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Last month, I joined the League of Women Voters and other Virginia voting rights organizations to observe the ceremonial signing of my election officials training bill, HB 1030. I introduced this bill to make sure the Commonwealth meets its responsibility to maintain fair and efficient elections. We cannot continue to dictate new regulations to our localities without providing them with adequate tools to implement them.

This spring, Governor McAuliffe launched an historic action to restore the right to vote for over 200,000 Virginians through his executive authority, spelled out in Article V, Section 12 of the Virginia Constitution. Virginia is one of only four states that do not have an automatic process for the restoration of rights for felons who have paid their debt to society.

One of sequestration’s biggest “losers” was the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which was required to cut 5 percent across the board. Although this was a drop in the bucket compared to the approximately $85.4 billion in spending authority reductions for FY 13, it took a considerable toll.

Federal sequestration has taken a considerable toll on Virginia’s defense driven economy. Governor McAuliffe’s top priority, therefore, is to help diversify our economy. This session, the General Assembly is working on a business-led, bipartisan initiative called GO Virginia. It is designed to enhance the growth of local and regional business opportunities through regional public-private partnerships.

Planned Parenthood has once again come under attack, this time in Virginia’s Capitol. Various bills have been introduced this session that vilify this critical healthcare provider and attempt to block its funding. One of the more egregious bills is on a fast-track in the House and will be up for consideration in the next couple of days. House Bill 1090 would prohibit the Commonwealth from entering into contracts or making grants to comprehensive family planning centers across the Commonwealth.

Since 2000, Reagan National Airport (DCA) domestic passenger traffic has grown 46 percent.  Part of that growth has come at the expense of travelers that once flew through Dulles International Airport (IAD). At the same time that DCA, with its swiss cheese 1,250-mile ‘Perimeter Rule’ and federal landing slot restrictions, has been thriving, IAD traffic has been declining. DCA annual throughput actually surpassed IAD’s during the recovery from the Great Recession.

One of the more promising bills I introduced for the 2016 Session is HB 1029, establishing the Critical National Security Language Grant Program. Grants would be awarded to school divisions that provide foreign language courses in languages that are determined to be critical by the National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholarship Program (NSLI-YSP). Schools will receive $2,000 per student who successfully completes a critical foreign language course.

Happy New Year!  I write just days before we are sworn in for the 2016-17 General Assembly Session.  Governor McAuliffe introduced his first (and only under our system) biennial budget on December 17th.  It is the first budget in the Commonwealth’s history to exceed $100 billion, continuing his efforts to create a “New Virginia Economy.”  About 62 percent of the total comes from what are called “non-general funds” or from user fees and federal funds dedicated to certain purposes, like the gas tax for roads.

Two months ago, I attended the inaugural meeting of the WMATA Riders’ Union and immediately signed up to become “a card-carrying member.” In addition to Metro being a critical resource to the people of the 43rd District, I have a strong personal interest as one of the few Virginia elected officials that use Metro many times a week. The Riders’ Union is offering a new way for users of WMATA’s bus, rail, and MetroAccess services to express their concerns and advocate for specific policy changes.

Last month, I visited an extraordinary family supporting a child with Cystic Fibrosis to discuss their experience with Virginia’s Developmental Disability waiver, or so-called DD waiver.  Medicaid “waivers” refer to community supports that are life-saving to families with disabled children and do not want to see their loved ones institutionalized.  At least that is the history of the “waiver” terminology—a waiver from costly institutional care.