RICHMOND, VA—The seismic shift created by Virginia voters last year when they elected a Democratic majority to the Virginia House of Delegates yielded a parallel shift in public policy, resulting in landmark legislation taking effect July 1, 2020. These new laws, which benefit Virginians in ways obstructed by past General Assembly majorities, include crucial gun violence prevention measures, more expansive voter rights, new anti-discrimination protections for women and the LGBTQ+ community, and energy policies that will reduce the Commonwealth’s use of fossil fuels for electricity.
“Last November, voters called for decisive, impactful action to make their communities safe and more prosperous. We have delivered on that mandate. We took that action. And tomorrow, many of these bills become law,” said Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn. “These laws will strengthen our democracy, protect Virginians from gun violence, tackle discrimination to make our Commonwealth fairer, combat the climate change crisis, give women the ability to make their own reproductive decisions, make our criminal justice system fairer (with much work ahead) and build on our economic progress in every corner of the Commonwealth.”
Last week, Speaker Filler-Corn announced that the House Courts of Justice and Public Safety Committees will hold joint public hearings in July and August regarding police and criminal justice reform. Information gathered during the hearings will better prepare the House of Delegates to act in the upcoming special session, and the 2021 regular session, on these matters and others related to racial inequities in Virginia and the nation.
“Our first year serving in the majority has been marked by new highs in the passage of landmark legislation in the effort to make Virginia a more inclusive and better place to live, work, and raise a family,” said House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “Our work reversing systemic inequities and injustices is not over and we look forward to making further progress for the Commonwealth during the special session and 2021.”
In 2019, a historic blue wave ushered in the first Democratic majority in the House of Delegates in more than 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. Heeding the call of the Virginia voters who put them into the majority, Democratic legislators swiftly advanced legislation to improve the lives of residents all across the Commonwealth.
“When voters across the Commonwealth stood up and elected Democrats last year, House Democrats listened and passed hundreds of bills based on Virginians’ calls for change,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan. “July 1 officially marks a new beginning in the Commonwealth, when more Virginians will be heard and recognized. House Democrats are preparing to return to Richmond for the special session and the 2021 regular legislative session with the same level of determination and innovation to create thoughtful solutions benefiting everyone in the Commonwealth.”
In addition to legislation, the House also passed the House and Senate resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, becoming the 38th and final state required by the U.S. Constitution. Other important matters were also addressed in joint resolutions, such as Delegate Cia Price’s HJ 111 designating July as Maternal Health Awareness Month in Virginia. This observance, which begins in 2020, will bring public attention to the problem of increased maternal mortality in the nation and the Commonwealth, especially the much-higher rates among African-American women. Unlike bills, resolutions do not involve any action by the governor.
Here is a list of some of the House Democrats’ major legislative accomplishments going into effect on July 1:
- Passing common-sense gun safety legislation. Seven House bills establishing stronger gun safety measures — all introduced in response to the Virginia Beach tragedy in May 2019 — were signed by the governor. These laws implement universal background checks for sales of firearms, require gun owners to report lost and stolen firearms, increase the penalty for recklessly allowing children to have access to loaded firearms, allow localities to ban firearms at certain public facilities or events, establish substantial risk protective orders, prohibit persons subject to domestic violence protective orders from possessing firearms, and restore a limit on the number of gun purchases a person may make per month.
- Combatting voter suppression with measures to grant people more accessibility and flexibility to vote. These laws include making election day a state holiday in place of Lee-Jackson Day, implementing “no excuse” absentee voting, expanding the types of ID voters may present in order to vote, and ensuring that mail-in ballots postmarked on election day can be counted.
- Attacking racial inequities by implementing new and increased protections such as outlawing racial discrimination based on styles of hair or dress, promoting equal pay regardless of race, and expanding the justice system’s ability to investigate hate crimes based on race. House Democrats also backed several bills now becoming law that address environmental justice and seek to prevent health risks or disproportionate impacts of environmental pollution or environmental policies on minority communities.
- Empowering women through restoring 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 in public schools without charge.
- Enhancing rights for the victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking. Protective measures include prohibiting persons subject to protective orders due to domestic violence from possessing firearms, requiring colleges and universities to grant disciplinary immunity from self-disclosed alcohol and drug violations for victims and bystanders who report sexual assaults, and informing localities and local immigration organizations of human trafficking risks to which immigrants may be more vulnerable.
- Setting new progressive environmental standards and priorities. In 2020, House Democrats successfully pushed for Virginia to become the most environmentally progressive state in the South by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and passing the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which puts Virginia on the path toward a 100 percent renewable-energy electricity supply by 2050. Other measures include raising water quality standards, further regulating disposal of coal ash, promoting and expanding access to the use of electric vehicles, and protecting wildlife populations.
- Widening discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community by banning conversion therapy for minors, requiring the State Registrar to establish a new birth certificate upon request after gender transition, mandating that schools to adopt policies which improve treatment of LGBTQ+ students, and strengthening hate crime laws. The Commonwealth will now also outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, public accommodation, public contracting, apprenticeship programs, housing, banking, and insurance.
- 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 voting, public transportation, medical care, public documents, and public facilities.
- Providing additional food insecurity and housing protections by expanding eligibility for the housing choice voucher tax credit and food stamps, providing school lunches for children who cannot afford them, and funding grocery stores and small food retailers to better serve underserved areas. Newly enacted legislation also provides short-term stays on court actions for eviction or foreclosure for Virginians who were furloughed due to a federal government shutdown or lost their jobs due to a State of Emergency declared by the governor, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.