Opinion: Commentary: Down to the Wire: Conference Committees

Opinion: Commentary: Down to the Wire: Conference Committees

Saturday, March 7th, was the date we planned to end this year’s session, formally known as “Sine Die”. However, session was extended this year in order to accommodate the extensive outstanding work we still have before us as a body. We worked long hours over the weekend to come to a final agreement on legislation like the minimum wage increase, which will go to $9.50 on Jan. 1, 2021, and to finish our critical budget work. Indeed, we will be returning to Richmond on Thursday, March 12th, to take our final vote on the budget.

I am proud of the work that the General Assembly has accomplished this session. We have made extraordinary progress for Virginians in every corner of the Commonwealth. House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said, “Women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, low-income families, and other marginalized communities will have laws that recognize and respect them more than ever before in the Commonwealth’s history.” Take a look at the list below for highlights of the successes this session:

Passed common-sense gun safety legislation.

Ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, making Virginia the 38th and final state needed to complete the ratification process.

Restored reproductive rights by rolling back some of the most harmful medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion access in Virginia.

Repealed racially discriminatory laws still in Virginia code allowing school segregation and housing discrimination, as well as restrictions on African Americans relating to public transportation, medical care, public documents, and public facilities.

Passed numerous bills to protect the environment and fight climate change.

Expanded voting rights with different measures to grant Virginians more accessibility and flexibility to cast their ballots.

Raised the minimum wage for the first time in over a decade to help working families and the most financially vulnerable Virginians.

Enacted discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

Fought predatory short-term loan practices by capping the interest and fees that may be charged for a short-term loan.

Dissolved ban on collective bargaining for public employees.

Removed the criminal penalty for simple marijuana possession.

The Governor has already signed close to 200 of these critical pieces of legislation into law. April 6th is the deadline for Governor Northam to act on the legislation we have passed.

By Friday afternoon, the vast majority of our work had been completed. However, our most difficult challenges remained: resolving the differences between similar bills passed by the House and the Senate. These bills were sent to conference committees, which are small legislative panels that typically consist of three legislators from each chamber. These groups decided the final forms of the bills before them. These agreements could have been the form favored by the Senate, the form preferred by the House, or a combination of both. The conference committees then presented their reports on the bills, and a final vote was taken before it was sent to the Governor for him to sign into law, amend, or veto.

I was assigned to 11 conference committees. These included some of my own bills where the House and Senate worked out differences, as well as bills that went through my ABC/Gaming subcommittee, and some critical labor bills. I’ve outlined these conference bills below:

HB 4 and its Senate cognate SB 36 will decide the regulation and control of future casino gaming in Virginia.

HB 220 is my bill which will require prepaid postage on absentee ballot return envelopes.

HB 395 and its Senate cognate SB 7 will determine the increase and implementation schedule of the minimum wage.

My bill HB 1424 and its Senate cognate SB 407 will establish the Virginia Revolutionary 250th Anniversary Commission.

HB 533 will prohibit expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) food service containers. My bill HB 1046 was incorporated into HB 533 earlier this session.

HB 582 and SB 939 will allow collective bargaining for Virginia’s public employees.

SB 481 concerns paid sick leave for workers.