RTD Story Misses a Key Point

When I’m in session, I rely on the Richmond Times-Dispatch which is the daily media for Virginia politics.  It always has the inside dope.

Today, I picked up my usual copy at 6:00 a.m. at the Robinson Street Starbucks.  The front page headline was “Panel OK’s mandatory reporting of sexual assault.”

I read, with some surprise, that a Senate subcommittee of “five white men” (one being yours truly) had passed legislation which requires “employees of public universities and colleges” to report sexual assaults to police within 24 hours — despite the objections of student advocates.

The article accurately noted that the subcommittee panel recommended SB 712, which consolidated four “mandatory reporting” bills (including two carried by Democrats, Saslaw and Deeds).  However, the story essentially buried a critical detail:

The substitute version of SB 712 EXEMPTED “crisis counselors” and “sexual assault coordinators” from its reporting requirements.

In other words, if a young woman has an issue or potential complaint and meets with an on-campus counselor, that is a confidential discussion and neither party is legally required to go to the police or prosecutors.

That exemption was done yesterday morning (at the request of myself and Sen. Cosgrove) in response to the testimony we received from young women.  In some cases, this was public testimony — or private calls and emails.

That’s not to say that SB 712 is perfect.  As I stated yesterday in the subcommittee, I felt that the bill of Sen. Favola (D-Arlington) was a better vehicle on this issue for a number of reasons.  One, it’s a more holistic approach.  Two, she’s a woman.

Also, the subcommittee process is confusing.  We had two hours of testimony on this issue last week and then essentially “amended” the bill yesterday in another hearing, which was public but had no testimony.  Now the bill goes to the Courts committee, which will amend it further.

Having said all that, the RTD really dropped the ball by going with the easy headline and burying the issue of the exemptions, which took up nearly all our panel discussion both last week and yesterday.

[BTW, it seems like the Post story on "mandatory reporting" also missed this point.]

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Yes, Virginia, Size Does Matter

Today was a really good day for our legislative staff.

We got two major pieces of legislation through the demanding Senate Courts committee:  SB 891 (strengthening the rights of subcontractors to collect through mechanic’s liens) and SB 892 (ensuring that “Good Samaritans” who report overdose situations will not be prosecuted for misdemeanors).

Later in the afternoon, in Senate General Laws, we got a significant piece of legislation passed unanimously, SB 1008, or “the Homeowner Bill of Rights” which codifies a number of important rights for HOA and condo members.  If it actually passes the full Assembly, it will be one of the first pro-consumer measures to be added to the State Code since I joined in 2001.

For my last trick — at the witching hour of 5:00 p.m — I presented SB 885, which redefines “small business” in Virginia so that it actually reflects small businesses.

What do I mean?

The current law in Virginia defines small business as one with under 25o employees or $10 million in revenue.  That pretty much counts everyone.  The Secretary of Commerce estimated that over 90% of Virginia employees work for such a business.

Because the state law is so over-inclusive, the “small business” set asides in our state programs are taken up by companies which are not small businesses — some have $30 million in annual revenue.  (Remember that being under either threshold qualifies you).  That effectively cuts out the smaller-cap companies.

As one witness stated:  Yes, Virginia, size does matter.

My bill, SB 885, simply sought to change the “or” in the law to “and,” therefore halving the number of eligible businesses.  A number of groups, including the administration, spoke for the proposal.  The business lobby pushed back, and so the bill was eventually deferred by General Laws to next week to find a potential common ground.

Regardless, it was a very good day.  I’m headed to the AFL-CIO reception at the Marriott in a few minutes, then a late night work-out at the YMCA.  Size does matter.

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Press Release: Sen. Petersen’s “Good Samaritan” Overdose Bill Passes Senate Courts Committee

RICHMOND, Va. – Senator Chap Petersen’s (D-Fairfax) bill to protect “Good Samaritans” who call 911 to report drug overdoses has passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee in a unanimous vote.

Petersen’s legislation, SB 892, would provide an affirmative defense for individuals who take responsible measures to report an overdose, remain at the scene of the overdose until emergency services arrive, and identify themselves to the responding officer.

The legislation does not protect those who commit acts of violence, felonies, or distribute drugs.

SB 892 was brought to Senator Petersen’s attention by Professor Gerard Lawson of Virginia Tech and was supported in Committee by a coalition of organizations and individuals impacted by drug overdoses.

Statement of Senator Petersen:

“‘Good Samaritans’ who call 911 to report a drug overdose should have legal protections. I personally believe that this bill, if enacted, will save lives. I’m glad the Senate Courts of Justice Committee supports this bill.”

Statement of Professor Gerard Lawson:

“We are thrilled that the Senate Courts of Justice Committee saw the wisdom in this bill, and voted overwhelmingly to report it on to the full Senate. We are one step closer to a common sense law to save lives in Virginia. ”

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