It is always an honor to be part of the oldest continuous legislative body in the western world. On Jan. 8, we began a new session with a new Administration. The session is always kicked off early in the morning (7 a.m.) with the annual Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast. In keeping with tradition, outgoing Governor McDonnell and incoming Governor McAuliffe and senior government officials attend. This year I had the honor of offering the prayer for State Legislators at the Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast. The breakfast also features guest speakers every year and everyone was moved by the powerful testimony of Thomas Haynesworth, a truly inspirational man, who was exonerated in 2011 after being wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years for crimes he did not commit. Mr. Haynesworth spoke of his faith sustaining him throughout this unjust ordeal.
Opening day is also the day that we file our legislation for the session. Some of the bills I filed include a bill to provide a new sexual and domestic violence subfund to consolidate resources for sexual and domestic violence victims and for prevention; legislation to increase our Research and Development tax credit to assist our high tech industry; legislation to provide more in-state spots for our college students; and legislation to allow local school boards to determine the start date of our schools. I also filed several bills to continue our efforts to battle human trafficking.
When Session officially convened at noon on Jan. 8, I had the honor of nominating the Hon. William J. Howell as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. The Speaker was unanimously re-elected. We also had 14 new members of the House of Delegates get sworn in with us on the first day of session.
In the evening of the first day of the session, the Governor presents his “State of the Commonwealth” speech. Governor McDonnell gave an overview of his proposed budget and a review of his Administration priorities and accomplishments. After the speech, again by tradition, the Governor invites all of the legislators to the Governor’s mansion where we had the opportunity to visit with members of Governor McDonnell’s cabinet — many of whom who were ending their service to the Commonwealth.
Thursday, Jan. 9 – Constituents Come to Richmond
In the opening days of the session, we also have many groups and constituents come to visit. Thursday was the annual Banker Day at the Capitol, and my office had the opportunity to meet with bankers from Capital One, Wells Fargo, and Chain Bridge Bank. We also had visits from Military Officers of America Association (MOAA), NASA, Canine Companions, who train companion dogs, child advocacy groups, local Chamber representatives, and the Richmond Justice Initiative which works with us on human trafficking issues.
Every year the Virginia Federation of Republican Women also has their annual Richmond day and all of our Republican legislators take the opportunity to visit and have lunch with their local club members who are visiting from around the Commonwealth. I had the opportunity to speak before the VFRW and greet many of our local members who came down for the day and to thank them for all they do.
Friday, Jan. 10 – Promoting Tech Industry
This year I am the new chairwoman of the Science and Technology Committee, so in the opening days I have been meeting with the committee staff to plan the committee’s work and review legislation that will come before the Committee. Del. Rich Anderson who was elected with me in 2009 and has served on the committee for four years with me, is serving as my vice-chairman on the committee. Given the importance of the tech industry to our local and state economy, it is a great privilege to work with the tech community on promoting this industry in our Commonwealth and work with the large group of talented entrepreneurs and experts in this field. I invite any and all of our tech entrepreneurs and leaders to contact us about how we can continue to keep Virginia on the cutting edge of technology at all levels. We also are fortunate in the General Assembly to work with the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC), of which I am a member. They represent the tech community and are among the best advocates in Richmond on promoting Virginia jobs.
Saturday, Jan. 11 – Governor’s Inauguration
I attended Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe’s Inauguration ceremony on Saturday as a member of the Inaugural Committee. A bipartisan group of members from the House and the Senate are appointed as the official inaugural committee. We served as an official escort and welcoming committee and also were able to visit with past Governors George Allen, Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, Gerald Baliles, Jim Gilmore, Doug Wilder and Bob McDonnell, as well as former President Bill Clinton and former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who joined the ceremony for Governor McAuliffe being sworn in as the 72nd Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. I particularly enjoyed visiting with good friends, George and Susan Allen, our former Governor and First Lady. As Governor Allen said at the inaugural, “Everyone, regardless of party, wishes the new governor well.”
Kudos to our General Assembly staff who did a great job moving everyone through the ceremony under extremely volatile weather conditions which they accommodated by providing blue and green rain ponchos that just about everyone used to avoid being soaked in the downpour that greeted us as we were escorted to our seats.
Monday, Jan. 12 – Emphasis on Cyber Security
Monday evening following the Inaugural, the new Governor had the opportunity for his first address to the General Assembly where he provided an overview of his priorities for the coming session.
At my first committee hearing as the newly appointed chairwoman of the House Science and Technology Committee I had the pleasure of welcoming the new Technology Secretary-elect, Karen Jackson, when she testified before my committee and outlined the Governor’s technology priorities. Karen served as the deputy secretary for the past four years and has worked with me on numerous technology issues including my telework bills, so it has been a smooth transition to continue working with her in this new leadership position.
At the top of the list for the department is the continued expansion of broadband into communities still lacking access to the Internet, including parts of Loudoun County. Secretary Jackson estimated that three percent of the Commonwealth still lacks access to this basic technology. Another topic Secretary Jackson emphasized was the need for more emphasis on Cyber Security to protect our businesses, consumer privacy, and government data.
Wrapping Up Opening Week – Addressing Human Trafficking
With many retiring members this past session we have other committees headed up by new chairman, including the Transportation Committee on which I serve where Del. Tom Rust, in our neighboring district, now serves as chairman. In the Transportation Committee we also heard from the new Secretary-elect.
In the House Commerce and Labor Committee, where I also serve, we heard from the new Secretary-elect of Commerce and Trade, Maurice A. Jones. During the interview, Secretary Jones reiterated that we need to diversify Virginia jobs and to keep Virginia #1 for jobs.
In the opening days we also had a press conference hosted by the Richmond Justice Initiative on our package of human trafficking bills. I have worked on a bipartisan basis with my colleagues at the General Assembly over the past four years to pass legislation which cracks down on this heinous crime. Human trafficking — modern day slavery — is a hidden crime that is happening across the Commonwealth and even in our own neighborhoods. In order to make an impact on this crime, we must work to identify this crime for what it is, and increase penalties on the demand side of this $32 billion industry. My bills, HB994 and HB1155 will continue our efforts to combat human trafficking in the Commonwealth.
I always appreciate hearing your concerns and encourage you to contact my office at any time during the session or after. I can be reached during the General Assembly session at 804-698-1034 or Del. Barbara Comstock, P.O. Box 6156, McLean, VA 22106 or you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also you can visit my website at www.DelegateComstock.com and sign up for “The Comstock Connection” and keep in touch. If you are in Richmond, you are also welcome to stop by our office at the General Assembly building in Room 407 in the General Assembly building.