Opinion: Commentary: Virginia Legislature Moves Quickly on Equal Rights, Gun Violence Prevention

Opinion: Commentary: Virginia Legislature Moves Quickly on Equal Rights, Gun Violence Prevention

The second week of the General Assembly Session put us at the center of American history. We moved several long-delayed, legislative priorities.

On Wednesday, both the Senate and the House passed resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to make Virginia the 38th and final state to ratify the Constitutional amendment. The Senate has passed the resolution at least six times in past years, but the House of Delegates has never approved it. Ratification will hopefully bring equal rights to 160 million women in America and attention will now shift to the U. S. Congress.

Congress can abolish or extend the 1982 ratification deadline they previously set. I was proud to carry this legislation every year since 2012 and even during years when few people were paying attention. Virginia is finally on the right side of history for the first time in about 150 years.

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which I serve, had its first meeting and we immediately addressed firearm violence prevention. We considered, modified and passed four bills, three of which the full Senate passed later in the week and one of which was continued for final vote this Tuesday.

The Senate passed legislation reinstating Virginia’s one handgun per month law. This became law in 1993 and Virginia became the primary source for most guns confiscated from criminal activity in New York City. The legislature repealed it in 2012 after a sustained campaign by the National Rifle Association. Under the current bill, people who possess Virginia concealed weapons permits would be exempt from the law.

We also passed legislation requiring the seller of all firearms to undergo a criminal background check. Today, people making all purchases from federally-licensed firearm dealers must undergo these checks, but individuals who are unable to purchase or possess firearms, such as felons or people convicted of domestic assault can illegally purchase firearms by purchasing them from private individuals. The original legislation also applied to firearms transfers with some exceptions, but several members of our caucus were concerned we would unintentionally criminalize some hunting activities so we removed that provision.

The Senate also approved my bill to give local governments more authority over firearms and combined it with four other bills. The final bill would allow local governments to prohibit firearms in public buildings, public parks and at locally-permitted events if restrictions are properly posted. This was a major priority for me after the violent events in Charlottesville and men carrying AR-15 rifles at the Alexandria Farmers Market “to educate the public about their Second Amendment rights.” Virginia already authorizes localities to regulate firearms in some circumstances, so I did not see this as a major extension of existing law.

The Judiciary Committee passed so-called “red flag” legislation. The bill that the Senate will vote on on Thursday will allow a magistrate to enter an order requiring people to surrender their guns if it is shown that they are a threat to themselves or other persons because of their firearms. No order can be issued without a law enforcement investigation and individuals must be given a chance to voluntarily surrender their weapons before law enforcement can involuntarily seize them. The law also provides for a second hearing for the person to contest the allegation after full discovery. I expect the Senate to pass this bill soon.

The Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee passed my legislation prohibiting duck hunting blinds on Little Hunting Creek, Great Hunting Creek and Dogue Creek.

My bill to create a Public Defender’s Office in Prince William County passed out of committee unanimously.

The Senate Health and Education Committee approved my bill to prohibit providing “conversion therapy” to minors, along with my bill to eliminate the terms “husband” and “wife” from our divorce law to be replaced with the word “spouse.”

I have posted my 2020 Constituent Survey online at http://scottsurovell.org/2020-constituent-survey/. Please complete it so I can hear from you about important issues this session, my legislation or anything else you would like to communicate.

You can also reach me at scott@scottsurovell.org. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.