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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

March 16, 2018

Local Legislators Have Productive General Assembly Session

State / Issue

Picture of State Senator Monty Mason.

The Virginia General Assembly session ended last week but because the Senate and House could not reconcile a budget for the state over the issue of Medicaid expansion a special session will be convened on April 11th to tackle the budget. With the regular session complete we thought it would be helpful to our readers to recap the bills passed into law sponsored by our local delegation which consists of Delegates David Yancey and Mike Mullin and State Senator Monty Mason.

Senator Monty Mason, whose 1st District constituency stretches from Williamsburg to cities like Hampton and Suffolk, is one of the most junior members of the Virginia State Senate. After serving just one term in the House of Delegates before taking over the late John Miller’s Senate seat, Mason is the third newest member of the upper house of the General Assembly, meaning it can sometimes be more difficult to achieve legislative goals than it would be for a more senior member. This is compounded by the fact that as a Democrat Senator Mason in part of the minority party. In terms of committee memberships, Mason belongs to the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, and his work in this committee ultimately resulted in the Virginia League of Conservation Voters (LCV) awarding him with their Legislative Hero Award. Additionally, Mason is in the General Laws and Technology Committee and the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee. All 3 of these committees are controlled by Republican majorities, making it more difficult for Democrats like Mason to get their party’s legislation out of committee and onto the floor.

Sen. Mason had several legislative accomplishments this session. One of his bills, SB 531, recently passed the House on a 96-3 vote after going through the Senate and is now on its way to Governor Northam’s desk to be signed into law. SB 531 “reestablishes the Accelerated Refund Program with the Department of Taxation,” and aims to “enable individuals to receive their refunds more quickly when filing with their local Commissioner of Revenue and getting their help with returns,” according to Mason. Another one of Mason’s bills that is heading to the governor’s desk is SB 555, which helps expand hiring eligibility at licensed community service boards and private providers for substance abuse or mental health positions. With this bill, which Mason says has major support from substance abuse and mental health advocates, Virginia legislators hope to increase the number of employees working in areas that are becoming focal points in politics today due to increased coverage of the opioid crisis and mental health shortcomings.

Other notable pieces of legislation originating with Sen. Mason include SB 453, which currently is still in the Senate and would allow for Virginia voters aged 65 and older to vote via absentee ballot, and SB 454, which would have allowed James City County to prohibit inoperable vehicles from being parked in view in residential areas but was narrowly defeated in a floor vote. A full list of Mason’s pieces of legislation and their statuses can be found on the General Assembly’s website.

In the other house of the General Assembly lies Senator Mason’s successor to the 93rd District, Delegate Mike Mullin. Mullin is entering his first full term as a Virginia delegate after winning a special election in 2016. Mullin was able to pass 4 bills in his first year in the House (more than any other freshman legislator), which is impressive given that he too is constrained by being a member of the minority party. In this legislative session, Del. Mullin is a member of 3 committees: Courts of Justice, Counties Cities and Towns, and Commerce and Labor. The Courts of Justice committee membership may offer Mullin an opportunity to shine, as he is the only full-time criminal prosecutor in the House.

Mullin has experienced similar levels of legislative success as he did in his first year in office, while also being an influential delegate in high-profile debates. By pairing his experience as a criminal prosecutor with his position in public office, Del. Mullin oftentimes focuses legislation on the nuances of the criminal justice system that tend to be overlooked. An example of this is HB 202, which Mullin introduced to require courts to inform a person being fined after conviction of a crime whether there are opportunities for that person to get the fine reduced or removed altogether. This bill passed 99-0 in the House and 34-6 in the Senate last week, and must be signed by Governor Northam by Monday night to be enacted. Mullin also had a significant impact on the recent debate of the idea to raise the felony larceny requirement in Virginia from $200 to $500, illustrating how central criminal justice reform is to Mullin’s legislative goals.

Another Mullin bill is HB 507, which allows school districts to use Standards of Quality funding to help support dual-language programs in K-12. Del. Mullin stated that dual-language is something to “encourage statewide,” arguing that the future of the American economy will be heavily dependent on bilingual students. Previously, school districts had to pay out of pocket to hire dual-language instructors, oftentimes making them an impossibility, and thus harming a significant population of students who would benefit from being taught in more than just English. This bill has been passed in both houses of the General Assembly, and will now just await the governor’s signature. Along with this is a bill that would fine drivers $100 for not clearly snow off of their vehicles before driving, thus causing a hazard to themselves and others on the road. The totality of bills introduced by Delegate Mullin can be found here.

On the other side of the aisle, Delegate David Yancey represents Newport News in the majority Republican party. This allows him to be a member of Republican-controlled committees, giving him more influence in what legislation makes it through committee and onto the floor. After being elected in perhaps the most unusual election in recent memory this past year, Yancey ranks as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the General Assembly.  Yancey was named the Chairman of the Transportation Committee for this session, and considering Yancey was a vocal proponent of the I-64 widening project and numerous other projects dealing with marine terminals in Hampton Roads, he is certainly experienced in the matters of transportation. These sentiments were echoed by Republican leaders like Speaker Kirk Cox, and with the dual effect of giving a capable Del. Yancey a key legislative position in a vulnerable district, Republicans may be helping themselves in the 2019 election. Along with the Transportation Committee, Yancey is also serving on the Education Committee and the Commerce and Labor Committee.

One of Delegate Yancey’s successes this session is  House Bill 192, which passed unanimously in the Senate and 98-0 in the House after amendments. The bill deals with businesses attempting to innovate to more sustainable energy practices by reusing rainwater for purposes other than human consumption. It came into existence after a local car care business approached Del. Yancey to change an existing Virginia Department of Health policy that prevented this business practice, and he took the initiative to write a bill that appears to be on the verge of becoming Virginia law. Another piece of Yancey legislation was HB 330, which again came about after a group of Newport News locals approached him to make a change from Richmond. A group of cancer doctors in the area came to Yancey asking why children were not allowed to bring sunscreen to school with them in order to help against developing skin cancer, and when Yancey agreed he drafted a bill to address this issue. After passing the House 98-0, the bill remained frozen in a Senate committee and was eventually voted to be continued in the next regular session, meaning the bill was effectively killed for the year and can be brought back up at a later date. However, both of these instances show that Yancey is attempting to respond to his constituents’ concerns and effect real change in Virginia. Along with these bills, Yancey has had a bill signed into law that removes an affidavit requirement from those seeking a building permit, and another bill currently in a conference committee to compromise on differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill that give manufacturing companies a tax credit for offering employee retraining courses, among others. Yancey’s full list of legislative introductions can be found on VPAP.

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