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Northam Quietly Signs Hundreds of Bills As Deadline Looms

Ralph Northam speaks at press conference flanked by lawmakers
Gov. Northam at a press conference in January (Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Gov. Ralph Northam’s thrice-weekly press conferences on the COVID-19 pandemic have become a grim fixture of Virginia political life.

But behind closed doors, Northam has quietly continued a more traditional duty: reviewing and signing legislation.

He’s signed more than 800 pieces of legislation ranging from the symbolic, including a bill creating a “non-binary” gender option on driver’s license applications, to the obscure, such as a bill making it a misdemeanor to leave dead animals in churches.

Some of the thorniest issues passed by the newly-Democratic legislature remain untouched. That includes most gun control bills, a proposed minimum wage increase, and a $1.2 billion transportation package.

Northam has until midnight on Saturday to veto or change legislation.

It would be a lot of work under the best of circumstances. The General Assembly passed more than 2,200 new bills and resolutions this year -- higher than any total in at least the past decade. About 1,350 of those are bills requiring action from the governor.

The transportation bill alone is over 80 pages long, Northam said at a press conference on Wednesday, in a nod to the difficulty of pouring over the material while fighting the pandemic.

“And I would just say to be patient,” Northam said, as a reporter pressed him for answers on several healthcare bills. “We’re working through those by Saturday night at midnight.”

Northam has yet to veto any bills, and has only suggested changes on a handful of others.

Many of the bills Northam has signed so far involve slight code tweaks or requests from specific municipalities. He’s steered clear of legislation with a major price tag, warning on Wednesday of “drastic” reduction in state revenues.

Business groups, labor advocates, and municipalities have stepped up lobbying on bills they say would affect workers and businesses, including the minimum wage change and one related to collective bargaining for public employees.

A sampling of bills recently signed by Northam include:

  • A bill requiring schools to stock menstrual supplies

  • An attempt to crack down on telemarketers who mask their real phone number

  • A bill raising the threshold for reckless driving to 85 MPH, up from 80 MPH

  • Legislation that creates a new category of hate crime for acts targeting people because of a disability or because of their sexual or gender identity

  • A food stamp-related bill that allows some former felons to access aid, and another removing a cap on benefits families with a newborn

  • The Virginia Fair Housing Law, which bans large landlords from discriminating tenant applications on the basis of their source of income.

Most legislation signed into law by Northam will go into effect July 1.