2021 General Assembly Live: Ongoing Coverage
This year, Virginia's legislature is operating under unprecedented strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before lawmakers met, they told Ben Paviour they'll be focused on responding to the ongoing health crisis and helping Virginians manage the economic fallout in his General Assembly preview.
In addition to our regular reporting, we'll provide brief daily updates on this blog and an evening post wrapping up the day's events.
Feb. 23, 2021
Patrick Larsen - 4:38 PM
Lawmakers are working out differences between two bills that would finance electric school bus programs in Virginia. Dominion Energy has fifty buses out or planned through such programs. Sen. Louise Lucas’s SB 1380 would have let them bring in over 1000 buses, but the Senate settled on 1000 as a cap instead.
The Senate bill would also let the utility use school buses, when not driving, as backup batteries to the power grid. The costs would be paid by Dominion’s customers, or in legalese, ratepayers. The House proposal, HB 2118 from Del. Mark Keam, pays the cost with taxes, writing the utility out of the program. Keam says his version of the bill also applies more generally to heavy machinery, not just school buses.
Both bodies substantially amended the bill sent over to them. The House rejected the Senate’s amendment today, and the Senate is expected to return the favor tomorrow. A final version will likely be decided this week.
Feb. 22, 2021
Ben Paviour - 10:32 AM
A bill that would have let farm workers in Virginia earn at least minimum wage was killed by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Monday.
House Bill 1786, sponsored by Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton), would have ensured agricultural employees, including migrant farm workers, benefit from the state’s minimum wage increase. Last year, Virginia Democrats passed a bill that will see the state’s minimum wage rise incrementally to $15 by 2026.
Ward’s bill had already passed the House in a 55-44 vote along party lines, with Democrats in support. But Senate Democrats on the committee, including Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, voted with Republicans to kill the proposal.
In defending her bill, Ward recently compared the farmworker exemption to Jim Crow-era wage exemptions for shoe-shiners and doormen, which the General Assembly removed in 2019. “The policy reflects a Jim Crow frame of reference, when their wages were determined not by the work itself, but instead by who was doing it and what they looked like,” Ward said. “It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.”
Industry groups like the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Virginia Cattlemen's Association opposed the bill, arguing simultaneously that the bill isn’t needed because farm workers already make more than $15 per hour, and that removing the minimum wage exemption would be economically devastating
Feb. 19, 2021
Ben Paviour - 1:24 PM
Virginia is on track to become the latest state to pass its own data privacy law. The state Senate approved the legislation in a bipartisan 32-7 vote on Friday, sending the bill to Gov. Ralph Northam. The bill grants consumer rights to access, correct, delete and obtain a copy of personal data and to opt out of the processing of personal data for the purposes of targeted advertising.
A handful of critics argued that the bill won't do enough to protect consumers. Their chief objection was that it does not include a right of action that would allow consumers to sue over privacy violations. Under the bill, only the attorney general would have that power. Backers like Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) also favored that change but argued that “half a loaf is better than none.” The critics -- many of them attorneys -- were unswayed that the attorney general would act aggressively to protect consumers. “This bill will become unenforceable from the day it is enacted,” said Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax).
Feb. 18, 2021
Connor Scribner - 5:59 PM
Today was a battle over Virginia’s rapidly evolving politics in the Senate, as Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) lashed out against the body’s Democratic majority over a series of bills.
Virginia, long a stalwart member of the solidly conservative South, has seen it’s politics evolve rapidly over the past decade as areas previously dominated by Republicans now find themselves engulfed in blue. Fairfax County, for example, voted for a Republican in all but one presidential election between 1944 and 2000. Now, each of the 26 lawmakers who represent Fairfax in the General Assembly are Democrats. That echoes a pattern seen across the state, leaving Republicans completely out of power in Virginia for the first time since 1994.
The first bill that brought Stanley to his feet was a proposal from Del. Nancy Guy (D-Virginia Beach) to institute a civil penalty for intentionally releasing balloons into the atmosphere. The proposal would implement a $25 civil fine on anyone caught violating the provision. Stanley cited the bill as an example of the state government encroaching onto the lives of its citizens, suggesting law enforcement officers will soon use the measure to break up children’s birthday parties. He criticized the proposal as frivolous, saying the legislature should focus on more pressing concerns. Democrats in the chamber prickled at his objections, saying the proposal simply strengthened protections against litter and addressed a problem they say affects Virginia Beach residents. After several minutes of debate, Sen. Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake) pleaded with the chamber to vote on the issue, which they did, passing the measure 22-17.
Next came debate over the creation of a new position in the governor’s cabinet: secretary of workforce. Democrats in the chamber argued the new position will help streamline governmental operations, particularly those of the Virginia Employment Commission, which handles the state’s unemployment insurance program. They said the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused nearly half a million Virginians to lose their jobs between March and April, highlighted the urgency of providing additional support to the position. Democrats have argued the new secretariat will not require additional employees, and the fiscal impact of the bill is currently listed as being around $100,000 each year. Republicans, including Stanley, dismissed that, however, saying that while Democrats aren’t currently looking for more funding, that would change. They argued creating a new secretariat would lead to further government spending and taxes in the state, criticizing the move as further bureaucratic meddling from the party. The proposal passed 20-18.
Lastly, came a proposal from Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-McLean) to bar people convicted of domestic abuse of a family member from purchasing, owning or possessing a firearm for three years. That’s already written into federal law, but Democrats say it’s time for state law to conform. Stanley disagreed and spoke against the proposal. He said Democrats were working to take away people’s property rights and ability to hunt. Democrats strongly rejected his propositions, with the agreement turning into a near-shouting match between Stanley and Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath). Following the tense question and answer session between the two, Stanley chastised Democrats for swiftly forcing through their agenda. “We don’t have to rush through everything here in your agenda. We can take our time on some things, work together, do it together and find a result that is good for Virginia,” he said. Democrats, however, were unrelenting, passing the measure 20-18, with only Sen. Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack) dissenting.
That’ll wrap up our coverage for today. Check back tomorrow for more coverage of the Virginia General Assembly, and make sure to take a look at our full coverage at vpm.org/general-assembly.
Feb 17, 2021
Connor Scribner - 6:04 PM
Virginia lawmakers continue their work to finish up the 2021 special legislative session, with more bills making their way through their second chamber.
The Senate passed legislation today that would allow undocumented students access to state financial aid and scholarships. Students will still have to meet all qualifications for in-state tuition. Advocates say access to financial aid can help alleviate stress during college, while Republican lawmakers say the bill places undocumented immigrants ahead of citizens. The Commonwealth Institute estimates that nearly 250,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state, paying over $150 million in state taxes each year.
The Senate also approved a bill that would end a tax rebate for energy generators who purchase coal. The tax credit has been in place since 1986, and was tripled in 2000 with the hopes of spurring investment in the state’s coal industry. Yet, the state’s coal production has fallen by more than half since 2001. Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville), the bill’s patron, said the credit has outlived its usefulness, citing the plan to close all but one of Virginia’s coal-fired power plants by 2025. Last year, the legislature’s research arm, JLARC, recommended ending the credit, saying that it was no longer “relevant.” If the Senate approves the legislation, the credit is set to expire in 2022.
Reversing course, the Senate approved a new bicycle safety law Wednesday. The measure would force drivers to move into the other lane when passing a cyclist and allow cyclists to ride side-by-side. The original proposal, which the Senate voted down last month, also would have allowed cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs. Advocates say that would help prevent accidents, a claim that’s backed up by studies from Delaware, where a similar measure was implemented. Lawmakers, however, were hesitant and removed the provision, choosing instead to study the issue.
It was a more reserved day in the House, though they did pass legislation lowering penalties and increasing the burden of proof for infected sexual battery. Previously, people who had sex while knowing they were infected with a sexually transmitted disease with the intent to transmit the disease could be charged with a felony. Under the new law, they could only be charged with a misdemeanor and would actually have to spread the disease to be charged. It would also repeal a law allowed law enforcement to charge people with sexually transmitted diseases who have sex without disclosing their infection with a misdemeanor.
That’s all for our coverage today, make sure to check back in tomorrow and find our full coverage at vpm.org/general-assembly.
Patrick Larsen - 4:07 PM
The Virginia Senate approved a House of Delegates bill that would let cities and towns plant more trees after certain developments.
The original version of Del. Nancy Guy’s HB 2042 was approved last month in the House. It would have taken effect in summer 2022. The finalized version organizes a work group of representatives from environmental groups, developers and localities, among other groups. They’re tasked with refining different aspects of the bill before it can be implemented.The new version must be passed again next year.
The House of Delegates approved Sen. David Marsden’s take on the bill, SB 1393, earlier this week. Their amendments - less substantial than the Senate’s on Guy’s bill - make the two versions identical. That means lawmakers are likely done discussing it, at least for this session.The bill now goes to the governor for approval.
The Senate also passed some other environmentally minded legislation: HB 1919, which establishes green banks, or local funds dedicated to financing clean energy projects and promoting renewables; and HB 1899, which sunsets tax credits benefitting the coal industry.
Feb. 15, 2021
Roberto Roldan - 3:14 PM
The General Assembly has approved a bill extending state scholarships to some undocumented students. The Senate narrowly approved the proposal from Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) this afternoon. Only undocumented students who already qualify for in-state tuition would have access to scholarships. They’d have to prove their parents pay taxes and they attended a Virginia high school for at least two years. A similar bill from Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) is currently moving through the Senate and is expected to pass by the same narrow margin. Read VPM’s previous coverage of the bill here.
Roberto Roldan - 2:49 PM
Someone who administers Naloxone or other overdose reversal medication won’t be arrested and prosecuted in Virginia if they were using drugs themselves. That update to Virginia’s “Good Samaritan Law” was passed by the General Assembly this afternoon. Currently, the law provides legal immunity to someone who calls 911 during an overdose. House Bill 1821, sponsored by Del. David Bulova (D-Fairfax), would extend that protection to people who administer CPR or Naloxone. The state’s Good Samaritan Law applies to people possessing or taking drugs, but doesn’t give immunity to dealers.
Sara McCloskey - 1:07 PM
A bill that bans Virginia voters from bringing guns into polling places passed a state senate panel today. The proposal, from Delegate Mark Levine, has already passed the full House of Delegates. The legislation prohibits firearms from within 40 feet of a polling location. There are exceptions for current and retired law enforcement, security hired to work near a polling place and for people living on private property within 40 feet of these locations. 2nd Amendment supporters have argued that the state already has laws against voter intimidation, and questioned how voters would be intimidated by a concealed firearm. The legislation still needs to be considered by the full state senate. Here is some of our previous reporting on this bill.
Feb. 11, 2021
Connor Scribner - 5:15 PM
Day 2 of 2021’s first special session saw more bills moving through committees. That process is expected to be quick for most legislation as the House and Senate have already passed identical or very similar bills. Some bills moved through their final committees over the past two days and will be heard by their second chambers in the coming week.
Today, the House General Laws Committee advanced two proposals aimed at keeping people housed. One bill, from Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), hopes to strengthen protections for people facing foreclosure. If the bill passes, it would increase the amount of time between when a bank notifies a homeowner about their foreclosure and when the bank can auction off that property. It would also require the bank to give the homeowner information about housing counseling, which can help people avoid foreclosure. The bill passed the Senate unanimously. While it’s House companion, from Del. Luke Torian (D-Prince William), faced stiffer opposition, it still managed to pass the House and is set to be before the Senate on Monday.
The committee also advanced a bill from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Fairfax) to strengthen tenant rights. The bill matches a proposal from Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) and seeks to punish landlords who illegally evict their tenants. Landlords are required to file suit against tenants in order to evict them but often skip this step and simply exclude tenants from their property, which advocates often call a “self-help eviction.” While that’s already illegal, this proposal would strengthen the penalties for that, forcing landlords found guilty to pay tenants either $5,000 or four month’s rent, whichever is greater. Advocates argue the steeper penalty will discourage landlords from operating outside the legal system. The House passed Hudson’s bill 54-44 and is now set to vote on Ebbin’s.
Another bill from McClellan passed its final committee hurdle today, with the House Labor and Commerce committee voting to advance a measure to allow health insurance plans sold on the state-run marketplace to cover abortion services. The services are currently the only legal medical procedure banned from being covered. The bill would not require these plans to cover it, only make that an option. The bill’s House companion, from Hudson, passed the chamber on a party-line vote.
The first full-chamber votes on bills for the special session are set to take place tomorrow, with the House taking on some non-controversial measures. On Monday, things will pick up as more bills make their way to full chamber. Until then, make sure to keep up with all of VPM’s legislative reporting on vpm.org/general-assembly.
Roberto Roldan - 1:04 PM
A bill from Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) to increase funding for Virginia State Police salaries is moving closer to a final vote.
Senate bill 1211 would raise vehicle registration fees by $4, depositing that new money into a Public Safety Trust Fund. Under the proposal, that money could only be used to increase salaries for sworn officers. The bill’s proponents say it would allow Virginia State Police to recruit and retain a more diverse and inclusive police force.
Sen. Edwards’ bill advanced out of the House Transportation committee this morning. Speaking at the meeting, Virginia State Police Association Executive Director Wayne Huggins said the agency is currently wrestling with an increasing number of vacancies, with more troopers expected to leave or retire. Huggins said the estimated cost to recruit, train and equip a new state trooper is around $108,000.
“So every time one of our troopers leaves for another law enforcement agency or to seek another career opportunity, that $108,000 goes out the door,” he said.
The bill is now headed to the House Appropriations Committee, where a similar proposal from Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) was voted down last week.
Feb. 10, 2021
Connor Scribner - 5:52 PM
State lawmakers were back in action today as 2021’s first special session got underway. As with the beginning of the regular session, every bill has to start in committee, so there wasn’t much action on the chamber floors today, but both chambers’ appropriations committees approved their budget bills today.
One of the biggest changes to the state budget likely to come out of this year is a salary increase for Virginia teachers. Initially, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed a one-time, 2% bonus, but he announced during his State of the Commonwealth address, that the state could afford turning that bonus into a permanent raise. The House and Senate both included the raise in their budget proposals, though they still have some differences to work out. The House proposal currently supports a 5% raise for teachers, costing the state about $150 million, while the Senate is proposing the raise be only 3%, adding about $60 million to the budget.
That’s not the only education amendment where the two chambers have to bridge a funding gap, with both pledging money to help increase college affordability. Both chambers proposed spending $60 million to increase affordability at 15 institutions, but the Senate added an extra $13.5 million to extend support to George Mason University and Old Dominion University. The biggest beneficiaries of the proposed funding are the state’s community college system, which would bring in an additional $15 million, and Virginia Commonwealth University, which would find itself with an added $10 million.
The amended budgets also include additional funding for home care workers whose pay will increase as the state’s minimum wage rises. Both chambers also included additional funding for state and state-supported local employees, though there’s a significant difference between their proposals, with the House adding over $70 million to that fund while the Senate proposed adding only $20 million. All of these funding differences will have to be worked out before the state can adopt its new budget for the next two years.
That’s all for our General Assembly coverage for today, as the legislature gets back into the swing of things we’ll have more for you with bills soon to be heard by their second chamber. For our full stories, make sure to check out vpm.org/general-assembly.
Feb. 8, 2021
Connor Scribner - 4:49 PM
The General Assembly adjourned its 2021 legislative session today. Well, kind of anyways. A special session, called by Gov. Ralph Northam, will begin Wednesday to continue this year’s work. House committees each met briefly today to formally carry Senate bills over to the next session, but that was it for lawmakers today. We won’t have any General Assembly coverage tomorrow but will be back Wednesday as the special session gets under way. Northam has said this session will last only 2 weeks, bringing the total length to the customary 46 days, but no official end date has been set yet.
Feb. 5, 2021
Connor Scribner - 2:47 PM
Today is one of the last days both chambers are taking on their own bills before switching over to those from the other chamber. That means both are taking votes on a massive number of bills, with 45 on the House calendar and 43 on the Senate’s.
The House has already adjourned for the day, passing bills to do the following:
- Abolish the death penalty
- Legalize recreational marijuana
- End mandatory minimum sentences
- A suite of provisions set to increase oversight on electric utility companies
- Increase foreclosure protections for homeowners
- Prevent landlords from evicting tenants after accepting full payment of back rent
- Update building codes around energy efficiency
- Greenlight electric vehicle rebates of up to $4,500
- Change Standards of Learning testing to be three times per year instead of just one
- Allow applicants to keep unemployment insurance overpayments if they were not caused by the applicant
- Prevent advertisements from mentioning school quality, other than official state metrics
The Senate is still debating and voting. We’ll have a similar wrap-up once they adjourn.
Ben Paviour and Sara McCloskey - 1:29 PM
The state Senate approves a bill from Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) limiting the use of solitary confinement in state facilities. There's an exception allowing up to 48 hours of isolation to prevent "an imminent threat of physical harm to the prisoner or another person." It passed with a few Republicans joining Democrats, 23 - 16.
Feb. 4, 2021
Connor Scribner - 5:22 PM
The official word has come down. While Virginia’s 2021 legislative session was limited to only 30 days over some political squabbling, legislation will have longer than that to be passed. Gov. Ralph Northam made the expected announcement today that lawmakers will get no rest, moving immediately into special session on Feb. 10.
Committee meetings have largely been put on pause for the moment, as both houses get prepared to tackle bills from the opposite chamber. The Senate didn’t have a ton on its plate today, only voting on final passage for five bills, but is set up for a mammoth day tomorrow with plenty of legislation on its schedule.
In the House, lawmakers approved legislation from Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William) that would mandate employers provide essential workers with paid sick leave. There are some further stipulations to that and the fate of the bill is still unclear, which VPM reporter Roberto Roldan laid out in a full article.
The House also passed a proposal aimed at capping the costs of asthma inhalers. The bill is in the mold of a law approved last year from Del. Lee Carter (D-Manassas) which capped the cost of insulin in the state. This proposal, from Del. Alex Askew (D-Virginia Beach), limits the cost insurance companies can charge people for asthma inhalers at $50. Proponents of the bill say it will help relieve a financial burden on families struggling to make ends meet. Opponents argue the state is beginning to go down a slippery slope where an increasing number of medications are cost capped.
The House also greenlit a proposal from Del. David Reid (D-Ashburn) to get the five public universities in Virginia built before the abolition of slavery to identify and memorialize enslaved people who labored at the institutions. Reid says the bill will help these universities reckon with the past, pointing to the example of William and Mary which, according to Reid, built its success on slavery for the 172 years it existed prior to 1865. Additionally, the program would mandate these institutions create programs providing tangible benefits, such as scholarships or economic development programs, to individuals or communities with a historical connection to slavery. Reid says this program will help individuals overcome disparities based in slavery.
Lastly, the House approved two proposed amendments to Virginia’s Constitution: one that would restore voting rights to those convicted of felonies after they have served their sentences and one that would remove a reference in the Constitution to marriage as being between one man and one woman. These amendments still have a long way to go before they become part of the Constitution. They must still clear the Senate this year, clear both houses again next year and be approved by voters in a referendum.
That’s it for our General Assembly coverage today. Make sure to go take a look at VPM reporters Ben Paviour and Whittney Evans’ stories on marijuana legalization, which both chambers are set to vote on tomorrow.
Feb. 3, 2021
Connor Scribner - 7:12 PM
The Senate passed one of the marquee pieces of legislation today, with Democrats voting to abolish the death penalty. Every Republican voted against the measure, except Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) who did not cast a vote.
Stanley had signed onto the bill as the chief co-patron and said he wished to vote for it, saying he is personally opposed to capital punishment. But he said Senate Democrats made it impossible to, following their removal of his amendment to make life without parole the minimum sentence for those convicted of aggravated murder. He, and other Republicans, criticized Democrats for being too lenient toward people convicted of crimes. That criticism, however, did not prevent the bill’s passage, with Democrats representing a united front on the issue. Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), who proposed the bill, said it was time for the punishment to go, pointing to instances when the criminal justice system gets it wrong. He also noted that the death penalty is used to coerce people who are suspected of crimes into pleading guilty, citing the example of the Norfolk Four. The House is set to vote on their version of the proposal on Friday.
The House also had some high-profile legislation on its docket today, tackling the expungement of past convictions. VPM legal reporter Whittney Evans had a great story about the subject yesterday. House Majority Leader Charniele Herring’s (D-Alexandria) bill passed 60-39.
House lawmakers approved legislation that will delay when court fees start to accrue interest. Currently, the fees begin to accrue interest after 40 days, but the proposal, from Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville), would push that back to 180 days. Hudson says the interest on court fees can prevent people convicted of crimes from reentering society and touts her legislation as one step toward breaking the cycle of poverty in the commonwealth. The bill passed 58-41.
The House also agreed to a measure that expands the definition of workplace harassment. Del. Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax) proposed the legislation, which clarifies what constitutes sexual harassment and specifying that it is workplace harassment. It would also hold employers liable if supervisors create a hostile work environment and the employer can not prove they took action to correct the harassment. Additionally, it would expand the amount of time claims can be filed to two years, from 180 days, and make all employers who employ at least five people subject to the law. The bill passed 54-44.
That’s all for today, make sure to check back here as the General Assembly gets ready to vote on more of this session’s premier legislation, including the legalization of adult-use marijuana. For our full coverage, check out vpm.org/general-assembly.
Joi Bass - 12:50 PM
A bill that would require employers to report COVID-19 outbreaks advanced out of the Senate Finance and Appropriations committee. Bill sponsor Sen. Lynwood Lewis (D-Hampton) wants to require employers with 50 or more employees to report any outbreaks of five or more COVID-19 cases to the local health departments.
In a previous committee meeting Lewis stated that transparency within the workplace had become an issue in his district particularly, and that this measure would address those transparency issues for the public. The final vote was 11-4. The bill will head to the full senate for a vote.
Joi Bass - 12:40 PM
The Virginia House of Delegates advanced two education bills out of committees.
The first bill, HB2314, would require Virginia’s Board of Education to make changes relating to Special Education.
Del. Martha Mugler (D-Hampton) is the bill’s sponsor. It would clarify that the parent of a child with a disability has the right to an independent education in the public school system.
It would also remove the words “component” and “evaluation” from its Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities in Virginia.
The second would clarify special education eligibility, in an effort to help parents with the process.
These updates include clarifying any vagueness in the eligibility criteria and providing local school divisions appropriate guidance on determining eligibility for special education and other related services.
Both bills passed out of committee unanimously with a 22-0 vote.
Brandon Shillingford - 12:02 PM
Two bills on gun safety advanced through the senate finance committee today, a final step before a full vote from the Virginia Senate.
The first would close a loophole that lets people rent a firearm without a background check. SB 1250, introduced by Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), would allow the Virginia State Police to conduct a state criminal history check for rentals.
The bill passed on a 10-5 vote and will now head to the full senate for consideration.
The second bill, SB 1382, would prohibit the purchase, possession, or transportation of firearms by individuals who have been convicted of domestic abuse charges was advanced by a senate committee.
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington), passed the committee on a narrow 8-7 vote. If it becomes law, violations will be treated as Class 3 misdemeanors, one of the least serious charges in state code.
Feb. 2, 2021
Connor Scribner - 7:30 PM
It was a marathon session for the Virginia Senate today, which met from noon until nearly 7 p.m.
The Senate voted narrowly to ban firearms and stun weapons from Capitol Square, a move that has met heavy resistance from Republican lawmakers. A similar provision was passed by the House yesterday, following several days of attempts by Democrats to get the legislation through. There are some key differences between the two bills, however, notably including where the ban applies. The House bill includes not just the Capitol grounds, but also the roads adjacent to them, while the Senate bill is more narrow in scope. House Republicans have criticized including the roads, saying it could lead to people unwittingly violating the provision. Those differences will have to be worked out before the measure can become law.
Also on today’s Senate docket was a bill to strengthen the rights of tenants who are unlawfully evicted. While these evictions are already illegal in Virginia, the bill, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), would give tenants a clear path to remedy the eviction and strengthen penalties. If the bill becomes law, tenants will be granted a hearing within five days of filing suit against their landlord. If they can prove the eviction was illegal, they will be awarded damages including, but not limited to, $5,000 or four months’ rent, whichever is greater. The bill passed 27-12. A similar proposal from Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) passed the House last month.
Over in the House, lawmakers passed a proposal that would change the state’s bike safety laws. VPM Reporter Roberto Roldan has covered this legislation closely. A similar proposal failed in the Senate earlier this session.
The House also approved legislation that would apply minimum wage laws to farm laborers. They have previously been excluded from the minimum wage, something the bill’s sponsor, Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton), says comes from a “Jim Crow” mindset. Some other workers are still not covered under minimum wage laws, including golf caddies, people under the age of 16 and people being held in state prisons.
Lastly, the House unanimously agreed to outlaw the unsolicited sending of obscene images. Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach), who proposed the bill, says unwanted illicit messages have become a pressing issue, especially for women whose contact information is public due to their work, like real estate agents. Those in violation would be charged with a misdemeanor.
That wraps up our coverage for today. We’ll be back tomorrow morning to monitor the meetings and votes, as the General Assembly session continues. As always, make sure to check vpm.org/general-assembly for our full coverage.
Lyndon German - 5:41 PM
Guns could soon be banned on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol.
In a 21 to 18 vote, the state senate narrowly passed a prohibition on firearms on Capitol Square and nearby state buildings today. Law-enforcement, security personnel, active military officers and select government officials would be exempt if this bill became law.
Those in violation would have their weapons taken away and could be charged with a misdemeanor. The bill will now move forward to the House of Delegates.
Clara Haizlett - 3:20 PM
The Senate voted to repeal a practice that critics say leads to a presumption of guilt without a fair trial.
Under current law, people accused of some crimes - like felony charges while pending trial for prior charges - can not be granted bail, unless defendants employ a lawyer to seek relief. Sen. R Creigh Deeds sponsored the legislation, and says the current law results in too many people being incarcerated before they've had a trial.
“If a person is locked up on Thursday, you might not get before a judge before Wednesday of the next week,” he said. “By that time, the rent will not be paid, and his job is gone.”
Sen. Mark Obenshain spoke against the bill, saying that SB 1266 would undo much of the work done by legislators to protect communities. “Somebody has been convicted of domestic violence twice, or a third or a fourth time,” he said “And we're gonna repeal the presumption against bail for that person, so he can go home and wreak havoc upon his family. It's just wrong.”
Sen. Scott A Surovell says people with substance use disorders are often victims of the current provisions. “These are people that need mental health treatment, they don't need incarceration.” SB 1266 allows judicial officers to decide who qualifies for bail on a case-by-case basis, which advocates say will restore the notion of “innocent until proven guilty” in the criminal justice system.
Joi Bass - 3:15 PM
A bill that would require Virginia educators and other school employees to complete a cultural competency evaluation will now move to the Senate floor. Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) sponsored the legislation, which provides training that will help teachers and benefit students by providing a "sense of belonging." The Virginia Mercury reported it comes out of years of criticism that Virginia schools don't teach the history of African American residents or provide accurate instruction on the Civil War or slavery.
If it passes, educators would be required to take the training at least every two years.
Joi Bass - 3:10 PM
The full state senate will soon vote on a bill that would make it easier for school districts to get electric school buses. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), allows electric utility companies to partner with school divisions to start these projects.
“The point of this bill is to make it feasible for a school division to buy an electric school bus and thereby recognize the benefits of lowering operating costs, zero air pollution and a better health environment for the children riding the bus,” Lucas said. The bill passed in the Senate during last year’s session but was defeated by the House.
Joi Bass - 3:05 PM
Senators in a committee meeting voted to incorporate two bills that would provide compensation for essential workers impacted by COVID-19. The bill, sponsored by Senators Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and Jill Holtzman Vogel (R- Fauquier), would allow essential workers, who died or developed a disability after contracting COVID-19, to receive compensation. This would include firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, law enforcement and correctional officers.
Multiple lawmakers highlighted that it was important to include law enforcement and correctional officers in this bill, because they come into contact with so many people each day and have a higher risk of contracting the illness.
Roberto Roldan - 2:40 PM
A bill from Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) that would provide new foreclosure protections for Virginians was approved unanimously by the full Senate this afternoon.
SB1327, dubbed the Preserving the American Dream Act, would increase the notice provided to homeowners ahead of a foreclosure auction from 14 to 60 days. It would also require lenders to provide notice of legal aid and financial assistance resources to help avoid a foreclosure auction.
“During this economic crisis, we must do everything we can to prevent Virginians from losing their homes,” McClellan said in a statement following the vote. “This legislation will make necessary changes to Virginia’s laws to provide homeowners with more time and resources to prevent foreclosure.”
Del. Luke Torian (D-Prince William) is carrying an identical version of the bill in the House. The Preserving the American Dream Act would also require landlords of mobile home parks to provide safe living conditions and notify residents of their rights under law to form a residents association.
Brandon Shillingford - 1:32 PM
A bill establishing the Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back program, also called G3, was unanimously passed by the Senate Finance and Appropriations committee today.
The legislation, proposed by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), would provide financial assistance to low-income and middle-income Virginia students enrolled in community colleges and studying to receive associate's degrees in “high demand” fields. Saslaw said during the committee meeting that workforce development programs and community college officials would determine which fields would be considered.
The senator spoke to the widespread support of the bill and the implementation of similar programs in states like Tennessee. He also said the bill will benefit students looking to go into the workforce in the midst of the pandemic. “This is definitely needed as we come out of this COVID-19 situation where there is going to be demand in a lot of areas for skilled workers,” Saslaw said.
The G3 program was a major priority of Gov. Ralph Northam during the 2020 legislative session. The program was put on hold because of the economic downturn last year. The bill still needs to be voted on by the entire state Senate before being considered by the other chamber.
Feb. 1, 2021
Connor Scribner - 7:22 PM
Virginia’s whirlwind 30-day legislative session continued today, with major elections and higher education reforms passing through both houses.
The Senate approved a proposal from Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) that makes some of the changes to absentee voting during the pandemic permanent. The bill would require localities to set up ballot drop-off boxes at their general registrar’s office and any satellite voting locations During last year’s general election, the drop-off boxes became the target of Republican lawmakers over concerns they could lead to voter fraud or destroyed ballots. Hundreds of ballots were damaged when a California drop-off box was set ablaze last October, but studies show there were no cases of widespread voter fraud during the November election.
The bill would also cement a provision allowing voters up to three days following Election day to cure absentee ballots and sets stringent guidelines for registrars on what the cure process should look like. Curing ballots, or fixing absentee ballots with certain errors such as missing signatures, became a flash point in Richmond’s elections last year, with the Democratic Party of Virginia criticizing the Richmond registrar over how she handled the process. The bill passed the chamber on a party-line vote.
Both chambers passed legislation today that would allow undocumented students access to state financial aid and scholarships. Students will still have to meet all qualifications for in-state tuition. Advocates say access to financial aid can help alleviate stress during college, while Republican lawmakers say the bill places undocumented immigrants ahead of citizens. The Commonwealth Institute estimates that nearly 250,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state, paying over $150 million in state taxes each year. The Senate passed their version of the proposal 21-18, while the House version cleared 58-42.
In the House, lawmakers passed a bill that would end a tax rebate for energy generators who purchase coal. The tax credit has been in place since 1986, and was tripled in 2000 with the hopes of spurring investment in the state’s coal industry. Yet, the state’s coal production has fallen by more than half since 2001. Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville), the bill’s patron, said the credit has outlived its usefulness, citing the plan to close all but one of Virginia’s coal-fired power plants by 2025. Last year, the legislature’s research arm, JLARC, recommended ending the credit, saying that it was no longer “relevant.” If the Senate approves the legislation, the credit is set to expire in 2022.
The House also moved Virginia one step closer to becoming the first state in the South with its own Voting Rights Act. In a party-line vote, the body advanced Del. Marcia Price’s (D-Newport News) proposal to ban discrimation in election administration. The bill prohibits localities from discriminating on the basis of race when making elections decisions, such as changes to polling locations. Activists say poll closures and shortened hours disproportionately affect people of color. Opponents of the bill say it makes localities vulnerable to expensive lawsuits, while advocates say it will help to improve equity in elections.
That’s all for our coverage today, make sure to check back tomorrow to keep up to date with all the happenings from the General Assembly and visit vpm.org/general-assembly for our full coverage.
Joi Bass - 2:20 PM
A bill that sought to reduce the time students spend on standardized testing has failed in a 4-4 subcommittee vote. Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-Grayson) was the bill’s sponsor. He said Virginia exceeds the number of Standards of Learning tests the federal government requires and that the tests discourage deeper learning.
"Every parent that I’ve talked to, every grandparent, feels that we spent entirely too much time, energy and resources on SOL testing and in the end, we are creating students that have been basically engineered to take tests,” O’Quinn said.
The legislation would have reduced Virginia’s SOL requirements to match that of the minimum federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The bill incorporated a similar proposal from Del. Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield) last year.
Jan. 29, 2021
Brandon Shillingford - 3:40 PM
Residents of Buckingham County are worried about the environmental impacts a potential gold mine will have in the area. This community also fought the developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, which was recently cancelled.
Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D- Prince William) introduced a bill that she says will protect these residents and other Virginians. The legislation puts a moratorium on commercial gold mining operations in Virginia until 2024. The proposal also allows experts to study the effects mining would have on the commonwealth.
“We now have the opportunity to be proactive and ensure that we are studying how new permits will impact not only the health of this community but the health of our James River and our environment," Guzman said.
If approved by the full General Assembly, Guzman’s bill would prohibit mining operations that are larger than 10 acres.
Joi Bass - 3:25 PM
A bill to eliminate qualified immunity was voted down in a House of Delegates committee today.
The measure would have allowed people who believe their rights have been violated by a law enforcement officer to sue and possibly receive compensation. Del. Jeffrey Bourne (D - Richmond) was unhappy with the decision to send his bill to the State Crime Commission. “I just hope that we can have an honest policy discussion at the Crime Commission level rather than be victim to this vitriolic language that seems to cloud and confuse folks on what this is actually seeking to accomplish,” Bourne said.
Bourne introduced a similar bill during last year’s special session, but it was voted down in Virginia’s Senate.
Jan. 28, 2021
Connor Scribner - 6:12 PM
The Virginia House continues to outpace the Senate, with the lower body passing 26 bills today while the upper only advanced 6.
On top of today’s House agenda, education. The body passed two bills that seek to address the affordability of school meals. First, from Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), a measure that would bar school districts from suing families who are behind on paying for their children’s meals. Proponents say the bill will help to address families who don’t qualify for free meals, but still struggle to cover the expense, alleviating the burden of potentially expensive lawsuits. The bill was passed 69-31. They agreed to another proposal from Roem that would require eligible school boards to opt-in to the federal after-school meals program. The program provides meals to students who qualify for free or reduced meals. Often, those students face food insecurity at home, which advocates say makes school meals essential for them. The provided meals are reimbursed by the federal government. Only 11 members of the House voted against the measure.
But, school meals weren’t the only education reforms on the table, as the body also took up higher education. One reform seeks to ban Virginia’s public colleges and universities from making admission decisions based on criminal history. Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg), the bill’s patron, says most schools ask applicants if they have been convicted of a crime. She says that question often prevents students from even applying to the schools, which can create a poverty trap for those involved.
Additionally, the House passed one of Gov. Ralph Northam’s campaign promises: Free community college for those majoring in high-demand fields. The “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” program was first implemented last year, as part of the governor’s budget, but the bill would give it a more permanent status. Northam and other proponents say the program strengthens Virginia’s economy, improving the state’s human capital and better aligning the workforce with job opportunities. Students whose families make more than four times the federal poverty limit will not be eligible for the program.
Lastly, the body advanced legislation that directs the state Department of Health to study options for financing universal health-care. The study will include both a single-payer option run by the department and an option where the state pays private insurance companies to run the program. The study would be concluded by October 2022.
That’s all from us today, expect a whirlwind couple of days as the regular legislative session enters its second half. To keep up with all of the goings on from the remote Capitol Square, make sure to check back in with our live blog and check out our full coverage at vpm.org/general-assembly.
Roberto Roldan - 3:15 PM
A bill from Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton) that would remove the minimum wage exemption for farm workers is headed to a vote on the House floor.
HB1786 was approved by the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Thursday in a 13-5 vote. Last year, Virginia Democrats passed a bill that will see the state’s minimum wage rise incrementally to $15 by 2026. The bill from Del. Ward would ensure that wage floor also applies to migrant farm workers and other employees of farms.
Ward said the exemption is reminiscent of Jim Crow-era wage exemptions for shoe-shiners and doormen, which the General Assembly removed in 2019.
“The policy reflects a Jim Crow frame of reference, when their wages were determined not by the work itself, but instead by who was doing it and what they looked like,” Ward said. “It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.”
Industry groups like the Virginia Farm Bureau and the Virginia Cattlemen's Association are opposing the bill. They’re arguing simultaneously that the bill isn’t needed because farm workers already make more than $15 per hour, and that removing the minimum wage exemption would be economically devastating.
Joi Bass - 1:49 PM
A bill that would require employers to report outbreaks of COVID-19 is now moving to the Senate Finance Committee. The measure is sponsored by Senator Lynwood Lewis, Jr. (D-Hampton). “I don’t think it's any secret that my little corner of the world, at the outset of this pandemic, was the pointed end of the spear and ground zero for congregate setting outbreaks,” Lewis said.
Lewis added that transparency about cases of the virus in workplaces has become an issue. “The employees were incredibly anxious and incredibly concerned about their safety, as well as the public at large,” Lewis said.
The bill would require employers with 50 employees – or more -- to report five or more confirmed COVID-19 cases to local health departments. This is considered to be a “workplace cluster.” Once a cluster has occurred, the measure calls for these reports to include the employer’s name, number of confirmed cases and number of deaths.
Currently, The Virginia Department of Health requires employers to report multiple cases until the local health department deems an outbreak is under control.
Jan. 27, 2021
Connor Scribner - 6:42 PM
The saga of Sen. Amanda Chase’s censure has finally come to a close, with the Senate voting 24-9 to formally disapprove of her actions. Three Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in voting for the censure, including Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City).
But, that didn’t prevent the body from carrying out other business today, including rejecting a proposal from Sen. Joe Morrisey (D-Richmond) that would have reformed the commonwealth’s bicycle safety laws. Senators, along with the Virginia State Police, raised concerns over one provision in the bill: Allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs. Some senators argued that would create unsafe situations, despite evidence from other state’s with similar provisions where cycling-involved accidents have gone down following their enactment.
Over in the House, a couple of gun control bills have been approved by the full chamber. The measures will, if they clear the Senate, increase the waiting period for firearm purchases to five days and ban the manufacture, sale or possession of plastic firearms. Republicans argued heavily against both bills, saying they were unnecessary and placed undue burden on people’s 2nd Amendment rights. During debate yesterday, Del. Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) criticized the increased waiting period, saying applications can already be delayed if the proper information can’t be obtained in three days. Democrats, however, argue the increased waiting period will help relieve stress on regulatory agencies, ensuring guns don’t end up in the hands of bad actors.
The House also approved a measure to remove the statue of Harry Byrd, a former Virginia governor and U.S. Senator, from Capitol Square. Byrd led the “massive resistance” against school integration, a campaign that saw the opening of several white-only private schools across the state and the shuttering of public schools in Prince Edward County for 5 years, leaving Black students in the county with no way to get an education. Many of the “segregation academies” still operate in the commonwealth, though they are now integrated, including Blessed Sacrament Huguenot in Powhatan, the Fuqua School in Farmville and Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg.
Similarly, the House agreed yesterday that a statue of Barbara Rose Johns would represent the state in the U.S. Capitol. Johns led a student strike at R.R. Moton High School, the former segregated school for Black students in Prince Edward County. Her protest later evolved into the case Davis v. Prince Edward County which was one of eight cases that made up Brown v. Board of Education. Speaking to the resolution, Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton) said she hopes Johns’ statue will serve as a reminder that everyone can inspire change, regardless of age, gender or race.
That’s all for today’s live blog, we’ll be back here tomorrow to keep you updated on everything you need to know. Full coverage from our team of reporters can be found at vpm.org/general-assembly.
Ben Pavior - 1:45 PM
Virginia won't be joining the National Popular Vote Compact this year. States that join the compact agree to award their presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of who won that state. Virginia's House passed a bill to join the compact last year, but it stalled in the Senate. On Tuesday night, Sen. Adam Ebbin asked a Senate panel to strike down his new bill to join the compact. He later told VPM he believed it did not have the votes to pass that chamber. Fifteen states and Washington DC have joined the pact with a total of 196 electoral votes. A handful more would need to join for the pact to reach 270 electoral votes needed for the compact to take effect.
Roberto Roldan - 1:34 PM
A set of reforms to Virginia’s bicycle safety laws was voted down by the Senate this afternoon.
The Bicyclist Safety Act, sponsored by Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), would have required vehicles to change lanes when overtaking someone on a bicycle, if they couldn’t give the required 3 feet of space. It also would have allowed cyclists to ride two abreast and treat stop signs as yield signs. Although it may sound counterintuitive, studies from states like Idaho and Delaware show the measures actually reduce cyclist-involved collisions.
Still, Senate Republicans opposed the bill citing safety concerns. Before voting against the bill, Senator Richard Stuart (R-King George) said he thought creating two different sets of rules for cyclists and drivers would make roadways less safe. “It’s pretty concerning when they don’t have to obey the stop signs like cars do because, invariably, a cars gonna run on top of a bicycle and we know that’s going to happen,” Stuart said.
The bill was voted down 22-16, with five Democrats — Senators John Edwards, Janet Howell, Mamie Locke, Louise Lucas and Dick Saslaw — joining Republicans in opposition.
Prior coverage: Proposed Bill Would Create New Bicycle Safety Laws In Virginia
Clara Haizlett - 1:22 PM
A statewide coalition is calling on the General Assembly to pass paid sick leave legislation for essential workers.
The coalition, Virginians for Paid Sick Days, is advocating for HB 2137, sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, which would mandate paid sick leave for employees who work at least 20 hours per week. Paid sick leave could be used for employees themselves or to care for sick family members. For every 30 hours worked, essential workers could earn at least one hour of paid sick leave benefit -- up to 40 hours in a year.
Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, spoke at a press conference the coalition held. He says the emergence of a COVID-19 variant in Virginia provides an additional incentive to pass paid sick leave legislation, to help people do "the right thing" and stay home if they're ill. According to the National Health Interview Survey, around 1.2 million Virginians have no paid sick time or family leave, making it harder for them to avoid exposing others if they get sick.
This isn’t the first time paid sick leave legislation has been proposed in Virginia. Coalition member Kim Bobo, executive director at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, says they’ve focused HB 2137 to respond to legislators' concerns from last year, when three versions of similar bills were shut down. This time the bill addresses those concerns by exclusively focusing on essential workers and excluding part time employees. Guzman’s bill also provides a hardship waiver for businesses that can prove paid sick leaves would negatively impact their financial status.
Guzman’s bill is currently being reviewed in a House subcommittee.
Whittney Evans - 11:18 AM
A bill that would extend financial aid to undocumented college students who qualify for in-state tuition is now headed to the Senate Floor for a vote. Senate Bill 1387, introduced by Democratic Sen. Jennifer Boysko, passed out of both the Senate Education and Health Committee and Senate Finance and Appropriations. The bill has a delayed effective date of August 1, 2022, and directs the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and institutions of higher education to regulate and implement the legislation.
Last year, Virginia passed a law that expands in-state tuition to include undocumented residents.
Jan. 26, 2021
Connor Scribner - 6:50 PM
A somewhat hectic day at the remote Capitol Square, as lawmakers' plans were thwarted by technical glitches.
In the Senate, the floor session was delayed by 3 hours due to “unstable live-streaming” caused by the internet outage that engulfed the East Coast. After the delay, lawmakers got down to business, passing a bill that would make it easier for people to change errors on their birth certificates. Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) said this will help alleviate issues caused by the implementation of REAL IDs, which will soon be required to fly in the U.S. To get a REAL ID, people must present their birth certificates, which can delay the process if there are errors. Some opponents have raised concerns that it would make it easier for people to change their sex on their birth certificates, which they say could lead to fraud. To correct errors, people must now only sign a sworn affidavit saying the correction is true. The bill passed 29-10 and will now move over to the House.
In the House, lawmakers passed off on a few controversial bills including a couple we’ve written about before here. One measure, from Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Woodbridge), will open up ID cards to undocumented immigrants. The bill builds on legislation from last year which allows undoctumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses by allowing them to also get state-issued IDs that do not allow someone to drive. The House also approved a proposal from Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) which would allow health insurance plans on the state-run marketplace to cover abortion services. The Senate passed its version of the same bill last week.
The House also approved the creation of a state-run, voluntary retirement program that will be open to almost all Virginians. While many Virginians already pay into retirement accounts through their employers, the new program would require all employers who employ five or more people to offer their employees the option to contribute to the state-run account. The bill has caused some controversy over one feature of the program: worker’s will automatically have money taken out of their paycheck to pay into their account unless they choose not to. The provision builds off research made famous by economist and Nobel laureate Richard Thaler who’s shown that enrollment in retirement programs increases when the default option is to opt-in. According to the Federal Reserve, less than half of Americans say they are on track with their retirement savings, something proponents hope the plan can put a dent in. Opponents, however, say that stipulation is obtrusive and worry the plan will put undue stress on business owners. The bill passed 56-44 and will now move to the Senate.
That’ll wrap up today’s live blog coverage. We’ll be back early tomorrow morning with a quick update on marijuana legalization, set to be heard in subcommittee tonight. As always, make sure to check out all of our coverage at vpm.org/general-assembly.
Roberto Roldan - 4:43 PM
An Internet outage affecting the East Coast brought the Virginia Senate to a standstill this afternoon.
The day’s Senate floor session -- which is when final votes are cast on bills -- was delayed by three hours because of what clerks described as an "unstable live-streaming system."
Both the House and Senate have been broadcasting their meetings online during the pandemic, allowing for virtual public comment. The Washington Post reported that the outage affected users of the popular app Zoom, as well as Verizon Fios and Amazon Web Services.
Connor Scribner - 2:16 PM
A bill that would cap the price health insurance companies can charge for inhalers at $50 was advanced by a House committee today. The bill, from Del. Alex Askew (D-Virginia Beach), follows the mold of legislation passed last year which capped the cost of insulin in the commonwealth. Proponents of the bill say it will help contain the costs of a medicine people rely on. Del. Alfonso Lopez spoke to the experience of his family members who’ve suffered from asthma, saying the pain of not being able to draw breath shouldn’t have to be experienced simply because someone can’t afford their medication.
Opponents of the bill say it is overly broad and rushed. In a subcommittee meeting, Del. Kathy Byron (R-Forest) suggested a study should be done before the change was made and argued this could send the General Assembly down a slippery slope of putting cost caps on a variety of prescription products. The bill must now clear the Appropriations Committee before making its way to the full House.
Clara Haizlett - 1:03 PM
A bill protecting employment for people who use cannabis-derived oil with a doctor's prescription passed out of a subcommittee today. Proponents say many people would be able to return to work if they were able to take CBD medications. Studies are inconclusive on what effects CBD oil may have, but some physicians say they've seen people use it successfully to treat anxiety or sleep disorders.
Del. Margaret Ransone expressed concern that employees using CBD oil might not be able to safely function in the workplace. Under federal law, CBD oil has less than .3% THC and state law prevents its purchase without a prescription. A recent study did not find evidence that medically-approved CBD oil impaired driving. The proposed bill prohibits individuals from being impaired in the workplace.
Roberto Roldan - 12:55 PM
A bill that would rename Jefferson Davis Highway in Virginia has advanced out of the House Transportation Committee. The bill from Del. Josh Cole (D-Fredericksburg) would change the name of U.S. Route 1 to “Emancipation Highway,” reversing the memorial designation given by the General Assembly to the former president of the Confederacy in 1922.
The change would not apply to localities like Richmond, Alexandria and Fairfax County who already renamed their portions of Route 1 to Richmond Highway. It has a delayed enactment date of Jan. 1, 2022 in order to give other localities time to select their own names, if they want to. Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) explained the bill like this: “It’s more or less telling every locality on the Route 1 corridor in the commonwealth ‘You have until the end of this year to pick a new name, otherwise we will pick one for you.’”
HB2075 initially would have renamed the highway after Mildred and Richard Loving, two Virginians who were instrumental in getting interracial marriage legalized. Cole said the family asked him to pick a new name, saying the couple never wanted all the attention. The bill passed the House Transportation Committee 13-5 Tuesday afternoon, sending it to the House floor.
Jan. 25, 2021
Connor Scribner - 6:47 PM
Plenty of marquee legislation before full chambers today as both the House and the Senate approved controversial bills.
In the Senate, a proposal to remove the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots passed on a party-line vote. Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Alexandria) sponsored the bill. In a committee meeting last week, she said the witness requirement stands as a barrier to voting, noting that only a handful of states require it. Republicans have heavily criticized the measure, saying it could lead to voter fraud and erode public trust in elections. There is, however, no evidence to back up that claim. The Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank, conducted a review of ballots from each of the five states that allowed voting by mail prior to 2018. Among nearly 50 million ballots, they found only 44 instances of attempted voter fraud.
Over in the House, legislators greenlit proposals to ban firearms from polling places, abolish the common law crime of suicide and provide legal protection for people who report overdoses. The gun control measure was the most divisive in the chamber, squeaking by 53-47. Two Democrats joined every Republican in voting against the measure, Del. Chris Hurst of Blacksburg and Del. Roslyn Tyler of Jarratt. 2nd Amendment advocates have criticized the measure, saying existing laws that ban voter intimidation provide adequate protection. They argue that voters cannot be intimidated by concealed weapons. Proponents of the bill, however, have said voters would enjoy peace of mind by knowing firearms were not present.
The proposal to abolish the crime of suicide passed 66-34. While there is not punishment for suicide, activist argue that remove it from the law code will provide comfort to those whose loved ones have died by suicide.
Legal protections may soon be expanded for people experiencing or reporting overdoses. While current law protects those who seek treatment for people experiencing an overdose, the new measure would also protect people who attempt to render emergency care themselves, stay at the scene of an overdose or identify themselves to a responding officer. The bill passed overwhelmingly, 87-13.
That’s all for us today. Week 3 of the General Assembly session is just getting started and soon bills will start to make their way through the opposite chambers so make sure to keep your eyes here on our live blog and check out our full coverage over at vpm.org/general-assembly.
Sara McCloskey - 5:21 PM
A bill that would prevent Virginia voters from bringing guns into polling locations is now making its way to the state Senate. The legislation, proposed by Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria), passed the House today in a 53-47 vote. 2nd Amendment supporters have argued that the state already has laws against voter intimidation, and questioned how voters would be intimidated by a concealed firearm. The bill does have exceptions: current and retired law enforcement would be allowed to have a firearm, as well as security hired to work near a polling place and people on private property within 40 feet from the polling location.
Connor Scribner - 3:16 PM
A Senate committee voted to advance legislation meant to expand worker’s protections for domestic servants, but not until stripping it of some of those protections.
The bill, from Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), seeks to change who is considered an employer, changing the definition such that anyone who hires domestic workers would count. That would provide domestic workers with protections they currently don’t enjoy, including non-discrimination in employment and workplace safety restrictions.
Advocates speaking in favor of the bill included former Richmond mayoral candidate Alexsis Rodgers, who is the state director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She said domestic workers should not be denied those protections based only on the type of work they do.
One protection the bill sought to provide was worker’s compensation, but that was met with heavy resistance from committee members. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Springfield) worried it might place an undue burden on people who hire someone for only one hour each week. McClellan, however, said those people were likely to be considered “casual employees” who would not be covered by the bill. Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) proposed an amendment stripping the bill of worker’s compensation protections which was passed by a voice vote. The bill was then reported by a vote of 12-3. It must now clear the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sara McCloskey & Brandon Shillingford - 2:34 PM
Teacher advocates are getting behind a bill, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg), that would increase funding for schools and make changes to statewide education requirements, called the Standards of Quality.
The School Equity and Staffing Act costs more than $460 million, and the lawmakers say it reverses continued spending cuts. Some of that money would be used to support at-risk students. The funding would also lower the ratio of school staff to students for various programs, including ESL and reading specialists.
This legislation has been introduced before by both lawmakers, but didn’t pass. During a press conference today with the Virginia Education Association, Del. Aird said it’s time to take action.
“I'm asking the General Assembly and budget leaders, that I know Sen. McClellan and I will keep working with, to show me some indication that you're moving in this direction, because there is that sense of urgency,” she said.
Both the House and Senate versions of the legislation have yet to come to a full vote in either chamber.
Whittney Evans - 2:04 PM
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to eliminate nearly all mandatory minimum sentences in the criminal code. The bill passed 9-6 and has been referred to Senate Finance. Proponents say mandatory minimums do not reduce crime, as they are purported to do, but tie the hands of judges and juries.
Experts say research on the effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences at deterring crime and eliminating inequities is inconclusive. However, a 2020 report from the Virginia Department of Corrections stated Black people who are incarcerated on average have more mandatory minimum sentences than their white counterparts.
According to the department, 31% of people in state custody are serving mandatory minimum sentences, either alone or in combination with other offenses. The Virginia State Crime Commission recommended the proposal.
Jan. 22, 2021
As the second week of Virginia’s General Assembly session comes to a close, more bills come before the full chambers, with several bills of interest ready to make their way to the other side of the remote Capitol after today.
The Senate has put their stamp of approval on legislation set to remove a bar preventing health insurance companies from covering abortion services. In a 20-17 vote, with only Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) splitting with his party and voting against the bill, the Senate passed Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s (D-Richmond) SB 1276. The bill will allow health insurance plans sold on the state-run exchange to cover abortion services. It will not require plans to cover the services, but instead removes a ban that’s been in place since it’s recommendation by former Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Republicans have repeatedly criticized the bill, claiming that it will lead to tax dollars being spent on abrortion, something McClellan denies. The bill is listed as having no effect on state finances. It will now make its way over to the House, where a companion bill from Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) has cleared committee and is set to be heard by the full chamber on Tuesday.
Speaking of Hudson, the House passed a bill from the professor turned legislator today that would give tenants strengthened legal recourse if they are unlawfully evicted. The legislation addresses concerns from activists who say landlords abuse their power to evict tenants without following the proper legal channels, which Hudson called a “self-help” eviction during a subcommittee meeting.
While this is already illegal in the commonwealth, current law only provides tenants with actual damages, which Hudson says can be hard to prove. Introducing the bill in a subcommittee last week, she recalled a tenant who was illegally locked out of her house for two week, only to be awarded $700. The bill proposes adding an additional penalty of $5,000 or 4 months rent, whichever is greater. Hudson and activists say the higher penalty can act as a deterrent for landlords considering evicting tenants illegally. The bill passed by a party-line vote of 54-44.
Two pieces of legislation that proponents say will help Virginia reckon with its sordid history with racism moved forward in the House today. Del. Cia Price (D-Newport News) is hoping she can make Virginia the first state in the South with its own Voting Rights Act. Her bill bans discriminatory voting procedures, which advocates say could prevent voter suppression tactics, including closing poll locations or shortening voting hours. The bill was advanced through a subcommittee on a party-line 4-2 vote.
In the Rules Committee, a resolution from Del. Lashrece Aird (D-Petersburg) that would declare racism a public health crisis was advanced. Aird calls Virginia “ground zero” for racism in the country, and resolution co-sponsor Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Richmond) said acknowledging the harm or racism is the first step in the healing process. The committee reported the resolution 13-5, with all Republicans voting against the measure, including gubernatorial hopeful Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights).
That’ll wrap up our General Assembly coverage for this week. We’ll be back Monday, but if you can’t wait until then, check out our full coverage at vpm.org/general-assembly.
Brandon Shillingford - 2:47 PM
In a 20-17 vote, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would remove restrictions for plans sold on the state-run insurance exchange, allowing them to cover abortion services.
Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) has repeatedly criticized this legislation, because he says he thinks public funding will go into abortion services. He voted against the measure today. “There are some of us that believe that on this very controversial item that no tax money should be used in this way,” Newman said. “I agree with the gentlelady that it is very complex, but I believe that there are funds that will go into the premium subsidy."
In a committee meeting earlier this week, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), emphasized that the bill does not require public funding for these services, and it instead gets rid of “a prohibition on what private insurance companies can offer through the exchange.”
The senate version of the bill now moves to the House of Delegates for consideration. The companion version of the bill, sponsored by Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville), reported out of committee yesterday, and is set to be voted on by the House on Tuesday.
Sara McCloskey - 2:18 PM
The full House of Delegates will soon decide the fate of the Harry Byrd statue in Capitol Square. Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) proposed a bill to remove the statue, saying it’s a “monument to segregation.”
Byrd, a former Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator, led a “massive resistance” campaign to prevent federally-mandated school desegregation. Jones also proposed this legislation during the special session last year. Del. Wendell Walker, a Republican, introduced a similar bill in the 2020 legislative session -- as a political jab aimed at Democrats.
Clara Haizlett - 1:58 PM
On the Senate floor today, senators passed SB 1211, which would impose an additional $4 fee when registering a vehicle each year to support the Department of State Police. The bill creates a Public Safety Trust Fund that would increase salaries for state police officers. SB 1211 passed 31-7.
Ben Paviour - 12:48 PM
Virginia could be the first state in the South to pass its own Voting Rights Act under legislation that cleared its first hurdle today. The bill from Del. Cia Price (D-Newport News) bans any voting procedure that discriminates against based on race, membership in a language minority or being of Latino origin. Backers of the bill say it can help prevent voter suppression through poll closures, curtailed voting hours or changes to the form of local elections in majority-Black or Latino neighborhoods. They argue the bill is necessary in the wake of the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder, which stripped the federal government’s ability to investigate changes to voting throughout Virginia and other Southern states.
Representatives for the Virginia Municipal League, Virginia Association of Counties and the City of Virginia Beach said they appreciated the bills’ intent but not the potential costs of litigation they might incur from it. They also noted that a 60-day comment period required for election-related changes to things like local district boundaries had the potential to delay elections.
The House Voting Protections Subcommittee advanced Price’s bill on a 4-2 party-line vote; it now heads to a full committee. The subcommittee also shot down two Republican bills. One from Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) would have removed same-day voter registration, while another from Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg) would have reinstated Virginia’s voter ID rules. The Republicans argued the rules would reinstate trust in Virginia’s voting system, but Democrats in the committee were not persuaded and pressed for proof of fraud. Cole was one of three Republicans who signed a letter urging Vice President Mike Pence to delay certification of Virginia’s electors.
Roberto Roldan - 11:31 AM
A bill that would have provided tax credits to affordable housing developers in Virginia was voted down in a House subcommittee this morning.
HB2050 from Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) would have generated more than 750 new affordable units each year, according to estimates from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. But with the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis, lawmakers are wary of proposals that would impact tax revenue. The bill was voted down 7-1 in a House Finance subcommittee.
A companion bill in the Senate, sponsored by Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), has not yet received a committee hearing.
Jan. 21, 2021
Connor Scribner - 6:58 PM
With the General Assembly settling into the rhythm of its legislative session, today saw a dramatic vote in the Senate and the squashing of campaign finance reform measures in the House.
The Senate passed legislation by the narrowest of margins that seeks to adjust the state’s election calendar. In a 19-19 vote, with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax breaking the tie, the body advanced a bill to move all local elections to November. Currently, some localities hold their local contests in May, which Democrats say depresses voter turnout. Every Republican voted against the measure, with the exception of Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) who broke with her party in casting the deciding vote.
A House subcommittee stymied a couple bills attempting to restructure Virginia’s campaign finance laws. One reform sought to bar public utility companies, like Dominion Energy, from making political contributions but was tabeled by a vote of 4-2. A similar measure was killed in the Senate on Tuesday. Nine of the ten senators who voted to defeat the bill took in $135,000 from Dominion last year.
The other reform left in the subcommittee sought to bar all corporate contributions. Virginia is one of five states with no limit on such contributions. The subcommittee did advance legislation seeking to prevent candidates from using campaign money for personal expenses. Previously, candidates have spent that money on things like steak dinners and nail salon appointments.
Every single Virginia senator is backing a bill to change who can administer COVID-19 vaccines. The proposal, from Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), seeks to let all qualified medical personnel administer the vaccine. Medical professionals joined a bipartisan group of senators at the announcement today, throwing their support behind the bill.
That’s all for Jan. 21, we’ll be back tomorrow to cover all the twists and turns of Virginia’s General Assembly session, keeping you up to date on marquee legislation. For more coverage, visit vpm.org/general-assembly.
Connor Scribner - 5:32 PM
A Senate committee killed a bill that sought to make it a misdemeanor to “maliciously or intentionally interfere with the orderly passage of vehicles.” Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) sponsored the bill, which he said would help police keep traffic clear. When asked for examples, DeSteph pointed to incidents from this summer’s protests for criminal justice reform.
Sen. Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake) urged his fellow senators to reject the bill, calling it “another attempt just to lock people up.” The bill was voted down 10-3 with Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) joining the committee’s Democrats.
Roberto Roldan - 4:31 PM
The Virginia Senate narrowly passed a bill this afternoon that would move all local elections to November, with Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax being the tie-breaking vote. The bill would affect a number of localities that hold their municipal elections in May. Democrats have argued that local races decided in November, when state and federal contests are also held, would increase voter turnout.
All Republicans, except Sen. Amanda Chase (R - Chesterfield), voted against the bill. It will now move to a vote in the House.
Joi Bass - 4:03 PM
A bipartisan group of Senators want to let more health care workers distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), chief patron of the bill, said the legislation will allow any health care provider who is qualified to administer the vaccine to citizens. Her colleague Sen. Todd Pillion (R- Abingdon) says it's something they owe to their former colleague, Sen. Ben Chafin, who died of COVID-19. “We've already lost one senator to the COVID and we can’t wait any longer," Pillion said. "We have to get these vaccines in the arms of our commonwealth.”
Dr. Cynthia Romero said the bill could help solve racial inequities by letting her medical students at Eastern Virginia Medical School give vaccines. Citing state data, she said, “The Black community suffers from the number of cases, the number of hospitalizations and the number of deaths due to COVID-19."
Connor Scribner - 2:25 PM
A House committee voted 12-9 to advance a bill which would allow plans sold on the state-run health exchange to cover abortion. The bill, from Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) would not require these plans to cover abortion, but rather remove a bar that was put in place by former Gov. Bob McDonnell. The same bill is also moving through the Senate, where it is patronized by Sen. Jennifer McClellan.
Opponents of the bill, including the Virginia Catholic Conference, say it will lead to taxpayer money paying for abortions, something which Hudson and McClellan deny. Both bills are listed as having no fiscal impact. Hudson noted when speaking for the bill that abortion is the only legal medical practice barred from the state’s health exchange and that half of all people who seek abortions can not afford to pay for them out of pocket. The bill will now move to the full House for consideration.
Brandon Shillingford - 1:51 PM
Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William) introduced a bill that would allow the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to issue identification cards to undocumented immigrants in the state.
A similar bill passed last year and went into effect this month that extends a right to driving privilege cards to undocumented individuals in Virginia. Guzman's house bill 2138, which made it out of the transportation committee with a vote of 13 - 6 today, would allow those individuals -- who don’t necessarily have an interest in driving or owning a car -- to get this form of state identification.
Jan. 20, 2021
Connor Scribner - 6:02 PM
It was a decidedly slower day for the General Assembly, with a few bills on interest making their way through subcommittees.
One bill of interest for the Richmond area was HB 2152 from Del. Les Adams (R-Chatham). The bill placed strict limits on non-profit bail funds, barring them from posting bails over $2,000 or for people facing felony charges. It also would have given the Department of Criminal Justice Services the ability to license and revoke the licenses of community bail funds. Del. Adams said the seeking of donations from outside the localities where individuals are jailed necessitated the change. Across the state, community bail funds, including the Richmond Community Bail Fund, campaigned heavily against the legislation, saying it was an attempt to squash their efforts. The bill died today in the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee by a party-line 5-3 vote.
In other criminal justice news, the House of Delegates passed a bill today which would require law enforcement officers to render aid to any person the witness suffering serious bodily injury or a life-threatening condition. The bill also seeks to obligate law enforcement officers to report wrongdoing by other officers. This comes on the heels of a summer of protest for racial justice and against police abuses, and advocates say the bill will help hold police officers accountable. Chief Maggie DeBoard with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, says the bill is unnecessary and that officers are already compelled to testify in internal investigations. The bill passed 57-42 and will now head to the Senate. Read the full story here.
That’ll wrap up our coverage for Jan. 20, come back tomorrow to stay up-to-date on all the happenings in the General Assembly and keep an eye on vpm.org/general-assembly for our full coverage of Virginia’s legislature.
Roberto Roldan - 3:14 PM
A bill from Del. Les Adams (R-Chatham) that would have placed strict limits on non-profit community bail funds met a quick death in a House subcommittee on Wednesday. HB2152 would have banned community bail funds from posting bail for someone facing a felony charge and posting bail or bonds over $2,000. It would also prevent them from posting bond or bail outside of the locality where the non-profit is located.
Del. Adams said he sponsored the bill in response to concerns from the for-profit bail industry, which is regulated by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Rick Nagel, a lobbyist for the American Bail Coalition, said community bail funds do not have to operate under the same regulations.
“[Bail bondsmen] are required to account for funds, they’re audited in all their transactions and subjected to additional audits, if needed,” Nagel said. “Non-profit bail funds face no scrutiny, no audits, no background checks or professional requirements.”
Mary Bauer, a board member for the Charlottesville Immigrant Freedom Fund, which posts bail for people awaiting an immigration hearing, said the bill would regulate these community bail funds out of existence. “This requirement that a bond fund can only pay bond for the city in which the fund is based would result in CIFF being unable to continue our work,” Bauer said. “Immigrant detention centers are generally located in isolated rural areas far from where people live.”
The Legal Aid Justice Center, RVA Community Bail Fund, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and other progressive advocacy groups also opposed the bill. HB2152 was voted down along party lines.
Brandon Shillingford - 2:06 PM
A bill from Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) to codify Gov. Ralph Northam's G3 initiative into law was advanced by a House subcommittee this morning in a unanimous 8-0 vote. The bill is the product of a multi-year long process that began with the governor's “Get skilled, Get a job, Give back” initiative. The program aims to provide tuition-free community college for those seeking jobs in fields facing worker shortages. Students whose families making more than 4 times the federal poverty limit cannot receive tuition assistance from the program.
Previously, the program was funded by the governor's annual budget, but the bill would have it become a permanent fixture. The bill enjoys the support of a wide-range of companies, including Dominion Energy, Amazon and the Newport News Shipyard. Committee chair Mark Keam pointed to that broad support when introducing the bill. “It's rare to have so many different organizations and individuals come together on one bill,” he said. “It shows that this is something that is really needed in the commonwealth.”
Sara McCloskey and Joi Bass - 1:40 PM
A bill that restricts who you can call a school nurse is being evaluated by delegates. A majority of the House Education Committee voted to pass HB1736, sponsored by Del. Dawn Adams of Richmond, with minor adjustments.
Del. Schuler VanValkenburg, a teacher, explained the “bill just says you can’t call someone a school nurse if they aren’t a Registered Nurse.” Some lawmakers said it increases transparency for parents, so they’ll know the certifications of the person taking care of their child. Others were concerned this could be confusing for kids, who might not know the difference between a “school nurse” and a “health aide,” which is what some school districts call healthcare professionals.
The bill still needs to be considered by a few more committees before making it to a full vote.
Ben Paviour - 11:06 AM
A panel in Virginia’s House of Delegates killed a proposal from Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) on Wednesday that would have made Virginia’s Board of Elections a bipartisan body of six members, half Democrat, half Republican. Under current rules, the governor’s party has the majority on the commission, which oversees Virginia’s election administration.
Cox, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, pointed out that the bipartisan system is found in other states and on the Federal Elections Commission. Wisconsin, New York, and Illinois all name a non-political appointee to head the election system. A 2018 report from the legislature’s research wing, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, said the Department of Elections “continues to be susceptible to political influence” because of a high number of political appointees.
Virginia’s Board is already growing from three to five people starting Feb. 1 under legislation passed last year. Several speakers from progressive advocacy groups said it was too soon to make further adjustments. Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) also argued the bipartisan system could deadlock the Board. Sickles said the FEC’s bipartisan makeup was no model, describing it as “the most dysfunctional government agency that's ever been invented.
“I would respectfully say to the proponent of this legislation that if he is successful in his pursuits this year, he will rue the day he supported this bill,” Sickles said. The bill was defeated in a 12-9 party-line vote.
Jan 19, 2021
Connor Scribner - 6:45 PM
A busy day at the remote Capitol Square today as the first bills of 2021 passed full chambers of the General Assembly.
In the House, a bill set to bar restaurants and food trucks from packaging food in single-use polystyrene containers, better known by the brand name “Styrofoam,” passed 58-40. Every Democrat voted in favor of the measure, joined by three Republicans.
If passed, the bill will ban the containers in chain restaurants with 20 or more locations by July 2023 and in all food vendors two years later. The same bill was passed by the legislature last year and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, but with a provision forcing this year’s Assembly to pass it again.
A house subcommittee also made moves to regulate the state’s burgeoning gambling industry. A bill was advanced to require casino operators to complete state-approved training on recognizing human trafficking. The legislature will also consider raising the limit on charitable gaming prizes this year.
Over in the Senate, Chesterfield Sen. Amanda Chase has found herself in hot water following her attendance of the protest turned riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. It’s not the first time Chase has found herself embroiled in controversy. In 2019, Chase left the GOP Senate caucus, which later led to her being stripped of three of her committee assignments, leaving her with only one, until today.
Her colleagues voted today to take even her last committee assignment away, with Republican Sen. Mark Peake of Lynchburg criticizing her for making decisions “in pursuit of her personal goals.” The vote was nearly unanimous with only Chase dissenting.
But Chase’s bad day was not over as a resolution to censure her stood before the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. Chase failed to show for that meeting, but that did not deter the committee from advancing the resolution, placing her censure before the full Senate.
The Committee also stymied efforts by Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) to reform the state’s campaign finance laws. Petersen hoped to limit an individual's political contributions to $20,000 per candidate per election cycle and bar public utility companies from donating to candidates, campaign committees or PACs. The bills were defeated 6-9 and 5-10, respectively. Petersen also introduced the bills last year, with the bills falling with the exact same margins.
That’s all for Jan. 19, continue to follow our coverage here, live or look for full versions of our stories on vpm.org/general-assembly.
Connor Scribner - 5:55 PM
The Virginia House voted today to bar restaurants and food trucks from packaging food in single-use polystyrene, better known by the brand name “Styrofoam.” The final vote was 58-40. Every Democrat voted in favor of the ban, joined by three Republicans.
If the bill becomes law, it would force restaurants with 20 or more locations to abandon the containers by July 2023, with all food vendors forced to comply by July 2025.
Governor Ralph Northam signed the same bill last year, but with a provision that the ban had to be OK’d by this year’s General Assembly as well. The bill will now make its way to the Senate for consideration.
Craig Carper - 3:45 PM
Virginia lawmakers continue to make changes to state law to support the state’s growing gambling industry.
A House subcommittee today approved legislation that would require casino operators to complete a state approved training course in how to recognize and report suspected human trafficking. That bill now goes to the full committee.
The legislature will also consider a bill this year to raise the limit’s on charitable gaming prizes. Last year Gov. Northam signed legislation that would allow sports betting in the commonwealth and casino gambling in 5 cities, pending the approval of local referendums. 4 cities have already approved them: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth. Richmond will consider a casino ballot referendum this November. Legal sports betting in Virginia will officially begin in just a few weeks.
Patrick Larsen - 3:24 PM
Almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, Americans with the lowest hourly income are still more likely to be out of work than those making more, according to U.S. Census Bureau data presented to state senators today. Women and people of color, who are more likely to work in the hardest-hit industries and earn $20/hour or less, were disproportionately impacted. White males, who are more likely to earn $40/hour or more, did not experience significant job losses.
The disparity means that Virginians with the least economic power are more likely to still be out of work.
Joi Bass - 3:15 PM
This morning, Virginia Interfaith Power and Light hosted a press conference in support of HJ 538, a measure to recognize the importance of equal access to clean and safe drinking water as a basic human right, sponsored by Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg).
Aird says access to clean and affordable water is a necessary human right: “At the heart of this pandemic, an issue that plagued households well before the pandemic was exacerbated. And that was a family’s lack of access to water."
Brandon Shillingford - 3:03 PM
CORRECTION: A prior update misstated a vote; it was to assign committees, not censure Sen. Chase.
The VA Senate voted 37-1 to not give Chase any committee assignments, following her departure from the Republican Caucus. The vote was 37-1; Chase was the sole senator opposing the action with Sen. Joe Morrissey not voting.
Connor Scribner - 2:59 PM
For the second consecutive year, Sen. Chap Petersen’s attempt to ban public utilities from making political contributions has failed to clear the Senate Elections Committee, failing to report by a vote of 5-10. All 14 returning committee members sustained their votes from last year on a similar measure, with Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), who replaced the late Sen. Ben Chafin, joining the no votes. Public utility companies are some of the largest donors in Virginia politics. According to VPAP, Dominion Energy and Comcast are the fourth and eleventh largest donors in the current cycle, respectively.
The committee further reiterated its rejection of Petersen’s attempts at campaign finance reform, voting down another measure that would limit individual political contributions to $20,000 per candidate per election cycle by a vote of 6-9. Petersen attempted to pass this legislation last year, as well, and all returning senators sustained their votes.
Jan. 18, 2021
Connor Scribner - 5:37 PM
A bit more action today in the Senate, as Virginia’s General Assembly session gets into full swing.
This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill from Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) that seeks to abolish the death penalty in the state. Every Democrat on the committee voted in favor of advancement, as well as Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Moneta) who is a co-sponsor. The bill must now clear the Senate Finance Committee before making its way to the Senate floor.
When Virginia’s laws were adapted to comply with the Affordable Care Act in 2013, those changes came with the requirement that insurance policies sold on the state-run exchange could not cover abortions. In a sign of how rapidly Virginia politics have changed over the past 10 years, the Senate Commerce Committee voted today to move a bill that would strip that requirement to the Senate floor.
The bill, from Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), would not require insurance companies to cover abortion services, but would allow them to do so. A similar bill from Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) was left in subcommittee last year, but has been introduced again for this year.
The Commerce Committee also took up paid family and medical leave today, ending with a lukewarm take on the issue. They chose to advance legislation from Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) that would set up a study into the creation of paid family and medical leave insurance in the state. In light of the potential study, the committee also decided to kill legislation from Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon) that would have set a state-run program up immediately.
After vigorous debate, the committee decided to wait for the results of the study before moving any further. If passed, study results will be available at the end of November, before next year’s legislative session.
That’s it for day 4 of our General Assembly coverage, we’ll be back tomorrow, bright and early, to keep you updated on all the action from the remote Capitol Square. Check vpm.org/general-assembly for our full coverage.
Connor Scribner - 4:05 PM
Paid family and medical leave won’t be coming to the commonwealth, at least not yet. A Senate committee first advanced legislation from Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) calling for a study into bringing a paid family leave program to the state, before killing a bill from Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon) that would have brought a program immediately.
Senators on the committee argued that implementing paid family leave before seeing the results of the study would be impetuous. If Favola’s bill makes its way to become law, the findings of the study would be released in November, prior to next year’s legislative session. Experts say the United States’ lack of paid family leave has harmed women during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the federal government did institute some additional paid leave requirements during the pandemic, they expired at the end of last year.
Connor Scribner - 3:06 PM
When the General Assembly adapted Virginia’s laws to comply with the Affordable Care Act in 2013, then Gov. Bob McDonnell had one recommendation: plans on state-run insurance exchanges should be barred from covering abortions.
That recommendation was adopted by the then Republican-controlled legislature, but today, a Senate committee moved forward a bill that would strip that requirement.
Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) is sponsoring the bill. She says abortion is the only legal medical procedure banned from the state’s exchange. Sen. Stephen Newman (R-Campbell) criticized the bill, saying it would lead to public funded abortions, something McClellan says is not true.
Sara McCloskey - 12:40 PM
While MLK Day is traditionally a day for Virginians to lobby their lawmakers, this year there is heightened security throughout parts of Richmond given threats of violence ahead of the presidential inauguration by extremist groups.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a major proponent of 2nd Amendment rights, is coordinating car caravans to go by the state Capitol and the Science Museum of Virginia, where the state Senate is meeting during the legislative session. So far, VPM reporter Roberto Roldan says there have been a few dozen vehicles going by - with more expected throughout the afternoon. Last year, more than 20,000 heavily armed gun rights supporters gathered in Downtown Richmond. That event ended without violence.
A virtual vigil is also happening this afternoon coordinated by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Gov. Ralph Northam is providing remarks at 1 p.m. The event requires those interested to register in advance.
Connor Scribner - 12:03 PM
Virginia Democrats have moved one step closer to abolishing the state’s death penalty.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-4 to advance Sen. Scott Surovell’s SB 1165. Every Democrat on the committee voted in favor of reporting the bill, joined by Surovell’s co-patron, Republican Sen. Bill Stanley.
The bill is likely to pass through both Democratically-controlled chambers of Virginia’s legislature and be signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam, who included death penalty abolition as a key priority during his State of the Commonwealth address.
For its next stop, the bill will have to clear the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, set to meet tomorrow at 9 a.m.
Sara McCloskey - 9:18 AM
Today, Virginians can take part in a virtual “Day on the Hill” event with state lawmakers to honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Brown Virginia is hosting the “Dr. King Day of Action" to assist community members advocating for key policy priorities that impact people of color in Virginia. The virtual event will have speakers, including Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Janice Underwood. Northam is expected to speak at the event at 11 a.m. Register at BrownVA.org.
Jan. 15, 2021
Craig Carper - 5:40 PM
A bill that would reduce the penalty for wearing a mask in public has been killed by a House subcommittee.
The bill from Democratic Delegate Lee Carter of Manassas would have reduced that penalty to a misdemeanor.
Carter says the law was originally added to the code to combat the Ku Klux Klan but that the law has strayed from its' actual purpose. “It has recently been used to harass and intimidate and arrest people protesting against hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan,” Carter said.
Exceptions for the mask ban currently exist for religious masks, traditional holiday masks and medical masks among other things.
Carter’s legislation would also make mask wearing a secondary offense, punishable only if the perpetrator was committing an act of intimidation, harassment against anyone of a protected class, or another crime.
Last Martin Luther King Day 22,000 gun-rights advocates protested in downtown Richmond. While most did not wear masks, a notable number did. Carter said law enforcement selectively chose not to arrest any gun-rights demonstrators but did arrest one counter-protestor who was wearing a mask.
Opponents of the legislation said it needed further scrutiny and raised concerns about unwittingly undoing the existing religious exemptions for mask wearing and limiting the free speech rights of people from non-protected classes. The House Courts of Justice Criminal Law Subcommittee killed the bill on a vote of 6-2.
Connor Scribner - 5:21 PM
Another slow day at the remote Capitol Square, but a couple of Democrats hoping to make their home in Capitol Square next year made the news today.
This morning, Richmond Sen. Jennifer McClellan announced her plan for addressing childcare and early childhood education in the state. McClellan said the inadequacies of Virginia’s childcare system have been laid bare during the pandemic, but that her plan is not just about getting back to the way things were.
“We need to rebuild our childcare system and early childhood education system in a way that doesn't just take us back to where we were on March 12, but begins to address the lack of access to high quality, affordable, early childhood education and childcare,” she said during a virtual press conference.
McClellan’s plan calls for $4 billion in relief to Virginia’s schools, daycares and families suffering financially during the pandemic. The proposal would expand access to affordable healthcare for more than half a million Virginia children and provide free child health care to families making up to double the federal poverty limit.
One of McClellan’s gubernatorial rivals, Del. Lee Carter of Manassas, had a bill tabled in subcommittee today. Carter’s bill aims to lessen the severity of a Virginia law which bans the wearing of masks in public or private property without permission. Currently, breaking the law is a felony offense, while Carter’s bill would lessen that to a misdemeanor.
The proposal was tabled by the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee by a vote of 6 to 2. Del. Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax) expressed interest in revisiting the bill, but motioned to table over concerns the language did not provide exceptions for religious headwear.
The subcommittee also voted 6 to 1 to advance a bill abolishing the common-law crime of suicide. While the law carries no penalty, Steve Mittendorff, whose wife Nicole died by suicide in 2016, said abolishing the crime is best for those who’ve lost their loved ones.
“It would be legislation that can and will help to alleviate the burden that is left for so many of us survivors to bear with,” he said.
Subcommittee chair Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) held back tears following Mittendorf’s testimony, saying, “The issues that have struck your family have struck mine as well… So while I can’t understand your pain, I can certainly empathize.”
The General Assembly will reconvene Monday with committee meetings starting at 7 a.m. Expect more action in the coming weeks as bills start to make their way through committee and floor debate begins in earnest.
Jan. 14, 2021
Connor Scribner - 7:25 PM
In what is likely to be the norm for early days in the session, today was a slow day for the Virginia General Assembly. With most bills just beginning to make their way through committees, not much floor debate took place, with the House meeting for only 17 minutes before adjourning for the day.
Over in the Senate, Democrats set their crosshairs on Sen. Amanda Chase. The Midlothian Republican has caught the ire of her fellow lawmakers following her attendance of last week’s rally in Washington, which later devolved into a riot. While she left the scene prior to the mob breaching the Capitol, she has stood by rioters, calling them “patriots.”
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw delivered as scathing review of Chase’s comments, saying, “having an American flag draped over your shoulder doesn't mean you're a patriot, especially when underneath it is a Nazi insignia or a Camp Auschwitz shirt." A bill to censure, or formally disapprove of, Chase has been filed and sent to committee.
Whittney Evans is following a suite of criminal justice reform bills Democrats are backing. The party, which holds slim majorities in both chambers, hopes to abolish the death penalty, restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies and legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Read the story
Gov. Ralph Northam announced today that the state will be upping security ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week. Capitol Square, which houses both the state Capitol and the Executive Mansion, has been closed to the public, roads have been closed across downtown Richmond and additional security will be implemented outside the Science Museum of Virginia, where the Senate is meeting. Read the story
Despite meeting virtually over COVID-19 concerns, the House will continue to take home its per diem payments, traditionally given to pay for food and housing as members come to Richmond for session. Senators have been given the option to join the session virtually, but they will not be eligible for per diem payments unless they are in Richmond. Read the story
That’s all for day 2 of the 2021 General Assembly session. VPM’s team of reporters will continue to follow all the action and keep you updated live, right here. Make sure to check vpm.org/general-assembly for all of our GA coverage.
Roberto Roldan - 2:42 PM
A bill from Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg to permit beer and wine to-go sales through 2021 was approved unanimously by a committee, the first of many steps in being adopted as law. The bill also makes it easier to deliver beer and wine. Roberto Roldan will continue to follow this legislation as it's debated.
Sara McCloskey - 1:35 PM
On the Senate floor, Democrats criticized Republican Sen. Amanda Chase, who has repeatedly, and falsely, claimed election fraud in the 2020 presidential race. Chase is facing a possible censure, a formal resolution showing disapproval, from colleagues. She is one of more than a dozen state lawmakers from across the country who were in the nation's capital last Wednesday and continues to defend the rioters. State lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, said, "having an American flag draped over your shoulder doesn't mean you're a patriot, especially when underneath it is a Nazi insignia or a Camp Auschwitz shirt."
Sara McCloskey - 11:35 AM
Gov. Ralph Northam will give a security update this afternoon with the City of Richmond related to potential violence at all 50 state capitals and Washington, D.C. This comes after an FBI warning about planned gatherings leading up to President-Elect Joe Biden's inauguration. The press conference will start at 2 p.m. today. VPM will stream it live on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.
Jan. 13, 2021
Connor Scribner - 8:10 PM
Virginia’s General Assembly was gavelled in for the first day of the 2021 session with somberness as both chambers took a moment to reflect on the life of Sen. Ben Chafin, who died late December at the hands of COVID-19.
Sen. Todd Pillion, a close friend of Chafin, choked up as he remembered him. “If God needed an attorney, a banker, a farmer, or just a really great friend, he’s certainly got one now,” he said.
But the spirit of bipartisan cooperation was not to last. Republicans blocked an effort to extend the session to 46 days, giving lawmakers only 30 days to “conduct the people’s business.” That’s likely to change, however, as Gov. Ralph Northam is widely expected to call for a special session immediately following the current session’s close.
Rounding out the day, Democratic Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn stripped three Republicans of their committee assignments. The move comes after the delegates asked Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certification of Virginia’s election. One of the delegates, Del. Dave LaRock, attended last Wednesday’s rally in D.C. which later broke into a riot, leading to the second impeachment of President Donald Trump this afternoon.
In the fallout of that riot, the state Department of General Service is upping security around Virginia’s Capitol. Capitol Square will close tomorrow and remain closed until at least Jan. 21. Additional security, including fencing, will be installed around Capitol Square as well. Official updates will be posted on Facebook and Twitter.
While the traditional “Lobby Day'' protest outside Virginia’s Capitol will mostly be conducted by car this year, protesters were out in full-force today at the Science Museum of Virginia, where the Senate is meeting. Roberto Roldan spoke to advocates fighting for the restoration of voting rights for Virginians convicted of felonies and some pushing the state to expand access to affordable health care. Read the story
The day wrapped up with Northam’s State of the Commonwealth address where he reflected on a trying year and proposed a litany of policies to help the state recover from the effects of COVID-19. Included in his proposals were an expansion to affordable housing, new investments in education and criminal justice reforms, including marijuana legalization.
In their response, Republicans hit back at Northam for the slow vaccine rollout, closed schools and his support of criminal justice measures, saying their party will continue to firmly “Back the Blue.” Read the story
That wraps up day 1 of the General Assembly’s 2021 session. Check back here tomorrow for more live updates throughout the day and follow vpm.org/general-assembly for all of our coverage.
Lyndon German - 4:53 PM
The House of Delegates unanimously approved a Senate amended proposal for a 30-day General Assembly session. Legislators who fought for additional time will likely seek a special session that will have legislative work continue past 30 days.
Ben Paviour - 4:50 PM
Democratic Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn rounded out the first day by stripping three Republican lawmakers of committee assignments. Del. Dave LaRock, Del. Mark Cole and Del. Ronnie Campbell all signed a letter earlier this month asking Vice President Mike Pence to invalidate the results of the 2020 presidential election. In a statement, Filler-Corn's spokesman, Kunal Atit, said the men had shown "exceedingly bad judement" in signing the letter a day before insurrectionists attacked the U.S. Capitol. "Their attempt to cast doubt on our elections process in order to impede the peaceful transfer of power between one President to another is an affront to our democracy and violates the public trust," Atit said.
Ben Paviour - 4:10 PM
Senate Democrats needed a two thirds majority to extend the session to 46 days. Instead, the vote was 22-17, meaning the General Assembly will officially meet for 30 days. Gov. Ralph Northam is all but certain to call a special session once that's over.
Roberto Roldan - 3:46 PM
The first day of session in Richmond has also brought the first day of protesters hoping to influence policymakers. Outside the Science Museum of Virginia, where the Senate is meeting in-person, New Virginia Majority and other progressive groups were rallying in support of automatic voter rights restoration, eviction protections and access to affordable healthcare for undocumented immigrants. Richard Walker, an activist who was previously incarcerated says, “The Commonwealth of Virginia, who are they to decide that you can take my constitutional right from me? I think it’s been unfair since I’ve heard of it. Since I came home from prison I’ve been fighting it.”
Ben Paviour - 3:40 PM
Virginia's Senate is now debating an arcane piece of procedure: should they extend this year's session to 46 days? Normally this is a routine, bipartisan "aye" vote, but Republicans this year are trying to limit it to 30 days. Democrats say this is a useless stunt; if Republicans follow through, they'll just tack a special session to the end, creating scheduling uncertainty. At least one Republican, Sen. Richard Stuart, spoke up in favor of the 46 day schedule on the grounds that it is more predictable. "I need to get back to work and support my family," he said.
Sara McCloskey - 1:59 PM
Additional security measures are being installed around Capitol Square and state buildings in downtown Richmond starting Thursday, and access will be limited through at least Jan. 21. Capitol Square will be closed until after next Wednesday's presidential inauguration. Official updates and advisories will be posted to @VACapitol2021 on Facebook and Twitter.
Lyndon German - 1:48 PM
The House of Delegates adopted resolutions in memory of state Sen. Ben Chafin, who died after contracting COVID-19, and Brian Sicknick, a police officer who died after the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Del. Terry Kilgore introduced the resolution for Chafin, who he called a close friend and great man. Del. Vivian Watts offered the remembrance for Sicknick, reading comments from his family and friends.
Ben Paviour - 1:18 PM
Virginia's Senate has gone into recess after a somber series of speeches and a memorial resolution in honor of GOP Sen. Ben Chafin, who passed away from complications caused by COVID-19 earlier this month. Several lawmakers choked up as they remembered a lawmaker who was known for his quick wit, warm presence, and speeches sprinkled with idioms. Sen. Todd Pillion recounted a few of them in a floor speech ("trust everyone, but brand your cattle") and choked up as he remembered his friend. “If God needed an attorney, a banker, a farmer, or just a really great friend, he’s certainly got one now," Pillion said.
Ben Paviour - 12:21 PM
Virginia GOP Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment motioned to allow members to participate remotely. His colleague, Sen. Ben Chafin, died just a few weeks ago from complications caused by COVID-19.
Sara McCloskey - 12:19 PM
The 2021 General Assembly is underway. Soon after Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn gaveled in from the chamber to begin the meeting, House Clerk Suzette Denslow reminded lawmakers to mute their microphones as they joined the virtual meeting. The reminder shows how different this year will be, with the House holding virtual meetings and the Senate meeting in a room designed for physical distancing at the Virginia Science Museum.