April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month, created to help raise awareness about preventing sexual assault. It is important for Virginians to know about the bipartisan efforts underway on their behalf, by their elected leaders, to combat sexual assault and violence in the two places it is most prevalent: at home and on college campuses. Safe families, neighborhoods, communities and college campuses are very important to the health of our commonwealth.
The General Assembly passed more than 40 pieces of legislation aimed at combating sexual assault and domestic violence in the last 10 years. This year, the House of Delegates focused on cracking down on repeat, chronic and habitual offenders. We passed legislation to toughen penalties for repeat misdemeanor offenses and made it a felony to violate a protective order while possessing a firearm.
The two-year budget the Assembly passed in March includes $2 million in grants and funding that will support 16 new full-time employees at Virginia’s 60 agencies that deal with sexual and domestic violence. The funding will support 16 new full-time employees at Virginia’s 60 agencies that deal with sexual and domestic violence to provide more and much-needed emergency shelter and housing, crisis medical services, trauma counseling and legal support to women in need. This $2 million comes on the heels of $3.1 million in new funding provided by the General Assembly during the previous budget cycle.
In 2015, the General Assembly passed historic, first-in-the-nation legislation to address campus sexual assault. We passed three major pieces of legislation- Delegate Massie’s HB 1785 requires campus police officers to notify commonwealth’s attorneys within 48 hours of beginning an investigation into a felony criminal sexual assault. Delegate Bell’s HB 1930 requires universities to commit to maintaining services for victims, assisting victims in finding these services and finally defining how university employees must deal with information they receive about sexual assaults. Senator Norment’s SB 1193 requires universities to notate the transcripts of individuals who commit sexual assault.
The Appomattox National Historical Park is celebrating its 151st year this month. Grant funding received by the Appomattox 1865 Foundation last fall paid for ground-penetrating radar to investigate a possible slave cemetery by the Raine family monument in the national park. With this radar, 61 new graves have been found and will be added to the luminaries that will glow this month in the remembrance of the 4,600 enslaved residents of Appomattox. For a complete schedule of Appomattox Court House National Historical Park 151st Anniversary of the Surrender events, visit www.appomattox1865foundation.org.
Last week the Governor announced another veto of a bill to prevent state money from going to Planned Parenthood and other women’s health care providers. Delegate Ben Cline introduced HB1090, which pertains to the Department of Health and restrictions on expenditure of funds related to abortions and family planning services. The bill also prioritizes the types of entities that the Department of Health contract with or provide grants to for family planning services. This bill was written with Planned Parenthood in mind but its money reprioritization could affect other health care providers.
The Senate passed Cline’s bill 21 to 19 along party lines. It is my hope that the House and Senate will override the Governor’s veto during the Reconvened Session.
To keep track and to see a full listing of all legislation and the actions taken on each individual bill, please visit: www.lis.virginia.gov. The General Assembly will reconvene on April 20th to consider the Governor’s vetoes.
If you have any concerns, questions, comments or issues that I or my Aide, Jenna, can help you with, please contact us at (434)821-5929 or email at Delmfariss@house.virginia.gov. Also, if you would like me to meet with your business or group to update you on any matters of the 2016 session, please call my office and we would be glad to do so.