This last year has been called “historic” and “unprecedented". Most of the use of these adjectives was pejorative and used in the negative, referring to the various crises our nation has faced and continues to face. Today, I write using these two words in the positive to describe the many important actions Virginia has taken in this session. Indeed, upon this session’s conclusion, Virginia will very likely lead the south in the legalization of recreational marijuana, the abolition of the death penalty, and enhancing LGBTQ+ protections. These and our other legislative victories are unprecedented and historic, and they will make the lives of Virginians safer, more equitable, and even more fun.
The resolution to amend sections of the Virginia Constitution regarding the prohibition of same-sex marriage that is in direct conflict with current federal constitutional law has passed the House, and will likely receive bipartisan support in the Senate. This bill is mostly symbolic, as same-sex marriage is legal federally due to the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, but this will fix the bigoted language that was put into the Virginia Constitution just 15 years ago. It will still need to pass again next year and then go to a referendum as do all proposed amendments to the Virginia Constitution.
Virginia is second only to Texas in the number of prisoners executed since 1976. Executions are incredibly expensive, do not deter violent crime, and are disproportionately carried out on black and brown men. There have been many executions nationwide of innocent people who were convicted before the widespread use of DNA evidence that could have been used to exonerate them. Abolition of the death penalty will not bring back the lives lost, but it will place Virginia on the right side of morality and save the Commonwealth millions of dollars in court costs.
On Monday, we voted to move the rest of the legislation, including the budget bill, to be considered in the special session. Even with the seven bill cap on legislation introduced on both sides, we could not get through all of them before the original 30-day deadline. I am grateful Governor Northam called for the special session that began last Wednesday because now we can give these bills the full consideration, discussion and deliberation that they, and the public, deserve.
The legislation I introduced has fared well this session — six of my seven bills have made it from the House floor to the Senate. Almost all passed the House with bipartisan support, some overwhelmingly so. All these bills have either passed the Senate or are before Senate committees. My staff and I have worked hard to meet with stakeholders and constituents to perfect these bills, and I look forward to working with the Senate to pass legislation to protect firefighters and pollinators, save taxpayer money, improve upon last year’s casino legislation, and increase opportunities for working Virginians.
In addition, several pieces of legislation I am a Chief Copatron on have passed through the General Assembly and are on their way to the Governor’s desk. These include Del. David Bulova’s resolution HJ 527 to establish a workgroup to study the sale and use of invasive plant species in the Commonwealth, and Del. Jones’ HB 2207 which establishes that Covid-19 causing the death or disability of firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, law-enforcement officers, and correctional officers is an occupational disease compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act.
Many of my proposed budget amendments made it into the House version of the budget including $2 million to assist in the purchase of River Farm, $1 million to increase enforcement of unlawful direct shipment of alcoholic beverages into Virginia, funding for the Department of Environmental Quality for a field test of the effectiveness of certain plantings to remove road salt from impervious surface stormwater runoff, and supporting Del. Mark Sickles’ leadership to bring $500,000 from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families block grant for our local charity, United Community. Public parks improve the lives of the people who live near them, and I believe that the historic River Farm needs to be protected for the public good. Unlicensed alcohol shipments negatively impact lawful Virginia businesses and reduce the Commonwealth’s tax revenue from these products. Groundwater quality impacts the health of the environment and the public. I hope that the Senate will agree that these amendments will make life better for all Virginians and that they make it into the final budget.