After 25 long, hectic legislative days, often beginning at seven thirty am and finishing late in the evening, the General Assembly reached “Crossover” last week. As indicated by the name, this is the point where all bills must have passed their house of origin to continue on their legislative journey. For my part, I was glad to pass one constitutional amendment and 75% of my introduced bills out of the Senate (18 of 24) with three additional bills headed to interim studies and commissions for a closer look. Crossover day itself was spent mostly on the Senate floor, as members hashed out the details of complicated legislation and debated some of our more controversial bills. While we continued to meet constantly over the following days to discuss amendments to our two-year budget, the brief respite from presenting and reviewing bills allows for some time to develop strategies for legislation passing to the other chamber — this year to a body controlled by the other party. Unfortunately, partisan divisions will cause some bills that passed the Senate with ease to face a quick death in the House. However, relying on carefully cultivated relationships and working with an eye towards compromise, this year offers an opportunity for outsized bipartisan cooperation.
Six of my bills passed the Senate with unanimous support, including legislation to protect living organ donors from employment discrimination, requirements for a seller to disclose any financial interest or pending legal action in property purchases, and a bill requiring comprehensive energy reliability reports from Dominion Energy to localities. These bills all stemmed from concerns raised by constituents throughout the year, and often were helped along with their support in committee testimony and advocacy. I was also glad to pass legislation providing an alternative to the sometimes cumbersome witness signature for absentee ballots and to remove a roadblock to localities’ ability to procure electric and diesel transit buses with broad support.
My bills aiming to address gun violence, improve the functioning of the Virginia Employment Commission, and require property surveys to be completed in Northern Virginia historic districts before the purchase of a home have sparked some controversy, and will likely have to jump some hurdles to make it to the finish line. Despite a broad coalition of support from advocacy groups including NRA and Moms Demand Action, my bill to align Virginia code with federal law on firearms that have had their serial numbers removed caught what is proverbially known as a “fever” on the floor after Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach), a federally licensed firearms dealer, raised concerns over collectors who owned machine guns being criminalized by the bill, and squeaked by on a party line vote.
I anticipate the Constitutional Amendment I am carrying to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage and replace it with a fundamental right to marry will face strategic opposition in the House, where despite having the votes on the floor to pass, the Speaker assigned an identical House Amendment, carried by Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), to a heavily conservative subcommittee where it was killed at 7 am with minimal discussion or debate. This Amendment does a simple, but momentous thing. Our Constitution, the foundational document of the oldest Democracy in the western world, only once deprives citizens of a right. The right to marry the person you love. If passed, it removes that stain, and permanently enshrines this right, safeguarding it for Virginians regardless of their sex or gender, providing a fundamental dignity and equality to our family, friends, and neighbors and reflects the will of a supermajority of Virginians. Additionally, as the amendment was made defunct by the 2015 Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, and it is important for our Constitution to reflect the law of the land. I hope the House leadership can be convinced that voters deserve a chance to consider ratifying this amendment at the polls in November.
With only four weeks left in session, we have our work cut out for us. What lies next for my bills will depend on the coming days, as they begin to be referred by Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) to subcommittees and committees and face hearings and votes. Some, those that Delegates introduced on similar policies, may have to be finalized in a Conference Committee. From these bipartisan groups often emerges compromise. Though progress may not always appear to proceed at the rate we may desire, it advances every time we change the law for the better. I hope to be reporting on such changes in a few weeks.
With Virginia governors Constitutionally limited to a single consecutive four-year-term, there is no time to waste if an administration is to be successful.
Governor Glenn Youngkin is about a month in office, but has been running into some major stumbling blocks in his “Day One Game Plan.” While much of Youngkin’s agenda might not seem nefarious at first, my colleagues and I have been digging into the impact of his proposals, and beneath their veneer we find policies that would provide no alternative but defunding core services, siphon away public school funding to charter schools, and reduce access to the ballot box. Behind the vest and family man persona, the Governor has shown a surprising mean streak — refusing to apologize after his campaign recently attacked a high school student on social media, and issuing illegal and controversial executive orders now held up in court challenges.
Legislation from the Governor’s office includes bills freezing a scheduled minimum wage increase and repealing local authority to allow employees to collectively bargain. Fortunately, these anti-worker policies were blocked by Senate Democrats. As Chair of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, I have seen a slew of bills bolstered by the Governor’s campaign trail promise to restore “election integrity,” including ending same day voter registration before it even begins and reinstating overly restrictive voter ID laws, which committee Democrats summarily turned away.
Fiscally, it is clear that Governor Youngkin is new to the world of governance. Despite Virginia being constitutionally mandated to have a balanced budget, the Governor has introduced plans amassing a stunning $3.5 billion in tax cuts and new spending without offering any solutions to pay for them. The General Assembly and former Governor Ralph Northam built an economy that created the $2.6 billion surplus needed to make major investments in education and mental healthcare and to reform failing agencies, like the Virginia Employment Commission. But Youngkin’s proposals would make these necessary investments impossible. In the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, we rejected legislation requiring localities to hold a referendum before making increases to their real property tax rates. Other states, like California, tried to do the same. The result was a fiscal calamity. We also tabled efforts to double the standard deduction on income taxes, recommending a study before we revisit it next year.
The taxpayers of Virginia entrust us to produce a well-balanced budget, and while Governor Youngkin has some laudable goals to repeal and rebate some taxes, his lack of a plan to offset the revenue gap he’s creating should be alarming to every Virginian. The Senate is working to reshape some of those proposals into realistic policies, including a prudent, graduated approach to shielding veteran retirement income from taxation. The Governor has proposed eliminating the tax on groceries, including the 1% local grocery tax, without providing localities any way to make up the funds that would otherwise be used for education and local infrastructure. A bipartisan majority of the Senate finance committee opted to eliminate the 1.5% state grocery tax, while leaving localities intact for now.
Governor Youngkin’s pick for Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, Andrew Wheeler, was recently rejected by the Senate. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and EPA Administrator under President Trump, faced more opposition than any Cabinet nominee in Virginia history, with more than 500 of my constituents writing to oppose his nomination. Further, another 150 former Republican and Democratic EPA employees publicly stated that, “Mr. Wheeler pursued an extremist approach, methodically weakening EPA’s ability to protect public health and the environment, instead favoring polluters.” Frustrated by this failure, Governor Youngkin lashed out at a group of civil servants, directing the House majority to block 1,010 appointments to Boards and Commissions crucial to the operation of government. Fortunately, his politics-first, Virginia-last approach failed, with the Republican House majority ultimately only refusing to confirm 11 appointments made by former Governor Ralph Northam.
Despite these stumbling blocks, I hope we will be able to work with the Youngkin administration over the coming months to build a stronger Virginia. Our constituents cannot afford a rookie slump.
It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District,
Adam P. Ebbin
Member, Senate of Virginia
An important role of any legislative office is that of constituent service. Before COVID19, we received a variety of requests regarding various state agencies or affiliates, including some regarding unemployment. The pandemic highlighted a dysfunctional system under immense stress at the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) like never before. The VEC has been underfunded for years because their main source of funding is based on a federal formula that provides funds based on our state’s unemployment rate, which has been historically low. This impacted their ability to do long planned, much-needed system upgrades. During some months my office received nearly 100 requests for assistance with claims. As the pandemic continued, the situations of constituents grew more dire as the delay of their benefits created broad repercussions.
It quickly became clear that there were several recurring issues at the VEC. First was inconsistent communication. Constituents received emails from constituent service team members stating that benefits may be denied if they did not call back within a specific time frame, however, the number provided rarely connected to anyone. Constituents received emails from the VEC constituent service team stating that benefits may be denied if they did not call back within a specific time frame, however, the number provided by the VEC rarely connected to anyone. Some constituents received conflicting information from different VEC employees depending on who they spoke to.. Additionally, many constituents who come to us have been told that all their claim issues had been resolved, only to wait weeks for benefits to arrive, and meanwhile are not able to contact anyone at the VEC through phone or email to determine why they are not receiving their benefits. We even heard from some constituents with concerns regarding fraud that occurred on their claims or that misused their identity. Some of these issues were prevalent enough that the VEC was sued in Federal Court April 2021 for delayed payments..
My staff and I have met with some of the hardworking team members at the VEC to get answers on specific cases and learn how their systems operate. There is much work to be done to get the VEC running smoothly and efficiently for Virginians. I am the Vice-Chair of the Commission for Unemployment Compensation. Our official mandate is to monitor and evaluate Virginia's unemployment compensation system relative to the economic health of the Commonwealth. This past summer, I insisted on a meeting of the commission to probe on issues outside that regulatory purview, during which we heard from the then-VEC Commissioner and I asked pointed questions about the transparency of communications and payments to claimants. I was far from satisfied with the pace of response from the VEC to the clear need and obvious calls for changes. I’ve written to Commissioners of the VEC, Secretaries of Labor, and other officials on the issue over the past year requesting prompt changes and solutions. Most recently, newly-appointed Commissioner Carrie Roth provided in-depth answers to specific questions that will allow my office to better assist constituents coming to us with concerns regarding fraud. I’m glad to see that in this area, Governor Youngkin is on the right track. This is a bipartisan issue that requires pragmatic solutions.
To that end, there are several bills this session based on recommendations made in a thorough study by the well respected Joint Audit and Legislative Review Commission (JLARC) on the VEC process. The final report offered comprehensive legislative and executive recommendations. I introduced legislation to expedite the process to bring employers filing forms with the VEC online and require the VEC to plan for a pilot program that aims to reduce the confusion and complexity of the separation reporting process. My office worked with JLARC and the VEC on this legislation, which aims to accomplish two specific recommendations from their report. I am co-sponsoring an even more comprehensive bill with Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Woodbridge) that implements further JLARC recommendations regarding administrative reforms and reporting methods. The bill requires the VEC to calculate and report important metrics and maintain an unemployment insurance Resiliency Plan for future spikes in unemployment. The legislation also creates within the Commission on Unemployment Compensation, a subcommittee that will be responsible for monitoring the VEC’s management of the unemployment insurance program. The bill would also clarify the appeals process and establish a workgroup on staffing. I am also co-sponsoring legislation with Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) aiming to fight fraud. That bill would require certain verifications of identity for claimants, as well as an annual report from the VEC on fraudulent payments.
I take VEC complaints very seriously — there are constituents whose livelihoods depend on the status of their claims. Some constituents are at risk of losing their homes or are facing hunger. My Legislative Aide, Mollie Montague, has assisted hundreds of constituents with VEC cases. If you are struggling with an issue at the VEC, contact our office at email@example.com and we will do our best to assist you.
It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District.
Adam P. Ebbin
Member, Senate of Virginia
As the co-chair of the General Assembly Gun Violence Prevention Caucus, confronting the gun violence crisis has been a priority of mine for years. While I support the Second Amendment and the availability of firearms for hunting, self-defense, and sport, we must implement common-sense gun safety laws that keep dangerous firearms out of the hands of those who will not responsibly use them. I have two bills this session focused on gun safety. The first, addresses the growing threat of “ghost guns” the second targets firearms without serial numbers being used and traded. Mirror versions of these bills are being carried by House member Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church). Both bills passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and await floor votes.
Ghost guns are undetectable, untraceable firearms which can be bought online, assembled with ease, and function precisely like any other firearm. These weapons pose a serious and deliberate problem. Law enforcement report seeing a rise in the use of these weapons in criminal acts as well as accidental shootings. It can be easier to build a ghost gun than to assemble an Ikea dresser. The process of converting ghost gun parts — which can be purchased without a background check, license or record of sale, into a functioning firearm — involves just a few steps and can be completed without any specialized skill. Due to the nature of their component parts, these weapons cannot be detected by normal security screening methods, like those you would encounter in an airport. They are particularly enticing to people who cannot pass a background check — domestic abusers, minors, organized crime, and those with a violent felony record. In 2018, a man prohibited from accessing guns built his own ghost gun from parts ordered online and perpetrated a mass shooting at his workplace in Middleton, Wisconsin. In late 2019, a 16-year-old, too young to purchase a firearm, used a ghost gun to kill two students and injured three others at Saugus High School in California.
My legislation fixes a loophole: manufacturers are required to put a serial number on finished firearms but not on individual parts. This bill requires manufacturers, dealers, and distributors to add a serial number, which legitimizes a weapon and makes it traceable if used in a crime, to the parts sold in Ghost Gun kits.
My second bill, SB 643, has garnered support from a broad coalition including the Virginia Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, prosecutors, and the State Police Association. This bill addresses the people using or distributing firearms that are already illegal: guns that have had their serial number removed. Removing the serial number makes the devices untraceable when found or connected to a crime. Federal law makes possessing, transporting, or delivering a gun with an altered serial number a felony. Under current Virginia law, only the removal or alteration of a serial number is a crime, but not the use or sale of such a gun. Commonwealth’s Attorneys cannot prosecute people in state courts for this offense.
Considerable effort is required to remove a serial number from a weapon. At minimum, welding tools and drills are needed. Removing the serial number is an intentional act aimed at avoiding accountability for actions taken by the person wielding the weapon. These are crime guns, full stop.
While no one law can prevent all violent incidents, I believe that smarter gun regulations are a part of the solution to prevent some of the tragedies that we all wish to end including homicides, domestic violence, children’s accidental deaths, and suicide by firearm. I am certain that the lives that we save will be worth the effort.
It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District,
Adam P. Ebbin
Member, Senate of Virginia