RICHMOND, VA—House Democrats usher in new legislation aiding the women and girls of Virginia in the workplace, reproductive healthcare, school, and safety, which go into effect on July 1. 

Specific measures include removing some of the most obstructive and medically-unnecessary restrictions on reproductive rights, promoting equal pay, outlawing pregnancy discrimination, prohibiting schools from adopting dress code policies that have a disparate impact on a specific gender, improving treatment for prison inmates who are pregnant or have recently given birth, and making menstrual supplies available to students without charge.

“I am incredibly proud that Virginia House Democrats delivered on our promise to achieve unprecedented progress for Virginia’s women and girls,” said Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn. “We passed historic reproductive health protections that take politics out of women’s healthcare decisions. We eliminated discriminatory practices that have long punished women in places of employment, housing and public spaces. We passed laws that promote equal pay for equal work, and so much more. And the 2020 legislative session is just the start as we will continue to fight to make sure that equal truly means equal in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

In January, House Democrats completed the ratification process for the Equal Rights Amendment, affirming gender equality in the United States Constitution. Delegate Cia Price also introduced HJ 111 — which passed in both chambers of the General Assembly — declaring July to be Maternal Health Awareness Month in Virginia. This observance, which begins in 2020, acknowledges the rising problem of maternal mortality in the nation and the Commonwealth, especially among African-American women. 

“I am proud to serve as the first female majority leader during a year where women’s issues were a priority, especially in areas that had been long overlooked,” said House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring, who served as the patron for HB 980 which removes medically unnecessary restrictions on first-trimester abortions. “After July 1, women will have more legal backing when it comes to making vital healthcare choices relating to their reproductive health, getting paid their worth, and having stronger protections against discrimination. The law should aid women in their daily lives, not burden them.”

In the 2019 elections, a historic blue wave ushered in the first Democratic majority in the House of Delegates in more than 20 years and helped send a record number of women to the House. Under the Democratic majority, more House women are serving in leadership and committee chair positions than ever before in the legislative body’s 401-year history. Both Speaker Filler-Corn and Majority Leader Herring are the first women to hold their respective positions. 

“All of our candidates ran on a strong platform of women’s equality that included getting the Equal Rights Amendment over the ratification finish line,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan, the patron of HB 276, requiring hate crimes committed due to a victim’s gender to be reported to the state police. “The Commonwealth should be a welcoming place for all women. House Democrats are proud of the wide range of legislation benefiting women that passed during this year’s session, and we look forward to the meaningful and impactful solutions our Caucus members develop for next year.”

Here is a summary of House Democrats’ legislation benefiting women, which will go into effect on July 1:

  • HB 42 directs the Board of Medicine to communicate annually the standard of care pertaining to prenatal or postnatal depression to every board-certified primary, maternity, obstetrical, or gynecological health practitioner, and encourage them to screen patients who are pregnant or have been in the last five years for prenatal or postnatal depression or other depression. The bill also requires the annual communication to include information about factors which may place patients at increased risk for developing depression, such as racial and economic disparities. Delegate Ibraheem Samirah filed this bill. 
  • HB 276 requires hate crimes committed due to a victim’s gender to be reported to the state police. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rip Sullivan introduced the bill.
  • HB 405 requires local public school boards to make tampons and pads available free of charge in all middle and high school bathrooms, and in accessible locations at elementary schools. This bill was patroned by Delegate Mark Keam.
  • HB 432 requires the State Corporation Commission, when engaged in a public utility ratemaking which requires the SCC to determine whether the utility’s costs for goods or services to consumers are “reasonable and prudent,” to use an incremental-cost measure in assessing the utility’s choice of small, woman-owned or minority-owned businesses as vendors. Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy served as the patron for HB 432. 
  • HB 618 extends hate crime designation to assault, assault and battery, or trespass if the victim was selected on the basis of gender and empowers a victim of intimidation or harassment, violence, or vandalism motivated by gender to file a civil lawsuit. This bill was introduced by Delegate Kenneth Plum.  
  • HB 624 directs the the Division of Human Rights of the Department of Law to create recommendations for the information it would require, and the methodology by which it would use such information, to proactively enforce existing Virginia law requiring equal pay regardless of sex or race. The Division must also develop recommendations to address discrimination in compensation based on sex and race. This process includes gathering input from stakeholders representing both employers and employees in Virginia. Delegate Chris Hurst filed this bill, which requires the report to be issued by November 3, 2020. 
  • HB 787 adds hate crimes to the list of crimes that a multi-jurisdictional grand jury may investigate, including trespassing, damage to property, or assault where the victim of the crime was selected due to gender. Delegate Lamont Bagby served as the patron.
  • HB 827 mandates employers to make reasonable accommodations for known limitations of an employee related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions if necessary for them to perform their jobs, unless the accommodation puts an undue burden on the employer. The law prohibits employers from adverse action against employees requesting such accommodations. Employers are also barred from denying promotion or employment based on requests for accommodations. The law allows employees who are denied these rights to take employers to court for compensatory damages, back pay, and other equitable relief. Del. Carroll Foy introduced HB 827. 
  • HB 837 mandates that the Virginia Board of Education, in its model policies for student conduct codes, include standards for reducing bias and harassment in the enforcement of any such code, and standards for school dress or grooming codes. School boards are authorized to include a dress or grooming code within a code of student conduct, or to adopt one separately, so long as the dress code uses the same set of rules and standards regardless of gender, and does not have a disparate impact on students of a particular gender. Del. Carroll Foy also filed this legislation. 
  • HB 980 restores clearer access to reproductive rights by rolling back some of the most intrusive restrictions on abortion services in Virginia such as forcing women to undergo medically-unnecessary ultrasounds, waiting periods for abortion services, and biased counseling. The law also repeals medically-unnecessary restrictions on medical practitioners and facilities, and allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions during the first trimester, provided that it falls within their scope of practice. Abortion care providers may offer services to patients without the interference of targeted regulations imposed to limit such services. House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring served as the patron for HB 980. 
  • HB 993 recharters the Council on Women to advise the Governor on how to improve women’s educational, professional, cultural, and governmental status within the Commonwealth. The bill was sponsored by Delegate Joe Lindsey. 
  • HB 1648 improves care for prison inmates who are pregnant or have recently given birth. The bill mandates that state correctional officers and juvenile correctional officers receive additional training on physical interactions with such inmates, including restrictions on the use of restraints, body cavity searches, or assignment to restrictive housing, while also setting requirements to provide pregnant inmates with education related to prenatal care, pregnancy-specific hygiene, parenting skills, the impact of alcohol and drugs on the fetus, postpartum recovery health, and the general health of children. Delegate Kaye Kory introduced this legislation. 
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