Opinion: Commentary: 296 Bills Passed in the Senate Now Move to the House

Opinion: Commentary: 296 Bills Passed in the Senate Now Move to the House

Last Friday, Feb. 5, the General Assembly reached “Crossover” the point where all bills must have passed their house of origin to continue on their legislative journey. For my part I was glad to pass seven of the nine bills I introduced and a Constitutional Amendment, all but one on a bipartisan vote, out of the Senate.

By a unanimous vote the Senate approved legislation I introduced for the City of Alexandria to give localities enhanced ability to fund short-term flood mitigation measures. This will allow the city, and other localities, to fund projects to protect homes and neighborhoods from the shocking increase in inland flooding we have experienced over the last few years. By a vote of 27-12 the Senate approved my legislation to give Virginia's illegal eviction statute statutory teeth, addressing a major concern during COVID-19 of evictions being carried out, without the court's approval, against low-income residents. By a vote of 24-14 I was able to pass legislation, brought to me by a constituent, to remove an unnecessary barrier to patient-centered-care from Virginia’s genetic counseling licensure program.

My legislation to create a regulated adult use market for cannabis passed 23 to 15 but is expected to have continued changes as we reconcile differences between the House proposal and the Senates.

On the last day before Crossover, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee took up a number of potential amendments to the Constitution of Virginia. In order to be adopted, these amendments must pass this year and then again after this fall’s election in order to be sent to the voters for their consideration.

As sometimes happens, I was called on to chair the committee when Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) presented a bill in another committee. That opportunity gave me the pleasure of presiding over one of the most important votes I believe the committee will take this year: approving Senator Mamie Locke’s (D-Hampton) constitutional amendment to end felony disenfranchisement. Virginia is one of four states where a person loses their right to vote entirely after they are convicted of a felony-level offense. This disenfranchisement is a lasting vestige of the “lost-cause” of white supremacy. Added to Virginia’s Constitution in 1902, the practice of disenfranchising criminals was leveraged as one of the most powerful and pernicious tools of Jim Crow. At the Constitutional Convention a number of barriers to the ballot box for Black Virginians were enacted, with purpose and conviction, effectively ending the right to vote for Black Virginians within two years of its enactment. Many barriers were later stripped away during the Civil Rights Era, but felony disenfranchisement has persisted. Though we have taken many steps to reform our criminal justice system in the two years since Democrats took the majority in Richmond, the fact remains that proportionately there are many more Black Virginians with felony convictions than any other race. As long as the right to vote is tied to criminal history, it will have the effect that the drafters of the 1902 Constitution intended: racially motivated voter suppression.

Sen. Locke’s Amendment went on to pass the full Senate.

I also carried two Constitutional Amendments to the Senate floor which I have been working on for several years. SJ271, which allows a Governor to run for two consecutive terms, provoked extended floor debate, but ultimately failed. Currently Virginia is the only state which does not allow their Governor to run for consecutive terms. I believe this hampers government accountability, continuity in planning, long term budgetary decisions, and limits the benefits of experienced and talented Governors.

I was glad to pass SJ270, which begins the important process of repealing the stain on our state Constitution of the now inoperative ban on same-sex marriage, enacted in 2006, and replacing it with an affirmative right to marry regardless of gender. Though the US Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality in 2014, removing this now defunct ban from our Constitution is important both in affirming our values and ensuring protections against any actions by the current far-right Supreme Court. If the amendment is approved next year, and by the voters, it would make Virginia the second state in the nation to enact an affirmative right to marriage. Virginia is not often a leader on social justice or equality, but I am proud that in this case, we are blazing a trail not just in the south, but nationwide.

The Senate has passed a total of 296 bills to the House, and we will receive 416 for review. Among those passed were a ban on the death penalty in Virginia, strengthened protections against workplace harassment, expanded access to healthcare, and tax credits to increase affordable housing development.

It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District.