Week 1 General Assembly Session Update

Dear Robert —

   We are almost one week into the 2018 General Assembly Session and it has been a productive one thus far.


The Senate of Virginia began with the same 40 senators on Wednesday of this past week.  All 40 senators are in the same seats and are members of the same committees on which they served last year.  That is about the only thing that hasn’t changed in Capitol Square since we concluded the 2017 session.


The House of Delegates is very different than it was last year.  They have a new Speaker, Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights, who was elected on the opening day of session.  And, they have 19 new delegates.  Of those new delegates, 16 are Democrats and 3 are Republicans, and the House’s partisan balance is now 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats.  That’s a lot closer to the 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats in the Senate.


The opening day of session concluded with Governor McAuliffe delivering his final State of the Commonwealth Address.  We heard two speeches from newly-elected Governor Northam.  He delivered his Inaugural Address after taking the oath of office on Saturday and on Monday, he addressed a joint session of the House and Senate, outlining his plans and priorities for the 2018 session. I was disappointed in the tone of his speech before our body - I was hoping for a more bipartisan approach as we seek to enact substantive reforms this Session.


Despite the closer margins in the House and the start of a new Governor and new Democrat administration, I will continue here in the Senate to work with my conservative colleagues to prioritize legislative issues that will make life better for Virginians. I continue to serve as Chair of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and on Monday, we began to hear bills in committee. I was dismayed to see that the outside influences of Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group, among others, continues to make significant attempts here in Virginia to push through overburdensome gun control laws. On Monday we got off to a fast start. We heard dozens of new bills that would impose new restrictions on law abiding Virginians to keep and bear arms. Together with a majority of my colleagues, I was proud to have stood up for our Second Amendment rights.

Education reform is one of the most pressing issues in which I believe. We have children in our district and around the Commonwealth who are trapped in failing school divisions. We must do more to ensure that every child has an opportunity to receive a quality education. That is why I have proposed a bill to create regional charter school divisions. The charter school model, allowing for more autonomy and innovation in the administration and the classroom, has been successful in states around our nation, both Red and Blue. I have listened to opponents and have carefully drafted the bill so that it will focus on regions with truly failing schools. However, we have met opposition, even to this model. We have just nine charter schools that serve 2,000 students. If we are serious about providing a lifeline for children and parents in failing school divisions then that has to change. I hope that our new governor, along with my colleagues in the Senate and the House, will join me in passing and signing this important piece of legislation.


Voter fraud is another issue of great importance to me. I have proposed Senate Bill 523, which establishes electronic pollbooks that contain photographs of voters. This commonsense piece of legislation will encourage cross-agency collaboration by requiring pollbooks to contain photographs of registered voters that are a part of voter photo identification cards or a voter’s Department of Motor Vehicles record. This will make the system more efficient but more importantly will improve the integrity of our voter system. If there is a photo from a state approved database, then a voter is not required to show another form of ID. Additionally, I have proposed Senate Bill 521, wherein local electoral boards are required to investigate the list of registered voters if the number of registered voters exceeds the population of voting age citizens in that locality. It makes no sense to me that in some localities, the number of registered voters actually exceeds the number of eligible voting age citizens. I hope this bill will improve our system by requiring an investigation when there are more registered voters than individuals of voting age.


In addition, I am working on a number of initiatives to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion on Interstate 81. This interstate has been overlooked for too long by state legislators and administrations alike. We must make substantive reforms to ensure that drivers can travel on this critically important interstate safely and efficiently. One bill I have proposed directs the Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program establishing zones where trucks are required to travel only in the right lane. Ideally, these zones will allow the left lane to remain clear for passing vehicles, directly reducing congestion and keeping traffic flowing. This bill, by establishing the pilot program, is a part of a bigger effort and emphasis on improving Interstate 81. More on I-81 later.


To see the full list of over 20 bills I have patroned, please click here.


As bills begin to make it out of committee and onto the floor of the respective houses of the General Assembly, I promise to continue to fight with my fellow conservatives in the House and Senate to protect those beliefs for which I have always fought.


Each week, I will be sharing with you updates on the session and my legislative initiatives which I hope will continue to make life better for my constituents in the Shenandoah Valley. We have a new building here in Richmond while they tear down and build a new GAB. We are housed in the Pocahontas Building for the next four years and we’re settling in nicely here. If you are in Richmond during General Assembly, please stop by our new office, Room 502 on the 5th Floor – East Side. If you have issues you would like to discuss or if you would like to arrange a tour, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 804-698-7526 or email me at mark@markobenshain.com. My legislative aide, Jenni Aulgur, and I stand ready to assist you in any way we can.


Best regards,

           Mark Obenshain


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