Commentary: Busy Times in General Assembly

Commentary: Busy Times in General Assembly

The second week of the General Assembly is now in the books.

First, the Senate of Virginia passed a resolution ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for the sixth time by a vote of 26-14 which is the largest margin ever. Seven Republican senators joined all 19 Democratic senators to pass the resolution. The fight moves on to the House this week which historically has refused to even hold a hearing.

This year is different. In 2018, the states of Nevada and Illinois ratified the ERA which leaves the amendment one state short from ratification. While the Supreme Court has not expressly upheld Congress’ power to set a ratification deadline, lower courts have held that Congress can set the terms of ratification which also means that Congress can extend the deadline or accept ratifications after the deadline has run. Legislation is pending in Congress to do that and this is an opportunity to put Virginia on the right side of history for the first time in probably 200 years. Stay tuned.

The Senate also passed legislation to prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) Virginians in housing and prohibitions on discrimination in public employment. These bills will go on to the House where they have not passed in prior sessions.

We also passed legislation prohibiting public employers from inquiring about job applicants’ criminal histories prior to granting an interview. These bills are called “Ban the Box” bills. They do not prohibit criminal background checks once an employer has decided to give someone a job. Many people just need a chance to prove themselves instead of getting screened out before they are even interviewed.

The legislation I am carrying for Governor Northam on coal ash was heard by the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. The bill prohibits Dominion’s proposed “cap in place” proposal which would involve storing coal ash in existing, leaky ponds. It would require Dominion to either recycle the coal ash or place it into a modern lined landfill. It also requires local input, the use of local labor with decent benefits, and the minimization of truck traffic.

The bill was referred to the Finance Committee after a last minute request. Other coal ash bills are being vetted in other committees and they will all probably converge on the Finance Committee just before the session midpoint. Billions of dollars are at stake.

Next week, my bills will start to be heard including nine bills alone on Monday. I am also looking forward to the seven students from West Potomac High School and Hayfield Secondary School who were selected to participate in this year’s Puller Institute are visiting Sunday through Tuesday.

Unfortunately, there has been no movement on conforming our tax system to the new federal definitions creates by last year’s federal tax reform. That leaves the state currently unable to either publish or process tax returns. I am not sure why the media is not discussing the situation, but many Virginians will be unhappy to learn that they cannot file tax returns on Feb. 1.

The coming weeks will be extremely busy. Please come visit me in Richmond, email me your views about legislation at or stop by one of my town halls. Last week, I hosted town hall meetings in Mount Vernon, Lee District, and Montclair. This weekend, I am hosting town hall meetings in Woodbridge and Stafford on Sunday. You can find more information on my website or Facebook page.

It is an honor to serve as your state senator.