To the Editor:
As I spent this weekend at home in the 35th District, I ran into quite a number of constituents who asked me the same questions:
"What is going on in Richmond with all this talk about abortion and contraception?"
"With the economy still slow, why are you wasting so much time with bills on guns and gays?"
"Don't you have anything better to do than debate the definition of 'personhood'?"
Well, I wished I had good answers to these and many other questions I received from constituents, but unfortunately, I don't.
You see, even though the Virginia General Assembly has voted on hundreds of bills this session, the only headlines you'll read about are these controversial social wedge issues.
And no wonder.
Ever since the Republican Party gained total control of the Commonwealth's government, cultural conservative issues have dominated their legislative agenda. For example, here are some of the more controversial House bills that passed this session:
- HB 1 would legally define “personhood” to include a fetus at every stage of development. The bill passed the House on a mostly party-line vote of 66 to 32.
- HB 62 would prohibit state funds from going towards abortions, even in the case of a severe fetal deformity or mental deficiency. The bill passed the House 64 to 35.
- HB 462 would require women to take very intrusive and medically unnecessary ultrasound without their consent, prior to having an abortion. The bill passed the House 63 to 36.
- HB 189 would allow adoption agencies using taxpayer funds to discriminate against gay families. The bill passed the House 71 to 28.
- HB 940 would repeal the 25-year-old law that bans anyone from buying more than one handgun per month. The bill passed the House 66 to 32.
- HB 1060 would require state police officers to ask for immigration status of everyone they arrest. The bill passed the House 75 to 25.
While the percentage of bills like these might be small compared to other more mundane issues, the intensity of emotions and rhetoric surrounding their debate makes it seem as if these are the only legislation that we're debating in Richmond.
You know a story is big when national political cable talk shows like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update make fun of the Virginia House of Delegates ...
It wouldn't be so bad if the worst thing about these bills is that they end up getting a few laughs on late night TV. But sadly, many of these House bills could become law in Virginia this year.
When the House of Delegates and the State Senate were controlled by different political parties, I thought the system of checks and balances worked fairly well, and some of the more extreme legislative ideas were defeated.
But this year, same party controls the House and Senate and the Republican Governor has already announced that he will sign these bills into law.
I voted against all of these partisan measures because I believe these policies will take us back to a period when some Virginians enjoyed less opportunity than they do today.
As a legislator, I believe it is my role to move the Commonwealth forward by making progress, not going backwards. My goal is to advance laws that expand the rights and create equal opportunities for all Virginians, instead of limiting them or treating different groups of Virginians differently.
I also believe that you sent me to Richmond to focus on the most pressing needs that you and other constituents face in Fairfax County and to propose common-sense solutions that provide real solutions.
That is why I continue to push for incentives to create more jobs and a strong environment for entrepreneurs and small businesses, fight for dedicated funding for transportation and transit infrastructure that help Northern Virginia traffic, and work on meaningful school reform ideas to keep our public schools and colleges top-notch.
I wished everyone of my colleagues in the Republican Majority would focus on these pressing kitchen table issues as well.
Virginians have always made progress when we work together for a common goal. I'm proud of how far we've come since the days when the law condoned division instead of unity.
Yet we still have more work to do. And we can do better than these divisive bills that we've seen in Richmond this year.
My life's work has been to bring people together.
Perhaps we may never come together on some social wedge issues, and we’ll have to continue to agree to disagree. But I sincerely hope that both sides can now come together to seek common ground on the key issues that matter to you, our constituents.
It is not too late even in this General Assembly session for legislators to focus our attention on creating more opportunities for all Virginians as I have been able to enjoy. That is what you deserve from us.