RICHMOND—The new Virginia House Democratic majority is celebrating a historic legislative session. Democrats have passed new legislation tackling vital issues such as strengthening gun violence prevention, raising the minimum wage, widening protections for the LGBTQ+ community, expanding access to voting, protecting the environment, decriminalizing marijuana use, and repealing racially discriminatory language from the Commonwealth’s Acts of Assembly.
During the first three weeks of session, the House also prioritized passing the House and Senate resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, completing the necessary ratification requirements as outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
“This General Assembly session has been historic in the extraordinary progress the House of Delegates has made for Virginians in every corner of the Commonwealth,” Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said. “In November, voters called for swift, impactful action to make their communities safer and more prosperous. We have delivered on that mandate. We have passed an unprecedented amount of legislation that strengthens our democracy, protects Virginians from gun violence, makes our Commonwealth fairer and more equal, combats the climate change crisis, and so much more. We have lifted up working families by providing more Virginians access to quality healthcare and transforming our transportation system so Virginians can spend more time with their families and less in traffic. I thank all the members of the House of Delegates for their commitment to their constituents and their tireless work to move Virginia forward. It has been my high honor to serve as Speaker during this truly momentous legislative session.”
Governor Ralph Northam already signed several House bills into law, including a ban on conversion therapy for minors, prohibiting racial discrimination based on hair, and the implementation of the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice.
“The House Democratic majority advanced legislation that would impact Virginians’ lives,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said. “Women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, low-income families, and other marginalized communities will have laws that recognize and respect them more than ever before in the Commonwealth’s history. These measures will make Virginia a better place to live, work, and raise a family. We are moving forward together.”
The House under Democratic leadership passed 828 pieces of legislation, prior to the crossover legislation deadline, which was 37 percent more than the House of Delegates passed by the same time in 2019. In comparison to this year’s 828 bills, the House passed 603 bills in 2019, 591 bills in 2018, 586 bills in 2017, and 583 bills in 2016 — all while the Republican party held control of the chamber.
“After winning the first House majority in over 20 years, Democrats thoughtfully crafted bills that will meaningfully improve the lives of all Virginians,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan. “The legislation we are presenting to the Governor reflects what the voters sent us here to accomplish this session, and I am proud of House Democrats’ dedicated efforts to deliver on our promises.”
In 2019, a historic blue wave ushered in the first Democratic majority in the House of Delegates in over 20 years. House Democrats appointed more women and people of color to leadership and committee chair positions than ever before in the legislative body’s 401-year history. Democrats heeded the call of the Virginians who put them into the majority by swiftly advancing legislation to improve the lives of all Virginians.
Successes during the 2020 Legislative Session include:
- Passing common-sense gun safety legislation. The House of Delegates passed all eight of the gun violence prevention bills sent by Governor Northam following the Virginia Beach tragedy in May 2019. Passing through both bodies and on to the Governor’s desk were bills addressing universal background checks, requirements to report lost and stolen firearms, granting localities authority to determine how firearms may be regulated, preventing child access to loaded firearms, establishing substantial risk protective orders, restoring a limit on the number of gun purchases a person may make per month with an exception for concealed-carry permit holders, and ensuring persons subject to a protective order do not possess a firearm.
- Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, making Virginia the 38th and final state needed to complete the ratification process.
- Restoring reproductive rights by rolling back some of the most harmful restrictions on abortion access in Virginia such as forcing women to undergo medically-unnecessary ultrasounds, waiting periods on abortion services, and biased counseling. The legislation also repeals unnecessary restrictions on medical personnel and facilities, so that qualified advanced practice clinicians may perform abortions during early pregnancy, provided that it falls within the scope of practice. Abortion care providers may offer services to patients without the interference of targeted regulations imposed to limit such services.
- Expanding voting rights with different measures to grant people more accessibility and flexibility to vote. These measures include making election day a state holiday instead of Lee-Jackson Day, implementing “no excuse” absentee voting, allowing voters to essentially permanently enroll in a “vote by mail” program without having to fill out an absentee ballot application for each election, ensuring that mail-in ballots postmarked on election day can be counted, and permitting voters to register on election day.
- Raising the minimum wage to help working families and the most financially vulnerable Virginians. The House and Senate agreed to raise the minimum wage over the next three years to reach $12 in 2023, putting it on the pathway to a $15 minimum wage.
- Widening discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community by creating new safeguards and protections and mandating that state employees undergo cultural competency training.
- Protecting the environment with significant gains in the fight against climate change by passing HB 981, authorizing the Commonwealth to join RGGI. The General Assembly also passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act which puts Virginia on the path toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
- Combating predatory short-term loan practices by capping the interest and fees that may be charged for a short-term loan. These practices disproportionately affect minorities.
- Establishing access to collective bargaining for public employees. Virginia will now give local governments and their public employees — such as teachers and firefighters — the freedom to collectively bargain, in localities which choose to participate.
- Repealing racially discriminatory Acts of Assembly. The injustices in these old laws included de jure school segregation and housing discrimination, as well as restrictions on African Americans relating to public transportation, medical care, public documents, and public facilities.
- Removing the criminal penalty for simple marijuana possession, and establishing a civil fine of $25. Virginia joins 26 other states and the District of Columbia in decriminalizing the simple possession of marijuana.