The 2020 General Assembly finished work on all legislation this past Sunday, except we did not pass a final state budget or elect new judges to fill vacancies. We will return to Richmond on Thursday, March 13, to complete that work and adjourn for this year.
This was my most successful session in passing bills in my eleven years in the General Assembly. The legislature sent 39 of my bills to Governor Ralph Northam. We carried over nine bills and referred them to study commissions. The legislature also carried over my legislation to abolish the death penalty to be potentially considered over the summer.
I will highlight some of the other major bills we passed and discuss more bills and the budget in future columns.
I carried a bill with Norfolk Delegate Jay Jones to authorize Virginia to join 20 other states that allow community net metering for electricity. This bill, which passed both chambers with large bipartisan majorities, opens the door to solar energy for Virginians who live in communities with heavy tree cover, apartments, condominiums or for businesses that do not own their roofs. It will enable them to purchase solar power and net the energy against their home meters, while reducing carbon-generated energy usage and purchasing a share of the energy generated by a solar project.
Both bodies sent my bill banning hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas east of Interstate 95 to Governor Northam for signature. Both chambers also finalized my legislation requiring each state agency to designate an energy manager and energy reduction goals to help coordinate a reduction in energy usage by state agencies. Thank you to my constituent Elizabeth Beardsley with the Green Buildings Council for the concept.
The House also passed my bill to authorize the State Corporation Commission to approve 2,700 megawatts of energy storage, enough to power 2.7 million homes. As we transition to a clean energy economy, we must also develop technology for night-time storage of energy generated during the day. This requires significant advances in energy storage. My legislation is a first step.
Virginia will become the seventeenth state plus the District of Columbia to authorize temporary driver privilege cards for undocumented immigrants. The legislation I carried with Senator Jennifer Boysko and Delegate Kathy Tran passed with a bipartisan vote in both chambers. It will pay for itself and likely generate significant long-term benefits for taxpayers, in addition to simply fostering a better quality of life for our newest Virginians and their families. This legislation is projected to help about 240,000 drivers plus their children.
The Majority Leader asked me to help negotiate the final minimum wage legislation with Mount Vernon Delegate Paul Krizek as members of the joint, six-person conference committee. The final bill raises Virginia’s minimum wage to $9.50 per hour effective January 1 and up to $12.50 by January 1, 2023 in annual $1/hr steps. The wage can rise to $15.00 per hour in 2026 with an additional vote, narrows exemptions for disabled individuals while preserving exemptions for high school and seasonal workers. The bill also requires various agencies to conduct a study to determine whether Virginia should enact regional minimum wage rates before moving wages to $15/hour. A $15-per-hour wage would be nearly 90 percent of median family income in nearly two dozen Virginia localities.
My legislation to authorize Fairfax and Arlington Counties to adopt ordinances to address retailers who fail to control their shopping carts passed both bodies with bipartisan majorities. I have now removed over 230 shopping carts from Little Hunting Creek itself since 2014. Residents in Springfield and Crystal City also reached out to me about their ongoing challenges when they heard of our problems in Hybla Valley. Local governments will now be able to act.
The House approved my bill to allow people to expunge public records relating to dismissed evictions. There are over 200,000 dismissed eviction cases in Virginia each year. Since most tenant application screenings are now done by automation and most algorithms do not distinguish between dismissed evictions and actual evictions, this will help potential tenants to clear their records.
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