Opinion: Commentary: Virginia General Assembly Session Wrap-Up 2020

Opinion: Commentary: Virginia General Assembly Session Wrap-Up 2020

The General Assembly session that adjourned last week was a busy one; 3,001 bills and resolutions were introduced, and 1,351 of those passed. But the historic nature of the session was not in the number of bills introduced: it was in the shift in philosophy governing the state that went from conservative to progressive. The Associated Press termed it “one of the most consequential sessions in Virginia’s history.”

Some of the more noteworthy bills that passed are summarized below. I voted for them unless otherwise noted.

The General Assembly ratified the Equal Right Amendment after about 40 years of refusing to do so. Virginia is the 38th state to ratify the ERA; federal courts will decide if the amendment was ratified within the deadline set for it.

Numerous laws that had been put in place over the last several decades to make it difficult for a woman to have access to an abortion were repealed including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and ultrasound testing. Dozens of Jim Crow era laws that limited the rights of Black people were removed from the code as they had been declared unconstitutional by federal courts years ago. Local governments were given authority to determine the fate of Confederate monuments in their jurisdictions.

The Virginia Values Act prohibits discrimination in housing and employment for all persons. My bill to bring protections of the hate crime law to all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity passed as did other bills to prohibit LGBTQ discrimination. Conversion therapy on minors is banned under a new law.

Major bills passed to make voting easier. No-excuse absentee voting passed, and election day will now be a holiday. Repeal of the photo ID requirement for voting passed.

The environment received extra attention. The Clean Energy Act sets Virginia on course to be carbon neutral by 2045 as well setting timelines on the move to wind and solar power and the use of more renewables. My bill to clean up the Chesapeake Bay with more nutrient management of agricultural run-off passed as did my bill to manage the menhaden fishery as an important part of the ecology of the Bay.

Seven of the eight bills to end gun violence proposed by Governor Northam passed including my bill to establish universal background checks for all firearm purchases. Other bills to limit handgun purchases to one a month passed as did a bill to limit gun possession for persons who are the subject of a restrictive order for violent behavior.

The biggest step in decades towards transportation improvements passed. The additional gas tax raised by the bill will provide monies necessary to improve the roads in the state as well as provide monies for mass transit and rail. A bill to ban holding a cell phone while driving passed. No longer will driver’s licenses be suspended for unpaid court fees and fines under a bill that passed. Undocumented immigrants will be able to get a driver’s license.

For workers, the minimum wage will be going up from its current $7.25 to $9.50 this year and to $12 in three years. My bill to raise the minimum wage at a greater level was incorporated into the bill that passed. A bill to allow collective bargaining between local governments and their employees passed.

Balance billing for hospital and medical costs are eliminated by another bill that passed. A Virginia health insurance exchange will be established to replace the federal one.

I voted against a bill that passed that allows five cities to have a referendum on casino gambling. I voted for a bill that will ban thousands of slot-machine-like games of skills in restaurants and stores.

Possession of a small amount of marijuana has been decriminalized. As part of legislation to end the school-to-prison pipeline, a bill passed to prohibit students from being found guilty of disorderly conduct for actions in school.

A constitutional amendment to have a 16-member panel of legislators and citizens redraw legislative and congressional district lines passed for a second time and will be on the ballot for voter approval in November.

A $135 billion biennial budget provides more money for pre-school education, raises for teachers and state employees, more school counselors, more developmental disability waiver slots, free community college for certain eligible students, among other improvements.

For more information on bills summarized here and on other legislation passed, go to https://lis.virginia.gov/. Most bills have not been signed by the Governor but are expected to be.