A year of wins for Virginia

Published 9:52 pm Thursday, January 7, 2016

By Sen. Tim Kaine

As my colleagues and I prepare for another session of Congress this year, I have been thinking back on what I had hoped to accomplish for Virginians at beginning of 2015 — education reform, long-term transportation funding, a congressional role in shaping our country’s foreign policy and a budget that supported Virginia’s families and businesses were among my top priorities.

I’m pleased that we were able to address these issues in a significant way in 2015, and I’ll continue to advocate for policies that benefit Virginians in 2016.

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As a member of the Armed Services Committee, last year I worked to ensure provisions that protect our shipbuilding and ship repair industry and modernize facilities at vital military installations across Virginia were included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016.

I also advocated for provisions that will help Virginians in the end-of-the-year appropriations package, otherwise known as the “omnibus” bill. A bipartisan budget deal passed in October helped pave the way for this legislation, which rolls back some of the most harmful sequester cuts and provides desperately needed budgetary certainty across many sectors.

In addition, the bill made important changes to the Visa Waiver Program that will help keep us safe and extended a number of important tax credits that Virginians rely on, including the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.

Congress also finally came together to pass a long-term transportation bill last year, returning $6.2 billion in federal transportation funding to Virginia over the next five years. This package also included provisions I advocated with Sen. Mark Warner to strengthen federal safety oversight authority over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, require federal members of the WMATA board to be appointed by the Department of Transportation and create a new investment source for assets like the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

Another highlight of 2015 was the opportunity to work on the new education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act. In addition to decreasing the emphasis on standardized testing and giving states the flexibility to close achievement gaps, ESSA allows elementary and secondary schools to use education funds for instruction and training on safe relationship behavior among students.

I drafted this piece of the bill, because I believe it will help prevent sexual assault, not just on college campuses, but for all young people. Additionally, ESSA includes measures I proposed to improve access to K-12 career and technical education programs.

CTE is an important pathway for Virginia students to prepare for the workforce by integrating practical lessons with work-based knowledge and a hands-on learning experience.

I was also pleased to play a role in preventing a nuclear Iran by co-authoring the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and ultimately allowed for a thorough and constructive review of the deal in Congress.

In the end, I concluded that the Iran deal was a dramatic improvement over the status quo that will improve global security. The agreement takes a nuclear weapons program that was on the verge of success and disables it for many years through peaceful diplomatic means with sufficient tools for the international community to verify whether Iran is meeting its commitments.

Going forward, we must remain vigilant in monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities, including ballistic missile tests, which may violate the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Should Iran ever go back on its unequivocal pledges, this deal will make it easier to gain international support for military action.

In the coming year, I look forward to continuing my push for Congress to formally authorize the war against ISIL, fighting the devastating opioid epidemic, and urging congressional action to curb gun violence. The accomplishments of 2015 have shown me that, through bipartisan compromise and collaboration with my Virginia colleagues, 2016 can be another year full of wins for Virginia.

Tim Kaine is a U.S. senator from Virginia. He was governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010 and chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2009 to 2011.