The Privileges and Elections Committee is the oldest in the nearly 400 year history of the General Assembly. It’s hard to believe that I have the honor to serve on the same committee where George Washington served during his first year in the House of Burgesses. Voting forges an essential connection between citizens and their representatives; the integrity of elections grants government legitimacy and is central to democracy. As the 2018 session nears its midpoint, I would like to share some highlights of election laws that we have considered.
In coordination with voter registrars, electoral boards, and former Governor Terry McAuliffe’s administration, I introduced eight pieces of legislation to make our election process more accessible and efficient. An interim joint committee will be established to consider a large volume of legislation regarding election reform in the wake of several incidents arising in the 2017 election and to consider the implementation of no-excuse absentee voting. Five of my bills were referred to this interim committee including SB602, introduced at the request of former Governor McAuliffe, which would make it easier for voters to cast an absentee ballot. Currently, a voter must present one of 20 valid excuses to vote with an in-person or mail-in absentee ballot. My bill would eliminate the need for an excuse, allowing all eligible voters to use this option.
Senator Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier), the chair of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, has asked me to serve on the interim committee. It will meet after the conclusion of our current session and before the General Assembly convenes in 2019. I look forward to an in-depth review of more than a dozen bills and seeking potential solutions to the 2017 irregularities in House District 28. During that election, around 650 voters, more than the margin of victory, were given the wrong ballot in a precinct split among legislative districts. 55 additional mail-in absentee ballots were left uncounted because of a disputed point of law. Voters were unquestionably denied the right to vote.
I co-sponsored legislation introduced by Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax) to remedy the issue of ‘split precincts.’ Our bill has been rolled into SB983, introduced by Mark Obenshein (R-Rockingham), and with bipartisan support hopefully we can remedy the errors that disenfranchised so many people in HD 28. We need to correct inefficiencies for our poll workers, safeguard the integrity of our elections, and facilitate and encourage the participation of more citizens in the democratic process.
As I write this, two of my most important bills await consideration in the Senate Education and Health Committee. The first, SB918, focuses on allowing professionals to keep their licenses while paying off student loans – in Virginia it is permissible to strip medical practitioners, nurses, or even dental hygienists of their license for falling behind on student loans. Under my bill, all professionals would be allowed to keep their licenses so they have the means to pay off their loans. The second bill, SB605, represents an effort to align Virginia law with federal regulations. This legislation seeks to combat sexual abuse in public and private schools by prohibiting accused employees from being recommended and passed off to another school, until those accusations are properly investigated or dismissed. Laws against “passing the trash” only exist in five states, and Virginia should step up and become a leader in combating sexual misconduct.
As we adjourned last week, Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City County) praised the pace at which the Senate has been able to consider legislation over the first four weeks. I have presented all but four of my twenty-nine bills to the relevant committees. In both the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee and General Laws and Technology Committee we have completed our docket of legislation, and have only five bills left to consider in the Privileges and Elections Committee.
It is my continued honor to serve the people of the 30th District,
Adam P. Ebbin
Member, Virginia Senate
Virginia Senator Adam P. Ebbin took office in January 2012 after serving for eight years in the House of Delegates. Adam represents 200,000 residents of the 30th Senate District who reside in portions of Arlington, Alexandria and parts of Fairfax County’s Mount Vernon and Lee Magisterial Districts. As a leader in the General Assembly, Adam has fought to advance progressive priorities, including preventing gun violence, making it easier to vote, and fighting for equality for all Virginians.
For more information about Senator Ebbin, visit AdamEbbin.com