Opinion: Commentary: State Legislature’s Recent Session Was Consequential

Opinion: Commentary: State Legislature’s Recent Session Was Consequential

My legislation abolishing capital punishment was one of the most daunting and rewarding bills I have ever sponsored.

The 2021 General Assembly session has ended until we reconvene in April to consider any vetoes by Gov. Ralph Northam. This session was a consequential one. In this column, I will report on some of the bills that I passed. In future columns, I will report on other major legislation passed and then the budget.

I introduced 12 bills and 12 budget amendments this session. The Senate passed 10 bills, and eight of my bills are awaiting Gov. Northam’s signature.

My legislation abolishing capital punishment was one of the most daunting and rewarding bills I have ever sponsored. Working with my colleagues to secure 21 votes to pass it in the Senate without having to make compromises was a challenge, but it was necessary to avoid causing additional harm to our system. Through the process, no opponent answered why it is morally justifiable for the government to kill one innocent person for every nine guilty people, which is what most studies show.

Both houses passed my legislation modernizing Virginia’s criminal records expungement and sealing system. Today, Virginia is one of nine states that does not allow sealing of misdemeanor convictions and one of 14 that does not allow sealing of felony convictions after a period of good behavior. Our reforms will give 1.6 million Virginians the opportunity to move beyond their past and support their families after paying their dues and following the law.

I carried two bills specific to the 36th District. One bill will give the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors the ability to prevent subdividing the land at River Farm and require the property owner to continue to provide public access as part of a future historic zoning overlay district. Enid Haupt gave $1 million to the American Horticultural Society to buy River Farm and keep it open to the public. This law will force the owners to keep their promises.

Senate Bill 1385 enhances Fairfax County’s authority to enact a tax on electricity to raise the funds to underground utilities in the U.S. 1 corridor and the remainder of Fairfax County. Several Board of Supervisors members told me that it is important to prevent utility undergrounding projects from competing with schools and parks for funding. This bill achieves that goal.

One in four residents of the 36th District was born in another country and one in four is Latino. Senate Bill 1181 harmonizes state and federal law regarding Special Immigrant Juvenile Status which gives legal status to abused, abandoned or neglected children. My bill allows children to obtain findings in state courts up until age 21 instead of age 18, as current law provides.

Another bill, Senate Bill 1468 creates a structure for immigrant crime victims, human trafficking victims and their families to apply for certifications from local law enforcement officials to obtain visas from the Federal Government. Some Virginia law enforcement officers refuse to provide these certifications or delay issuing them to leverage victims.

I passed legislation raising Virginia’s auto insurance minimum policy limits for the first time since 1974. Virginia’s limits will match Maryland’s starting January 1, 2022, and then move to $50,000 on January 1, 2025. If these limits had kept up with regular inflation, they would be at $125,000 or $220,000 if you use medical inflation. In Europe, the minimum insurance policy is one million Euros. This legislation will ensure that if someone is in a collision, their property is damaged or if they are hurt, the person at fault will be more likely to pay instead of your own insurance.

Four of my bills did not pass, but I will try again in the next session. I am most disappointed that my legislation to allow class action lawsuits did not succeed. It has now died in the House of Delegate twice. Virginia and Mississippi are the only two states in the US that do not allow class actions.

It is an honor to serve as your state senator.