Thursday, December 17, 2020

It's the end of the year

It’s December, which means it’s time for an end of the year column.   

This year’s Richmond Reports started out on an optimistic note.  Virginia Democrats, at long last, had taken the majority in the House of Delegates for the first time in two decades.    

In 2019 (and before), I’d been an outspoken-back-bencher, serving on one House committee that rarely met, another committee that did all of its work in subcommittees (I wasn’t on any). And another committee where I was on a subcommittee, but it had been created for troublemakers like me (informally dubbed “the Simon” subcommittee) where only extra mundane bills were ever referred 

 In 2020, I was appointed to the General Laws, Courts of Justice, and Rules Committees and was named Vice Chair of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. I chaired 3 subcommittees, while serving on 4 or 5 or maybe 6 altogether. It was a very busy time!  

Early 2020 taught me to be careful what you wish for   

I had the privilege of presiding over the committee where we finally passed the Equal Rights Amendment so that it could go to the floor for a full House vote. This same committee passed several critical voting and election related bills, including no-excuse absentee, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and making Election Day a state holiday.  

In the House General Laws Committee, we passed the Virginia Values Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  

In the House Courts Committee, we passed marijuana decriminalization and repealed the medically unnecessary ultrasound requirement and 24-hour mandated delay, effectively removing political interference between a woman and her medical provider. 

I may be most proud of the work I did on another member’s bill, helping to shepherd Delegate Lamont Bagby’s HB 788, which came through my Housing subcommittee. Together we overcame the objections of numerous special interests to craft a bill that allows property owners to remove obsolete and unenforceable racists covenants from their chain of title 

Just as we were about to celebrate a triumphant session in Richmond - where we made historic investments in education, healthcare, and public employees as well as raised the minimum wage and granted public sector units greater opportunities for collective bargaining, plus passed historic gun safety laws to protect our communities from the ravages of gun violence - the grim reality that a global pandemic had arrived in our Commonwealth set in.  

The Governor announced the first set of pandemic-related health and safety guidelines in early March. In April, we met for a Reconvene Session outside on the grounds of the Capitol, and did our business acting on the Governor’s amendments and vetoes. 

Unfortunately, that meant rolling back a lot of those investments we’d included in our budget while we waited to see what impact a quarantine and prolonged social distancing requirements would have on our revenues.  

While we stayed safer at home, glued to our screens, images of the murder of George Floyd made their way into our living rooms and our collective consciousness. 

In August, we met in a special session to revisit our state budget, take steps to provide relief to Virginians affected by the pandemic, and pass important police and criminal justice reforms.  Just this fall the Governor signed laws banning choke holds in most circumstances, eliminating most no-knock warrants, and making it harder for bad police officers to hop from department to department, or be hired in the first place.   

As the year comes to an end, I think we can all agree we’ve seen far too many of our friends and neighbors depart this life too soon. Far too many stores close their doors, many never to return again. There is no doubt that our efforts in Richmond to ease the suffering and provide economic relief have been insufficient to meet the need.   

I’m hopeful that with the inauguration of a new president and administration that believes in the power of Government to be a force for good, for positive change, things will get better. I hope that much needed stimulus payments make their way to individuals, business, and state and local governments.   

There are great challenges that continue to await us in 2021.  I don’t know when we’ll resume the roaring pace that we seemed to get off to early in 2020, but I am confident that we will pull together, though, and make 2021 a far better year than the one we are about to leave behind.