the “Money Committees” in each body. But among the strife and bustle of session, I look forward to continue representing the 30th Senate District’s interests in committees and on the floor.
Already I have heard from hundreds of constituents who are vehemently opposed to the cabinet nomination of former President Trump’s EPA director Andrew Wheeler as the next Secretary of Natural Resources. A former coal lobbyist, Wheeler used his federal authority to undermine years of bipartisan environmental progress. In his first year as the EPA Administrator, Wheeler worked to restrict the use of scientific data in agency rule-making, rolled back federal efforts to clean up coal ash, reversed Clean Water Act protections, ignored EPA scientists' calls to ban asbestos, weakened a rule to cut the potent greenhouse gas methane, and blocked efforts to cut vehicle emissions and advance fuel efficiency. He is an untenable choice to oversee our shrinking natural resources — which I have been glad to work to safeguard throughout my career. In my 18 years in the Assembly I have never voted against a Governor’s cabinet pick — Democratic or Republican.
Unfortunately, I expect that streak to end this session.
The outset of a new session is always an exciting and uncertain time. The beginning of a new administration even more so. Even before the official start of session on January 12th, things seemed to be moving at a breakneck pace. Monday the 10th saw the final meeting of the Cannabis Oversight Commission, which I chair. During that meeting, we recommended expediting sales to January 1, 2023 through the existing medical cannabis providers and several industrial hemp manufacturers to ensure we can supply the market and begin to reduce unregulated, illicit sales, and received a report from the Department of Corrections on persons still incarcerated for multiple offenses which include cannabis felonies. Afterwards, I attended a meeting of the Senate Finance and Appropriations subcommittee on Health and Human Resources where we discussed critically needed funding for a number of healthcare services which we will address through the budget this year. The next day I had another flurry of meetings with public defenders from Justice Forward, a group of brewery owners, and the Virginia Credit Unions before several hours of meetings with my Senate colleagues and staff to finalize the legislation I plan to introduce this year.
If you have thoughts on legislation which will be before me over the next two months, please email my office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the spike in cases caused by the Omicron variant of COVID-19, I am attempting to take as many meetings as feasible virtually, which I hope will protect all of our safety and increase the ability for constituents to access my office without trekking down I-95 to Richmond.
It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District,
Adam P. Ebbin
Member, Senate of Virginia