The 2020 General Assembly was unusually productive. With the Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, as well as the Executive office, we were able to pass many bills that Virginians, especially Northern Virginians, had been supporting for years. The Coronavirus and its economic impact have put the budget improvements on hold. Hundreds of new laws that will impact your life went into effect on July 1. Here are some of them:
- Voting: After ten years of effort, we passed my no-excuse in-person absentee voting bill. Also, no longer will you need a photo ID (although you may use one). The November election day will be a state holiday.
- Gun Safety: Seven bills advocated by Gov. Northam to address gun violence passed. One dealing with protective orders against violent persons was mine. So was prohibiting gun possession by stalkers. One-gun-a month limits and universal background checks, both very significant, also passed.
- Reproductive Rights: Over the past couple decades, numerous restrictions on access to abortions had been imposed. Many, including mandatory ultrasound tests and 24 hour waiting period were repealed.
- Equal Rights Amendment: After decades of effort, we finally passed the Equal Rights Amendment. Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment. The Federal courts will now determine whether or not this passage was after a legitimate deadline.
- Civil Rights: Dozens of Jim Crow laws were repealed. The new Virginia Values Act prohibits discrimination In housing and employment. Hate crime laws will now cover sexual orientation and gender identity. The fate of Confederate statues will be determined by the local government where they are located. A study is underway to determine which two Virginians should be honored with statues in the U.S. Capitol.
- Clean Energy: The Clean Energy Act strives to make Virginia carbon-free by 2045. It contains timelines for us to move to wind and solar as well as other renewables.
- DACA: Students who are under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration status will be eligible for in-state tuition if they meet certain conditions.
- Economic Development: My bill set up the Virginia Innovation Partnership Act, which creates the Commonwealth of Virginia Innovation Partnership Authority to oversee and support research, development, and commercialization, as well as related investment and seed-stage funding in Virginia. A two year effort led to this groundbreaking collaboration between higher education and our economic development agencies.
- Healthcare: We will be replacing the federal health exchange under the Affordable Care Act with a state exchange. Balanced billing for hospital and other medical costs will be eliminated. The cost of insulin will become the lowest in the nation — $50 a vial.
- Transportation: Several transportation initiatives passed. The most aggressive bill in decades to address our transportation crisis passed. Mass transit, rail, and road improvements will all receive funding from a gas tax increase. Undocumented immigrants will be able to get a driver’s license and drive legally. Unpaid court fees and fines will no longer lead to losing a driver’s license. And, finally, it will be against the law to hold a cell phone while driving!
- Early Childhood: My legislation reorganized the state’s early childhood programs. Rather than be scattered in multiple secretariats, they will all be in the Department of Education. Sadly, the nearly $100 million we had appropriated so every four year old would have access to quality pre-K programs had to be unalloted because of the pandemic. It is still a major funding priority of mine.
- Minimum Wage: Currently Virginia’s minimum wage is a disgraceful $7.25 an hour. It will increase to $9.50 next spring and to $12 in three years. It is my hope we will accelerate and increase these numbers. Many of those we are depending on during this pandemic are working for minimum wage, often with no benefits.
- Collective Bargaining: Local governments will be permitted (not required) to collectively bargain with their employees.
- Casinos: Five cities are authorized to hold referendum to determine if they will have casino gambling. None of the five are in NoVA. Gray machines are illegal after June 31, 2021.
- Redistricting Constitutional Amendment: If the constitutional amendment passes in November, a 16 member panel of citizens and legislators will draw state legislative and congressional district lines.
- Marijuana: Beginning in January, possession of a small amount of marijuana will be decriminalized.
As you can see, we accomplished a lot in sixty days! If you would like more detail or to see other initiatives, please go to In Due Course. The summary there is put together by our professional legislative services staff.