These past few weeks have been some of the most difficult in many of our lifetimes. Here in the Commonwealth, the challenging times have impacted our families and forever changed us all. For weeks on end, our lives have been inundated and changed by COVID-19. I hope that you and yours are well and are staying safe. The sacrifices we are making by staying home are essential to our effort to keep everyone safe and healthy. Please note that I am ready to help if you require assistance or help. Also, on my website, we have a dedicated page with COVID related resources at the state and local level ready for you to access.

I want to update you on some of the major accomplishments we have made during this year's General Assembly session, including some of my own legislative accomplishments. I am very proud of the progress that we have made this session in the new majority, and it continues to be the honor of a lifetime to serve our community and represent the 51st District.

 

A NEW BUDGET FOR A NEW VIRGINIA

One of the biggest priorities we had when we began our legislative session in January was creating a budget that reflected Virginia entering the new decade. Some of the new funding initiatives from this $135 billion budget (HB 30) include $300 million for increasing teacher pay in both years of the budget, $76 million for the cost of the minimum wage increase for state employees, and $21 million for increasing Medicaid Developmental Disability Waiver rates, which in part came from a budget amendment I carried this year.

However, because of the effect the pandemic has had on our economy, both in the present and in the future, we had to alter our budget when we met for our reconvened session on April 22nd. Based on the Governor’s recommendations, we put a freeze on some of the new spending initiatives such as pay raises for state employees. Keep in mind that these initiatives are not cancelled, just temporarily frozen until we meet again. We will have a better sense of our revenue and the situation the pandemic has put our economy in, and can adjust our budget where necessary.

 

VOTING RIGHTS

I am honored that HB 201 has been signed into law!  This legislation brings same day voting registration to the Commonwealth and will be enacted by 2022. This bill passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support.  Virginia was ranked 49th out of 50 states in difficulty to vote.  Now, Virginia is the first southern state to offer same day voter registration, removing barriers to the ballot box.

HB 1 has also passed with bipartisan partisan support. HB 1 establishes no excuse absentee voting, which means that Virginia voters can vote absentee in person or by mail for any reason. Virginia voters shouldn’t need an excuse to vote absentee, and it is great that these changes are coming to the Commonwealth.

The General Assembly passed automatic voter registration this session too. This means that everyone will be automatically registered to vote as soon as they turn 18 years old unless they opt out. One of the best things we can do to increase voter turnout is encourage young people to make a habit of voting. HB 235, the bill that enables automatic voter registration helps accomplish that.  

HB 207 creates a permanent vote-by-mail program. This would provide a special application for any voter to receive an absentee ballot in all elections that they are eligible to vote in. This program has shown to increase voter participation in other states like Oregon, so I am looking forward to its implementation in Virginia. 

 

ENVIRONMENT

I was so proud to carry two major environmental bills this year: HB 1641 and HB 1642HB 1641 would require utilities that own or operate a coal ash pond to complete a survey of drinking water wells within 1.5 miles of these ponds by Oct. 1st, 2020 and to notify residents about the survey. Its companion bill, HB 1642, would require utilities to test the water quality near coal ash ponds. If the water does not meet certain standards, the utility would take the necessary steps to provide alternative water supplies. Both of these bills passed with broad bipartisan support in the House and the Senate. These bills are major steps to ensure clean water in our Commonwealth! 

HB 1526, the Virginia Clean Economy Act, is a major milestone for the Commonwealth as we make advancement for environmental justice. The Virginia Clean Economy Act creates a plan to reach zero carbon emissions by 2045. It aggressively expands Virginia’s offshore wind, solar, and makes Virginia greener while placing safeguards for businesses. I am proud to have co-patroned this major piece of legislation!

 

CYBERSECURITY

This session I introduced and passed HB 852, which will establish a standard training program for all state employees to detect, assess, and address information security threats. Currently there is no mandated cybersecurity training program for our state employees, so this bill goes a long way to strengthen the Commonwealth’s cybersecurity infrastructure.

HB 955 was my bill that requires the operator of a digital service, like Facebook, to allow minors to request to remove content or information posted on the digital service permanently. This bill also prohibits a digital service from directly targeting or advertising products that minors are prohibited from buying. As a cyber-security specialist, I know the importance of keeping our communities safe, which is why I also introduced HB 956, a bill to the floor that would have required companies to give notification when a data breach has occurred. This would directly impact companies that create and connect more than 500 devices that connect to the Internet and collect personal information. Think of a GPS, fitbit, alarm system, or even your heating register within your home – these can be hacked without your knowledge. Currently for these devices, there is no law in place that requires companies or manufacturers to report when their products are breached, or if their collected data is compromised. This bill would require companies that create said products to follow current state data breach notification criteria and to properly dispose of personal data collected. This would carry a penalty if they should fail to report a breach. I am committed to protecting consumers from unseen threats in the cyber-space we utilize daily. These bills were sent to a study with a few other cybersecurity and privacy bills.

 

EQUALITY IN OUR COMMONWEALTH

The General Assembly passed HB 1663, the Virginia Values Act.  The Virginia Values Act finally codifies protections for our LGBTQ+ community in housing and employment. Additionally, HB 581 created a LGBTQ+ cultural competency class for all new state employees, which will help train employees to be sensitive. These are major strides for LGBTQ+ equality in our Commonwealth. 

 

WOMEN’S RIGHTS

Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment is a bipartisan issue, with the support of over 80% of Virginians, and it was far past time for our voices to finally be heard. I have been working to ratify the ERA since 2008, and that is why it was meaningful that this session I was the Chief Co-Patron of the ERA with Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy. The ERA passed the House and the Senate with broad bipartisan support. 

HB 980, passed the house this session which increases access to women’s reproductive rights in our Commonwealth. Protecting choice is a top priority for me, which is why I was proud to support its passage.

 

ECONOMY THAT WORKS FOR ALL FAMILIES

HB 789, a piece of legislation I co-patroned this session, will eliminate predatory lending practices that disproportionately affect minorities. HB 789 limits the interest rate lenders can charge on payday loans and prohibits the collection of fees that exceeds half of the original loan amount. The passage of this bill means that marginalized Virginians will not be preyed upon. 

HB 582 was one of many pieces of historic workers’ rights bills that passed this year.  HB 582 enacted collective bargaining for all public employees, repealing a 2013. I was proud to co-patron this bill and stand up for public employees in the General Assembly. Virginia will now be the 48th state to allow their public employees to unionize. 

I was also proud to carry HB 775, a bill that would authorize Virginia529 to study how the Commonwealth could implement a program that would ensure access to retirement plans to all Virginian workers. They will report their findings back to the General Assembly in the end of the year, after which I hope to introduce a bill next session that would create such a program.

 

A PERSONAL NOTE

I want to hear from you! I would like to know what recommendations or suggestions you may have, whether you have a concern or an idea for legislation. Your voice is an integral part of the 51st  District’s well-being and betterment. The best way to connect with me is through my office phone number at (804) 698-1051 or by email at DelHAyala@house.virginia.gov. Please be sure to sign up for our newsletter at ayalafordelegate.com.

In closing, I am proud to fight for our district every day in Richmond, and honored to represent you. If you ever need anything, or you just want to stop by to see me, please do not hesitate to reach out.

 

Sincerely,

Hala Ayala

Member, Virginia House of Delegates Fifty-First District