The General Assembly officially adjourned “sine die” on Monday, March 1, wrapping up a high-pressure session which caps one of the most progressive, accomplishment-filled two year legislative cycles in Virginia’s history. It is hard to overstate what the new majorities in Virginia have accomplished, and how much more work is needed to create a fair, safe, and successful Commonwealth for all. This year I passed five bills, which are headed to the Governor’s desk, and one Constitutional Amendment, which will need to pass again next year before being approved by the voters. These include:
- SB1215 - Statutory Penalties for Unlawful Evictions.
In order to address the stunning number of illegal evictions which occurred during COVID-19, I worked with the Virginia Poverty Law Center and Delegate Sally Hudson to pass this bill to allow tenants to receive damages after an illegal eviction. The bill expedites the timeline in which hearings to remedy illegal evictions are heard, and allows for tenants to receive 4 months rent or $5,000, whichever is greater as well as reasonable attorney’s fees.
- SB1309 - Flood Water Assistance Funding.
At the request of the City of Alexandria, I passed a bill to allow localities to use their local flood water assistance for short-term, stop-gap projects to protect neighborhoods and homes from inland flooding, provided that the projects are in alignment with the localities long-term flood mitigation plan.
- SB1178 - Repealing the Genetic Counseling “Conscience Clause.”
At the request of a constituent, the ACLU, and NARAL Virginia, I introduced this bill to repeal a medically unnecessary and potentially harmful barrier to patient-centered-care for those seeking genetic counseling.
- SB1381 - Banning Guns in State Buildings and Capitol Square.
Working with Moms Demand Action, I passed a bill to codify a current state policy to ban firearms in state buildings and expand the ban to Richmond’s Capitol Square.
- SB1406 - Legalizing Adult Cannabis Use in 2024.
Eliminates penalties for personal possession of marijuana for those 21 and older in 2024 (it is currently a $25 fine under legislation I passed last year), creates a regulated adult-use market for cannabis centered on building wealth for those damaged by the prohibition, expunges certain criminal records for the possession of marijuana, and allows for resentencing and release of those convicted under the prohibition. Due to the short session and limited lead-up time, portions of this bill are subject to review this summer and a second vote next year.
- SJR270 - Same Gender Marriage Ban Repeal.
Repeals the now inoperable ban on same sex marriage in the Virginia Constitution and replaces it with an affirmative right to marry regardless of gender. The amendment must be passed again next year and then by the voters in order to go into effect.
Democrats passed additional legislation critical to moving Virginia forward, including:
• SB1197, Locke, establishes the housing opportunity tax credit, which will help more low-income families obtain and maintain stable housing.
• SB1387, Boysko/Lopez, requires higher education institutions to consider undocumented immigrants who qualify for in-state tuition to similarly qualify for any available financial aid and other educational benefits.
• HB2040, Hudson, strengthens protections for persons receiving unemployment benefits.
• SB1469, Barker/Herring, creates the Opioid Abatement Authority, which will be in charge of distributing funds received from lawsuit settlements, court orders, and other agreements to communities affected by the opioid crisis.
• SB1165, Surovell/Mullin, abolishes the death penalty.
• SB1261, Edwards, provides more judges on the Court of Appeals so Virginians can exercise their constitutional right to a speedy trial, as well as providing all cases with an appellate process.
• HB1992, Murphy, removes the ability for convicted domestic abusers to own or purchase firearms for 3 years after conviction.
• SJ272, Locke/Herring, restores voting rights to persons convicted of a felony once their sentence has been completed. The resolution will need to pass the 2022 General Assembly, then will head to a voter referendum.
• SB1252, McPike, ends new coal tax credits on January 1, 2022.
• HB1965, Bagby, establishes low emission and zero emission standards for vehicles starting in model year 2025.
All this work, and so much more was accomplished in a hectic six weeks. This year has been exceptionally challenging for everyone, with so many long-established inequities laid bare, and novel strains on our government and society. Even in this climate, we made bold strides forward, and will continue to listen to those we serve to do better, and root out those issues still yet uncovered and unaddressed in our Commonwealth.