Now that the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have completed work on all bills from each chamber, each chamber has begun work on bills from the other chamber. Some of the more difficult bills met their fate last week.
It appears that both houses will approve around 20 of my bills which I will discuss in a future column. This column focuses on several of my bills that the House of Delegates rejected.
In the aftermath of last year’s Dobbs decision, we must do everything we can to protect Virginia women and healthcare providers from prosecution for exercising their reproductive healthcare rights. Virginia is likely to become a sanctuary for women seeking reproductive healthcare due to our geographic position and existing laws. My legislation would prohibit the extradition of Virginia medical professionals who provide reproductive healthcare to other states. It failed on a party-line vote.
I also sought to allow Virginia women to sue any company that sells or provides access to their personal reproductive healthcare information such as their menstrual data or location history derived from phone use that can be used to determine if they have visited a reproductive healthcare clinic. None is covered by state or federal healthcare privacy laws. My bill would have effectively ended the dissemination of this information for monetization or use in prosecution. The Senate approved my bill on a bipartisan vote, but a House committee killed it on a party-line vote.
The same House committee also rejected my legislation to clarify Virginia’s emergency protection order or “red flag law.” Red flag laws permit a court to order the temporary removal of firearms from people that may be a danger to others or themselves. These laws have reduced suicide by 9-14% in adopting states, but these laws do nothing if they are not used. About 60 of Virginia’s 140 jurisdictions saw little to no use of the law. After the Senate approved my legislation on a bipartisan vote, a House committee defeated it.
In 2020, former Governor Ralph Northam’s comptroller advised state agencies to redact the names of all state employees using their official employment credit cards for paying for things like hotels and restaurants. I crafted a bill with the Virginia Coalition for Open Government to end redaction of this information so Virginians can see the names of state employees who spend taxpayer dollars. The Senate passed my bill unanimously, but a House subcommittee killed it on a party-line vote.
I also carried two bills to make shared solar energy more available. Shared solar allows consumers and small businesses to purchase access to a solar farm and net the energy produced by the farm against their home electricity bill. This allows people to have access to solar if they cannot construct panels on their own roofs due to tree cover, homeowners’ association rules or financial constraints or because they do not own their roof.
In 2020, I passed legislation authorizing a shared solar program in Dominion Power territory, but Virginia’s State Corporation Commission set a minimum bill amount to cover a share of costs of using the legacy or traditional system, but failed to fully consider the benefits of solar, such as climate change mitigation, better air quality, fewer service outages and grid upgrades. My second bill would have created a new program in Southwest and Southside Virginia. The House rejected both bills on party-line votes after the Senate passed them with large bipartisan majorities.
Finally, the COVID pandemic taught us how critical and exposed our healthcare and grocery store workers are in their jobs serving us every day. Recent polls show that 81% of Virginians support sick leave for all workers. Our front-line workers deserve it more than anyone. When frontline workers are regularly exposed to viruses and get sick, they are forced to choose between getting paid and getting better and many have no choice but to work sick. A modest sick leave benefit would help everyone. A House committee killed my bill on a party line vote.
This week, both chambers will act on some of the toughest bills filed in this session and legislators will conduct negotiations on final budget amendments before we adjourn this Saturday.
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