Thursday, March 19, 2020

What a difference a year makes

Last August, I made some pretty big predictions about what a majority Democratic General Assembly would look like, specifically what kinds of legislation we’d pass. Here is an annotated version of what I wrote last year. Here we go!

Come with me, to July 1, 2020, in a world where control of the General Assembly has flipped…

One of our first orders of business when we returned to Richmond for the 2020 Session was to pass common sense reforms related to gun purchases and ownership. Beginning July 1, every firearms transaction in the Commonwealth is subject to a background check available on a website operated by the Virginia State Police. Falls Church City and Fairfax County owned buildings are not only tobacco free, but local governments have voted to make them gun free zones as well.
We passed 7 common sense gun violence prevention bills this year, requiring universal background checks for all gun sales (HB 2), reinstating one handgun purchase per month limit (HB 812), requiring proof of competency to obtain a concealed carry permit, requiring individuals to report stolen firearms (HB 9), creating extreme risk protective orders (HB 674), allowing local governments the authority to ban guns in public spaces (HB 421), limiting children’s access to firearms (HB 1083), and prohibiting gun possession for those subject to a protective order (HB 1004).

Voting in the upcoming 2020 election is expected to break records for voter participation, not just because it’s a presidential election year, but because Virginia residents are now automatically registered to vote when they go to re-register their cars, apply for government benefits, or have any other interaction with state government. For those who aren’t automatically registered on Election Day, they will be able to register on the spot, and voting will begin early for anyone who wishes to cast a ballot, no reason need be provided. We’ve made Election Day a state holiday in Virginia (HB 108). And we’ve passed legislation to allow for no-excuse absentee voting (HB 1), same day voter registration (HB 187), and automatic voter registration (HB 235). Localities will even be able to use ranked choice voting for local elections if they choose (HB 1103).

Virginia is now part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and is committed to reducing our emissions while funding renewable energy programs and promoting green jobs. Expect to see rooftop solar panels dotting the landscape as the General Assembly removed regulatory barriers and added financial incentives for residential and community solar installation. We repealed the provision preventing us from joining RGGI and passed a series of bills (like HB 912) aimed at increasing our use of solar and wind energy. The Virginia Clean Energy Act (HB 1526) made it through as well. A comprehensive environment and energy bill, it will not only eliminate harmful carbon emissions by 2050 through strategic investments in solar and wind energy, but also require utility companies to significantly increase investment in energy efficiency programs and low-income communities.

Many Virginians will begin to see a more money in their paychecks each week as we begin the first step in a gradual increase in the minimum wage, which is on its way to $15 an hour. Those struggling with crippling student loan debt have new options to consolidate and refinance their loans, and those who suspect they’ve been overpaying can complain to the Virginia Bureau of Financial Institutions which now has oversight authority. A major compromise bill to raise the minimum wage (HB 395) made it through both houses, providing for a gradual increase to $15 over the next few years. And my bill (HB 10) to require student loan servicers to register with the SCC and establish a Student Borrower’s Bill of Rights finally passed as well.

Simple possession of Marijuana is no longer a criminal offense, but it is illegal to discriminate in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Not only did we decriminalize marijuana (HB 972), but we also passed a series of anti-discrimination bills. HB 6 prohibits discriminatory housing practices based on income. HB 827 prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions and HB 1514 prohibits racial discrimination related to hair texture, type, and styles. Lastly, SB 868 is an omnibus anti-discrimination bill, which explicitly creates causes of action for unlawful discrimination in public accommodations and employment in the Virginia Human Rights Act.

Virginia passed the Equal Rights Amendment, becoming the last state needed to add it to the US Constitution. HJ 1 was the first big piece of legislation that we passed this session.

We firmly established that the government has no business interfering in women’s healthcare and reproductive rights. HB 980 repeals the medically unnecessary ultrasound requirement and 24-hour mandated delay, effectively removing political interference between a woman and her medical provider and restores women's reproductive freedoms.

Well, look at that. In August 2019, that’s the column I hoped I’d get to write. I also did an Inside Scoop interview in December 2019, where I outlined these priorities. And here we are in March 2020. So, how’d we do?