Senator Introduces Bills With Focus on Investing in Virginia Communities, Families and Schools
RICHMOND, VA – Today, Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) announced her legislative agenda for the 2022 session.
McClellan’s pre-filed bills focus on investing in Virginia communities as they build back from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. They include measures on education funding, protecting employees from harassment and violence, criminal justice reform, gun violence prevention, health insurance affordability and the environment.
“Virginia families are facing new challenges, as we rebuild from the impact of the pandemic,” said Sen. McClellan. “This session, we must focus on investing in Virginia’s schools, strengthening our health care system, protecting Virginians from harassment and violence, and building on the progress we’ve made in recent years. Together, we can make a safer and stronger Virginia that invests in our communities.”
McClellan serves on the following committees: Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources; Finance and Appropriations; Judiciary; Privileges and Elections; and Transportation.
McClellan’s pre-filed bills this session are:
Standards of Quality: McClellan’s bill would implement the Virginia Board of Education’s 2021 Standards of Quality to invest in K-12 schools across the Commonwealth. McClellan’s bill would set minimum staffing levels for every school: requiring a full-time principal in every elementary school, 1 assistant principal for every 400 students, 1 school counselor and 1 support personnel for every 250 students, and ratios for English Learner teachers and reading specialists based on need. McClellan’s bill would also address mental health and loss of learning, with increased support staff and an expanded Enhanced At-Risk Add On fund distributed to divisions for instructional interventions based on their concentrations of students in poverty. Del. Jeffrey Bourne (D-Richmond) introduced a companion bill in the House.
School Construction: McClellan introduced four bills recommended by the bipartisan Commission on School Construction and Modernization, which was created by a law passed by Sen. McClellan in 2020. McClellan chairs the Commission, which recommended several measures to address Virginia’s long overlooked school construction, renovation, and maintenance needs. McClellan’s school construction bills include:
Adopting changes to the state Literary Fund to make more money available to local school divisions through loans with lower interest rates than currently allowed by law;
Creating a School Construction Fund and Program and strengthening school construction funding through the Literary Fund;
Allowing all localities in Virginia to impose a 1% increase in their sales tax, subject to voter approval and to be used solely for school construction or renovation. Under current law, such sales tax is only permitted in nine enumerated localities; and
Creating incentives for local governing bodies and school boards to collaborate to set aside for the purpose of capital projects any funds appropriated to the school board by the local governing body that are not spent by the school board in any year.
Employment Discrimination: McClellan’s bill would strengthen protections for employees who are victims of discrimination by extending the statute of limitations for filing a written complaint or civil lawsuit. The bill would also establish a consistent definition of employer for employment discrimination under the Human Rights Act as one employing 5 or more employees. Under current law, the 5 employee threshold only applies to employers who unlawfully fire an employee, but not to other employment discrimination claims.
Workplace Protective Orders: McClellan’s bill would empower an employer to seek a protective order to protect its employees from workplace violence. The current protective order laws in Virginia are designed for an individual to seek a protective order against someone for threats or violence made against that person. This bill would allow Virginia employers to take action when someone is making real and serious threats against its employees. Virginia would follow many other states that have similar workplace violence prevention statutes in place.
Tribal Nation Consultation: McClellan’s bill codifies Governor Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 82 directing state permitting agencies to consult with Tribal Nations when evaluating state permit applications for activities with potential impacts to environmental, historic and cultural resources. Such consultation enables time for meaningful input from Tribal Nations about any potential environmental or cultural concerns regarding the proposed projects, and strengthens Virginia’s government-to-government relationship with Tribal Nations.
Improving Water Quality: McClellan’s bill would ensure that low-income communities receive benefits from two grant programs run by the Department of Environmental Quality to improve water quality and decrease pollution. The bill would require that — to the maximum extent practicable — 25 percent of Water Quality Improvement Fund grants and 25 percent of Stormwater Local Assistance Fund grants awarded each year shall be for projects in low-income communities.
Cover All Kids – Nearly 100,000 children in Virginia do not have health insurance, representing 4.9% of Virginia’s under-18 population. Sen. McClellan’s Cover All Kids legislation would help close the gap of uninsured children by creating a health insurance program similar to the Family Access to Medical Insurance Security Plan for undocumented children, as recommended by the work group established by budget language in 2021. Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) introduced a companion bill in the House.
Eviction Appeals: Under current Virginia law, indigent people must post an appeal bond when appealing an eviction judgment in circuit court. Often, they are effectively prevented from appealing their eviction due to insufficient funds. Currently, this is the only instance in which indigent people must post an appeal bond. Sen. McClellan’s bill would allow judges to waive the appeal bond for eviction appeals, and provide indigent people with full legal rights in effort to stay in their homes.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND PUBLIC SAFETY
Counsel at First Appearance: Sen. McClellan’s bill would require that in all criminal cases, defendants would be given an attorney during their first appearance before a judge. Currently, some Virginia jurisdictions ensure counsel at first appearance, but many do not. This leads to many people being held unnecessarily in prison, instead of meeting bail. Having counsel will enable them to go home to their families and maintain employment. It will also decrease prison overcrowding and lower the cost to Virginia taxpayers; nationally, pretrial detention costs taxpayers $13.6 billion. Del. Angelia Williams Graves (D-Norfolk) introduced a House companion bill.
Gun Violence Prevention Center: Sen. McClellan’s bill would establish the Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention at the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), which will work across public safety and public health sectors to collect data and publish reports on violence caused by firearms. The information will be shared with state and local agencies, higher education institutions, research institutions, hospitals and other medical care facilities, and community-based organizations. The center will also establish model policies for law-enforcement personnel. Governor Northam included funding to establish the center in his introduced budget. Delegate Marcia Price (D-Newport News) introduced the House companion bill.
Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development: Sen. McClellan’s bill strengthens and fully funds the Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development Act (DPYDA), which has not received funding since 2008. The DPYDA, passed into law in 1979, provides opportunity for interagency planning and service coordination. The DPYDA focuses exclusively on providing money for prevention services, such as services for at-risk youth before they enter the juvenile justice system. Reinstituting funding for the DPYDA, and making it easier for Virginia communities to access these funds will reduce youth violence and make it easier for children to get the support they need to be successful.
Child Sexual Assault Statute of Limitations: Sen. McClellan’s legislation would eliminate the statute of limitations and establishes a permanent revival window allowing victims of child sexual abuse to bring their claims in a civil matter. The bill would also protect children involved in sports by establishing annual background checks and child abuse prevention training for staff working with youth-serving athletic associations and agencies.
Unsolicited Lewd Photographs: Sen. McClellan’s legislation would protect Virginians from unsolicited lewd photographs sent digitally.The bill would establish a civil penalty for a person who knowingly sends an unsolicited image by electronic means, directed to another person, depicting any person engaging in a lewd act. The bill is modeled on similar legislation that has passed in Texas and California. Dels. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach) and Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield) are carrying House companion legislation.
Clean Public Transit: Sen. McClellan’s bill would make a major investment powering a cleaner Virginia’s public transit system with electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles. The bill establishes The Transit Transportation Program and Fund to award competitive grants to assist local, regional, and state entities with transitioning public transit bus fleets and infrastructure to zero-emission and low-emission bus fleets and infrastructure.
Central Virginia Transportation Authority: Sen. McClellan’s bill would add a representative of Richmond International Airport as a member of the Central Virginia Transportation Authority (CVTA). The CVTA currently includes ex-officio members from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Port Authority, the airport Greater Richmond Transit Company, and the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The bill would add Richmond International Airport to provide the CVTA a more complete picture of regional transportation needs and issues.
Capital Region Airport Commission Enabling Act: Sen. McClellan’s bill would authorize the Capital Region Airport Commission – the entity that owns and operates Richmond International Airport – to make charitable donations and provide assistance to educational and charitable entities, organizations and programs. These endeavors would be designed to foster an appreciation by the public of the importance of aviation, assist the public in aviation travel, or help develop and educate the next generation of aviation professionals in the Commonwealth.
Election Governance – Under current Virginia election law, 133 general registrars and electoral boards in each of the Commonwealth’s independent cities and counties are independently responsible for operating and overseeing local elections. The State Board of Elections is responsible for supervising localities, but in reality has little ability to ensure fairness. With localities under increasing partisan pressure, Sen. McClellan’s legislation would create a Joint Legislative Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission review of Virginia’s election governance to ensure accountability, uniformity and fairness.
Recall Reform: In recent years, Virginia’s broad recall laws have been used as a political tool to undermine duly-elected officials and thwart the will of voters. Sen. McClellan’s bill would reform Virginia’s recall procedures to prevent abuse by political entities. The bill would raise the threshold for signature to require a recall to be consistent with other states. It would also make removal decided by an election, rather than in a court process.
VIRGINIA HISTORY AND CULTURE
Historic African American Cemeteries: Under current law, historic African-American cemeteries established before 1900 are eligible for maintenance and preservation support through the Virginia Historical African American Cemeteries and Graves Fund. However, some historic cemeteries – such as Woodland Cemetery in Henrico County, which was founded in 1916 – are not eligible for the fund. Sen. McClellan’s bill changes the establishment date eligibility from 1900 to 1948, the year that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racially segregated cemeteries. Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) is carrying the House companion.
Virginia African Diaspora Advisory Board: Sen. McClellan’s bill establishes the Virginia African Diaspora Advisory Board to advise the Governor on ways to improve economic and cultural links between the Commonwealth and African nations, with a focus on the areas of commerce and trade, art and education, and government.
Virginia African Diaspora Month: Sen. McClellan’s bill would establish September as Virginia African Diaspora Month.
Children’s Museum Parking: McClellan’s bill grants easements for the Children’s Museum of Virginia to access the new parking deck and greenspace that will be shared space between the Children’s Museum and the Science Museum of Virginia.
Code Commission Bills: McClellan introduced two bills recommended by the Virginia Code Commission to make technical amendments to sections of the Code of Virginia dealing with The Administrative Process Act and Health Services.