Opinion: Commentary: Arriving at Crossover with Many Bills Moving in Virginia

Opinion: Commentary: Arriving at Crossover with Many Bills Moving in Virginia

Driver privilege, minimum wage, class action lawsuits, marijuana decriminalization...

The sixth week of the General Assembly brought us to “crossover” – the day each chamber is required to cease work on their own bills and work on bills from the other chamber.

The last two days brought furious action on many major bills. Forty-three of my own bills crossed over to the House of Delegates. Last week, the Senate passed my legislation creating driver privilege cards for undocumented immigrants for the first time and on a bipartisan basis. We still have work to do in order to reconcile the House and Senate bills, but it will change the lives of over 100,000 Virginia residents.

We also passed my legislation authorizing state-level class action lawsuits. Forty-eight other states and the District of Columbia already allow similar lawsuits. The lack of such remedies in Virginia means that corporations can steal money from Virginians in smaller amounts and never face justice.

The Senate also approved my bill allowing people to expunge evictions that have been dismissed. Companies have begun to collect and disseminate eviction records to landlords and the existence of multiple dismissed and unfounded eviction cases can present a barrier to property rental. My bill will allow people to clear unfounded lawsuits from their third party data files.

We also passed my bill to create the Virginia Efficient and Resilient Buildings Board. It requires each state agency to designate an energy manager to monitor and reduce energy consumption over time. Energy efficiency is America’s cheapest energy resource to access and I appreciate the collaboration with my constituent Elizabeth Beardsley and the United States Green Buildings Council who brought this concept to my attention.

The Senate also approved my bill I am carrying with Del. Kathleen Murphy to create two hundred $4,000 college scholarships for children in families who receive Temporary Need for Families (TANF). The bill has passed the Senate four times but always dies in the House. This year will be different.

Beyond my own bills, we took action on majority legislation. Sen. Adam Ebbin’s marijuana decriminalization bill passed with a large bipartisan majority. The bill is not perfect, but an appropriate first step as we move towards legalization.

I helped to negotiate the Senate’s proposed minimum wage increase. The bill increases the state minimum wage to $9.50/hour starting January 1, 2021. The wage then increases $1/hour per year starting July 1, 2022 until it reaches $15/hour and then increases with the Consumer Price Index. Other parts of Virginia would be divided into Wage Regions and the wage increased on a basis relative to their Median Family Income compared with Northern Virginia. We also created an exemption for training employees and students employed part-time while in college or high school. The House approach is much different and must be reconciled.

Both chambers passed legislation allowing collective bargaining by public employees, ending Virginia’s ban on project labor agreements, and allowing localities to require prevailing wages to be paid in public contracts. We also passed legislation creating private actions for worker misclassification, employer retaliation for reporting illegal conduct, and wage theft.

On the energy front, we passed bills endorsing a renewable energy portfolio standard or mandate that utilities shift to renewable energy by certain deadlines. We created a framework to authorize a $2 billion investment in offshore wind that will make Virginia and Hampton Roads a national leader in technology deployment.

We also passed legislation to officially join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) also known as “Reggie.” Joining this compact will give the Commonwealth greater flexibility in reducing carbon emissions and net the Commonwealth $100 million per year in revenue given the progress we have made this far relative to other compact states.

We also passed Senator Adam Ebbin’s legislation authorizing a statewide tax on plastic bags of $0.05 per bag. It only applies to bags in grocery, convenience, and drug stores, but not restaurants. The monies will go to the General Fund and retailers will be allowed to keep $0.02 of the tax to defray the costs of collection.

Each chambers’ proposed budgets will come out before this goes to print and we will also begin work on legislation from the opposite chamber and the state budget. Please send me any feedback at scott@scottsurovell.org.