Spirited Debates in the House of Delegates
Today marks the end of the third week of session and it is my pleasure to share with you the third edition of the DebraDispatch.
Last weekend I attended the Richmond Jewish Food Festival at the Weinstein JCC. This annual event, right here in the 73rd district, gives individuals from all over central Virginia the opportunity to come together for homemade traditional Jewish and Israeli foods, as well as live music, from my favorite Klezmer band, My Son the Doctor.
This week, I had several bills come up for votes. My bill, HB 2179, was passed out of the General Laws subcommittee on a 6-2 vote. The bill would create a new ABC license category for co-working spaces. Co-working spaces,like Virginia's locally owned, Gather and The Broad, are spaces that have all the amenities of an office for individuals who do not have a permanent office space. This has become a thriving business model for people who work from home and entrepreneurs to share workspace and network. This fosters the entrepreneurial spirit in Virginia and allows local businesses to emerge from these connections. HB 2179 will now move on to the full General Laws committee.
House Bill 2593 passed the Education Subcommittee. This bill would expand mental health instruction to all gradesthat offer health classes. By educating our youth about mental health we can reduce stigma, build safer communities, and create healthier school environments. Last year, Senator Deeds, sponsored legislation to incorporate mental health instruction standards in ninth and tenth grade. The Department of Education has developed a work plan to implement Senator Deeds’ bill but the work plan has not yet been enacted. There is still time to add mental health instruction for all grades. Senator Jennifer McClellan is carrying the companion legislation in the Senate.
Unfortunately, not all the movement on my bills has been successful. Earlier this week, the Commerce and Labor subcommittee voted to kill HB 2195 on a 2-5 vote. This important piece of legislation would have raised the subminimum wage for tipped employees over a gradual period of time. Currently tipped employees, like servers and busboys, make $2.13/hour plus tips. Although this is disappointing, I look forward to hosting a discussion with the organizations who came to oppose my bill to figure out a compromise for next year.
HB 1693, passed out of the education committee 16-6 on Monday. The bill came to me from the Arc of Virginia, an advocacy organization for the disability community, who are based in the 73rd District. The intent of HB 1693 was tointroduce the topics of personal boundaries, personal health, respect for privacy and self-protection to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This instruction would have been placed in the individualized education plan process, and parents would have to opt-in to this instruction and give explicit permission to educators. The bill passed both the subcommittee and full committee, to the floor of the House where just today where there were partisan disagreements over the nature of the bill. I was asked to re-refer it back to the Education Committee, where it will certainly not move any further. As a mother of a special needs child, I care about this issue very deeply and I intend to be an advocate for the disability community and their access to equitable education opportunities.
This morning, I presented HB 2194 to the Finance Subcommittee. This bill would have exempted menstrual supplies from the Virginia Retail Tax. The current tax on feminine hygiene products imposes a tax burden on women only-this is an equity issue. By exempting these items, we can restore fairness by not taxing menstrual supplies- a necessity for women and girls. This bill was heard at the same time as another bill, HB 2450. which would have reduced the tax on menstrual products to 1.5% and other items like diapers for babies and incontinent persons. There was a spirited debate over the bills and ultimately, my bill was passed by for the day. Due to the short Session, there will not be another Finance subcommittee before the Crossover date, so my bill, HB 2194 will not be moving forward. I believe that the money should be returned to the taxpayers in this scenario. Economic studies have shown that when the tax is eliminated for menstrual products, it causes the price to reduce on these products even further. Not only do consumers enjoy the surplus, but it also causes double the savings for individuals.
In community news, Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger has provided a list of resources for federal government employees that are affected by the shutdown. You can access the document by clicking here. In addition, Chez Foushee (2 East Grace Street) is providing a free Sunday brunch for furloughed workers. They ask that you bring your federal ID and a copy of your $0 paystub.
Please let me know how I can be of service to you by contacting my office at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 804-698-1073.
Serving as a member of the House of Delegates gives me the opportunity to meet with a variety of constituents and advocates from across the Commonwealth but this week was a particularly busy one given the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Thank you to all who stopped by to brief me and my staff on important issues, or even just to say hello. Your advocacy inspires me daily.