Opinion: Commentary: Bringing Virginia into the Light

Opinion: Commentary: Bringing Virginia into the Light

Abolishing the death penalty, steps to end Jim-Crow era ban on felony voting and more recent ban on gay marriage

The last week of the 2021 General Assembly Session has arrived and it will prove to be an exciting time with many big issues on the agenda.

In even years, the process of amending the Constitution of Virginia typically begins. Sen. Adam Ebbin and Del. Mark Sickles’ legislation repealing the 2006 gay marriage ban from our constitution will have a final vote. We are also negotiating an amendment to remove Virginia’s Jim Crow Era felony voting prohibition from the Constitution and replacing it with an affirmative right to vote.

We will also be taking up my legislation abolishing capital punishment on Monday.

This past week we announced our agreement on my legislation to reform Virginia’s expungement and rules prohibiting the sealing of criminal convictions. Virginia is one of only nine states in America that do not allow people to seal misdemeanor convictions and one of only fourteen that do not allow the sealing of felony convictions.

My legislation creates a process for most misdemeanors and felonies, allows access to records for sensitive positions, and also reduces barriers to accessing the process by providing court-appointed counsel. It reduces procedural hurdles, and creates a process for automatic expungement after seven years of good behavior of alcohol or marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, trespassing, and petit larceny. Importantly, the bill also creates a registry for private data brokers and liability for companies who continue to publish information relating to sealed convictions.

My proposal to provide all Virginians with a right of appeal in all civil and criminal cases was finally docketed and taken up in the House of Delegates. Virginia is the only state in America that does not provide this right and providing it will require seven new judges on the Court of Appeals. I am hopeful that the details will be resolved by the end of the week.

The House of Delegates passed my legislation to help give Fairfax County more authority to protect River Farm. My legislation makes it clear that the County can restrict subdivision and require public access as part of any historic zoning district over River Farm. I am hopeful that Chairman Jeff McKay and Supervisor Dan Storck can convince their colleagues to utilize this authority to help ensure River Farm remains preserved and open to the public in perpetuity.

The House rejected my legislation to allow class action lawsuits in Virginia. Virginia and Mississippi are the only two states in America without this remedy which helps to level the playing field between large corporations and citizens, but some members refused to consider the bill.

A House Committee also killed my bill to allow local governments to request information about a company’s history of arbitrating sexual harassment, racial discrimination and consumer complaints before entering into contracts with bidders. Companies are using these practices to hide shameful behavior from the public and companies who choose to allow their employees to litigate these matters in court are at a strategic disadvantage. I will try again next year.

The negotiations to work on marijuana legalization will start this week. Senator Adam Ebbin is carrying the legislation, Delegate Paul Krizek spent significant time vetting the legislation. The Senate has taken the position that we need more time to study the bill to get legalization done correctly while the House of Delegates would like to move forward this year. We have a large chasm to bridge.

Finally, our money committee leadership will work to resolve our competing budgets. Last week, Governor Northam announced that revenues were $750 million higher than expected, but still $3 billion lower when the budgets were originally built before the pandemic.

Please email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any difficulty obtaining a vaccine appointment, and complete my constituent survey at www.scottsurovell.org/survey. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.