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From the Front Row: Kaye Kory’s Richmond Report

By Kaye Kory

Published by the Falls Church News-Press on November 11, 2015

I thank the voters and volunteers who together have allowed me to continue to serve as Delegate from the 38th District. I look forward to working with you in the 2016 and 2017 General Assembly sessions. Representing you in the House of Delegates is an honor and a privilege.

After a brief few days of relative calm following last week’s Virginia state and local elections, the annual push to draft and build support for the next session’s legislative agenda kicked into gear for both current and prospective members of the 2016 General Assembly. Prior to the start of the session in mid-January, Senators and Delegates will focus on preparing legislation to sponsor in the upcoming session. Legislators begin to request drafts in earnest from the General Assembly’s Division of Legislative Services, drafts of bills which can be filed from Monday November 16th through the first few days of the 2016 session. Legislative Services provides legislators with non-partisan expertise and research assistance in drafting legislation that reflects the intent of the sponsor and does not duplicate or conflict with the existing Code of Virginia.

Ideas for new legislation surface throughout the year as a result of interactions with individual constituents, constituent groups, local officials, lobbyists affiliated with private for profit and not-for-profit enterprises, as well as fellow legislators. Additionally, the Governor and his administration and the many Boards and Commissions of the Commonwealth formulate legislative priorities and work with particular legislators who they believe can effectively “carry” their proposed bills in the upcoming session.

Another important source of legislative ideas are specialized legislative caucuses that comprise groups of legislators who share a common policy interest and who meet prior to and/or during the legislative session to share ideas, formulate strategies and monitor progress of legislation that impacts common priorities. For example, I have been an active member and am now House Chair of the Women’s Reproductive Healthcare Caucus since I joined the General Assembly in 2009. Members of this group are interested in ensuring that all Virginia women have access to high quality reproductive healthcare such as women’s health screening, contraception and family planning services.

As the Delegate representing the 38th House District,one of Virginia’s most diverse districts, last year I received a significant, though not entirely unexpected, increase in the number of constituent questions regarding matters related to immigrant status. President Obama’s DACA initiative which opened welcome educational and employment opportunities for large numbers of “Dreamers,” was a major topic, as were social services and driving privileges.

In response to this complex array of related problems, I founded a new legislative caucus aptly titled the New Americans Caucus. Membership includes legislators and representatives of external stakeholder groups in the Commonwealth. We meet regularly with staff members from both the Governor’s and Attorney General’s offices, as well as from key state agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. Participating state advocacy groups include the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Legal Aid Justice Center, Virginia New Majority, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the Commonwealth Institute and the Virginia Catholic Conference, Catholic Charities and the Sacred Heart Center. The purpose of our Caucus is to assess problems facing the Commonwealth’s international immigrant population and work to achieve practical, cost-justified legislative solutions that will improve the quality of life,and health and safety of these new Americans.

Recently, 20 Caucus members met in Richmond to consider the special issue of driving privileges for immigrants. Currently, twelve states and the District of Columbia grant driving privileges to immigrants who do not have legal resident status. An argument in favor of this policy is one of public safety due to increased driver education, driving regulation and insurance requirements enforcement in a population that will likely drive with or without the required permits. Of course, facilitating employment is another major result of implementing this policy.

We all know that Virginia does not extend driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. Less well-known is the fact that Virginia refuses to grant driving privileges to many legal resident immigrants. One group denied driving privileges is that of asylum seekers who have submitted documentation to Federal Immigration authorities, but because of extended processing waiting times of a year or more do not have completed paperwork. While it is unlikely that Virginia will soon embrace expanding our driving population by including undocumented immigrants, we cannot justify denying driving privileges to those legally residing here in less controversial circumstances. Business and advocacy organizations can support changes like this on the basis of economic benefit alone.

This is but one opportunity we have to easily improve the quality of life and productivity of Virginia’s large and growing immigrant population.