Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Friday night we adjourned Sine Die - the official close of the 2015 General Assembly session. After going into extra innings last year, I was happy that we wrapped up business one day early.
This year we passed a number of significant initiatives, including legislation to better combat campus sexual assault (HB1930), reform ethics laws for elected officials (HB2070), establish a Northern Virginia Veteran Care Center (HB1276), strengthen daycare licensure requirements (HB1570), tighten guidelines for when a student may be secluded or restrained (HB1443), establish additional ways for a student to demonstrate mastery of a subject other than the standard 140 hours of classroom time (HB1675), allow for the operation of transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft (HB1662), and change the transportation funding formula to provide more resources to our long-neglected urban secondary roads (HB1887). I was pleased to get a shout-out by the Governor for my bill to establish a Virginia Solar Energy Development Authority. Overall, 1,919 bills were introduced this year, with 800 passing the General Assembly and now before the Governor for his consideration.
Privacy Expectation and Afterlife Choices Act
Nationally, there has been a debate over what happens to electronic communications, such as postings and photos on Facebook or email messages, when a person dies or is incapacitated. Two years ago, I pushed successful legislation to ensure that the parents of a deceased child have access to this information. The bill was in response to a tragic situation where a 15-year-old child committed suicide and the parents were denied access to their son's Facebook account.
While there was broad agreement that a parent should be able to access the account of a minor child, the task of addressing what to do about an adult's electronic communications is much more complicated. Not only is there a heightened expectation of privacy in the digital world (as opposed to physical items that may be stored in a desk drawer), there is also the issue of shared accounts and the fact that email exchanges involve more than one individual. At the same time, access to some information can be critical to the process of managing the estate of the deceased or allowing loved-ones to recover digital photos or other personal items.
Senate Bill 1450, which passed the General Assembly on Friday, attempts to establish a framework for balancing these competing issues. The bill sets up a three-tiered system. The parents of a minor always have the ability to access the entire contents of the child's electronic communications. For adults, access to the entire contents is only granted if a will or setting chosen by the deceased expressly authorizes release. However, the record of a communication (the date, subject line, and to/from line) can be released provided that a will or setting doesn't expressly prohibit such release. In both cases, there are protections in place to ensure that third parties are notified and provide authorization for a release, or that their personal information is redacted.
I expect that we will be making amendments to this legislation for years to come as new technologies arise and service providers implement programs that more easily allow users to identify how they want to handle end-of-life privacy decisions.
On Thursday, we adopted final amendments to Virginia's biennial budget. While the budget did not include everything I wanted, it included a number of important initiatives that I felt deserved my support. It is important to note that while healthier than expected revenue forecasts allowed us to roll-back some cuts and make strategic investments in core services - this budget still represents a decrease from the budget adopted last June. Here are just a few of the highlights:
- Holds the line on further cuts to K-12 public education and includes $52.9 million for the state's share of a salary increase for teachers and support positions.
- Provides a 2% across-the-board salary increase for all state employees and state-supported local employees.
- Includes $5 million for research and economic development efforts at state universities.
- Targets compensation increases for 19 high-turn over job classes.
- Sets aside $129 million to replenish the Rainy Day Fund.
- Reduces the unfunded liability for the State Employee Retirement Plan.
- Provides $150 million for mental health services to 21,600 individuals.
- Increases funding for various health safety net programs (including restoring $750,000 for community-based brain injury services and $400,000 for Northern Virginia Family Services).
- Restores $41.5 million in previous cuts to higher education.
- Increases water quality and land conservation funding by $21 million.
- Eliminates the $30 million cut in funding to local governments.
- Restores some cuts to early childhood education.
- Provides $8 million for housing issues, including $500,000 targeted to reducing homelessness among veterans.
Summary of My Legislation
This year I was pleased to introduce 15 bills. Nine of these passed, with several others being referred to various commissions for further study. I have put a summary of my initiatives and how each fared on my website.
Thank you again to everyone who emailed and visited during the session. Now that I am back in Fairfax full-time, I am happy to attend civic association/homeowner association meetings to provide an overview of legislation and to take questions.