Opinion: Commentary: 2020 Virginia Legislature to Consider Many Reforms

Opinion: Commentary: 2020 Virginia Legislature to Consider Many Reforms

Will sweeping change come to Virginia in 2020?

Election Day, Nov. 5, 2019, brought a political earthquake to Virginia. The Governor’s office, House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia will be controlled by Democrats for the first time since 1991. Virginians voted for change and we are likely to see significant changes in Virginia policy after nearly 30 years of delayed and avoided actions. The 2020 Session is a welcomed opportunity to bring Virginia up to speed with the rest of the country. Your state legislators are now preparing for the 2020 General Assembly session which will begin on January 8 and end in March.

People should expect to see funding for education at all levels prioritized. Virginia’s teacher salaries have dropped from the top third in the country to the bottom third over the last three decades. This hurts teacher recruitment and retention and ultimately the quality of education. We will work for progress toward universal preschool. Virginia’s state-supported colleges now have some of the highest tuition rates in the United States. I expect the legislature to work toward lowering tuition.

Voting reforms will be high on the agenda, including expanding early voting. I will work to move state and local elections to even years, but that may take time and requires a state constitutional change.

Virginia’s criminal justice system is unnecessarily punitive, has significant racial disparities and falls short on rehabilitation. We will likely revisit Virginia’s still low misdemeanor-felony threshold of $500, along with measures to increase diversion, promote expungement and second chances and reconsider mandatory minimum sentences.

We will move the long-overdue Equal Rights Act ratification early in the session. The legislature will also put Roe v. Wade into law to protect against the U.S. Supreme Court going backwards. We are also likely to revisit Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound requirement for women exercising their constitutional reproductive rights.

Several groups have ranked Virginia as the worst state in which to be an employee. The General Assembly will consider raising the minimum wage to $15 phased in over time. We will also address measures to strengthen workers’ rights, including eliminating the ban on project labor agreements in public contracts, requiring a prevailing wage in public contracts and measures to provide real remedies to employees who experience wage theft.

Virginia has a recent history of hostility to people in our lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered (LGBT community). We will be considering measures to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment against LGBT Virginians and prohibiting the misguided practice of conversion therapy.

Virginia’s newest residents have also been unfairly demonized over the last two decades. My legislation to provide one-year driver’s privilege cards to certain undocumented immigrants will finally receive serious consideration along with in-state tuition privileges for Virginia children brought to the United States as minors.

The legislature will give serious attention to investments in wind and solar energy, including incentives to make it easier and more affordable for Virginians to install solar panels on their own homes. We will also likely consider mandating renewable energy targets for the entire state. These measures will help reduce polluting, carbon-based, greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet at unsustainable rates.

The General Assembly will finally truly take on predatory lending. Online lenders who charge 400% interest rates and hide behind out-of-state Native American tribes will face regulation. Car title lenders who currently charge 267% interest rates authorized by Virginia law will likely face lower rates.

Many of these changes will require additional resources. Virginia should not have repealed its estate tax in 2008. The repeal only affected about 50-100 families per year and has cost taxpayers nearly $2 billion since it was done. Virginia’s income tax is effectively a flat tax given that our top bracket is a $17,500.

Considering all of these changes will not be easy and will require significant time, focus and consideration. Public support is critical and feedback from constituents is important to make sure the General Assembly gets these proposals right.

As we work toward fulfilling our commitments to voters and prioritizing policies, I look forward to your comments and encourage you to reach out to me at scott@scottsurovell.org. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.