To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin who when asked at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia what kind of government had been formed replied, “a republic if we can keep it!” As the General Assembly concluded the work of its annual session this past weekend the same kind of question could be posed as the changes in the Commonwealth’s laws and governance have been so profound. The answer I believe is a progressive state measured not by southern standards but by comparison to all the other states. At the ballot box the state over the last several years has gone from red to purple to blue. All statewide elected officials are Democrats, and both houses of the General Assembly have been controlled by Democrats since the elections in 2019. Far more meaningful than the partisan labels of elected officials are the changes that have taken place in the laws of the Commonwealth.
In the regular and a special session of the General Assembly last year, historic legislation was passed including ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and lifting of barriers to abortion. Jim Crow era laws were repealed, and the Virginia Values Act prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment was passed. Bills to reduce gun violence were passed as were bills to reduce the school to prison pipeline. Criminal justice and policing reform bills were passed. And more.
In the session that just ended, criminal justice reform continued. The death penalty was abolished, and criminal defendants and civil litigants were granted an automatic right to appeal that exists in every other state. My bill that ended excessive fines and prison time for petit larceny passed. Criminal records for many nonviolent offenses will be expunged under a new law. And more. Details for both sessions are at https://lis.virginia.gov.
All of these changes along with record levels of funding for COVID-19 relief and pay raises for teachers, police and other essential workers have led to references about Virginia being the leader among states in progressive legislation. The first ever woman Speaker of the House of Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn said that the House Democratic majority elected in 2019 “has kept its promise to protect families, keep Virginia healthy and rebuild our economy stronger.”
As one who served during years when the news coming from Richmond was not so good, I am aware that these reforms passed with barely a majority of Democratic legislator votes and a rare and scant few of Republican legislator votes. Attention is already shifting to the fall when the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general will be elected along with all 100 members of the House of Delegates. The progressive reforms will be on the ballot: do we build on them in the future or do we turn back the clock? Already a former governor, two Black women, and a self-avowed socialist are running for the Democratic nomination for governor and a self-proclaimed “Trump in high heels” and a staunch opponent of abortion rights are among those seeking the Republican nomination. There is likely to be a record number of candidates running for the House of Delegates. The voters in November will ultimately decide if we keep our progressive state!
The Virginia General Assembly has been debating a range of legislation since convening for its 2021 session on Jan. 13.
Here are some notable bills introduced or co-sponsored by Fairfax County legislators that have passed either the House of Delegates or state Senate and are now awaiting approval by the other chamber:
Introduced by Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District), House Bill (HB) 1842 would give legal authority to owners of condominiums and other multi-dwelling units to ban smoking within their premises.
“As Virginians continue to shelter at home due to COVID, I hear from constituents who live in apartments or condos concerned that their neighbors who smoke are making things even worse for their physical and mental health,” Keam said in a press release.
The bill is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology after passing the House of Delegates 72-27 on Jan. 19.
“My bill offers new tools for property owners to tackle this public health issue by requiring smoking residents to stop second-hand toxins from spreading on their premises and harming neighbors,” Keam said.
Senate Bill (SB) 1157 would move all local elections for city and town council and school board from May to November. The bill’s language would put the change in effect with elections held after Jan. 1, 2022.
The bill was introduced by Senator Lionell Spruill (D-5th District) and counts Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District among its patrons. It passed the Senate on Jan. 21 after Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke a 19-19 tie by voting in favor of the bill.
“It will create a more streamline, school safe, cost-saving, and inclusive election for all,” Spruill said on Twitter following the Senate vote.
Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th District) is a chief co-patron of HB 1909, which permits any school board to deem any non-school zone property it owns or leases as a gun-free zone. The bill passed the House on Wednesday (Jan. 27) on a 55-44 vote and is now pending review by the Senate.
Del. Kaye Kory (D-38th District) is the chief co-patron of HB 1736, which would require local school boards to employ at least one full-time equivalent school nurse position at each elementary school, middle school, and high school.
The bill defines a school nurse as a registered nurse engaged in the specialized practice of nursing that protects and promotes student health, facilitates optimal development, and advances academic success.
The House passed the bill 68-31 with one abstaining vote on Jan. 25. It now awaits Senate review.
HB 1848 would protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of disability as an unlawful employment practice under the Virginia Human Rights Act. Del. Mark Sickles (D-43rd District) introduced the bill, and Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) and Kathy Tran (D-42nd District) are among the chief co-patrons.
The bill passed the House unanimously on Jan. 22. It is now pending review from the Senate.
SB 1445 would permit any qualified and available health care provider in Virginia to volunteer to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
Qualified health care providers would include any person who is licensed, registered or certified and in good standing with the Department of Health, retired health care providers who were in good standing within the last five years, and emergency medical services providers who are certified by the Department of Health.
The bill also extends to health professions students enrolled in an accredited program in Virginia, provided they are in good academic standing with their school and the school certifies that the student is properly trained in the administration of vaccines.
The bill passed the Senate 38-0 on Jan. 22. It now is pending review from the House.
Photo via Virginia General Assembly/Flickr
While Virginia’s U.S. Congressional delegation looks like it will remain largely unchanged after the 2020 general election, voters approved a state constitutional amendment that will reshape the process for how their representatives will be chosen in the future.
One of two statewide referendums on the ballot, Constitutional Amendment 1 shifts responsibility for drawing congressional and state legislative district lines from the Virginia General Assembly to a redistricting commission made up of eight legislators and eight appointed citizens.
According to the Virginia Department of Elections unofficial returns, Amendment 1 passed with 65.91% of voters casting their ballot in favor of it, though a few precincts had not yet reported results by Wednesday night and the results will not be official until they are certified on Nov. 16.
Fairfax County approved the measure by a smaller margin than the overall state, with 53.69% of voters supporting it and 46.31% opposing.
“From the start, this movement has been about putting the voices of citizens above politicians and political parties. Today, Virginia voters spoke loud and clear in approving Amendment 1,” Fair Maps VA executive director Brian Cannon and campaign co-chairs Wyatt Durrette and Bobby Vassar said in a joint statement on Wednesday (Nov. 4).
With Virginia set to redraw district lines next year, Fair Maps VA says the proposed commission will combat partisan gerrymandering by giving members of the public “a seat at the table” instead of leaving redistricting exclusively in the hands of legislators, as previously dictated by the Constitution of Virginia.
The General Assembly will vote on new district maps, but it will not be able to change them. If new maps are not approved by set deadlines, the Supreme Court of Virginia will draw them.
“In creating a bipartisan redistricting commission…[voters] said they want a transparent redistricting process,” Cannon, Durrette, and Vassar said. “They want civil rights protections to be added to the state constitution for the very first time. And they said that they want to end partisan gerrymandering in Virginia once and for all.”
However, opponents argue the proposed commission still gives lawmakers too much authority in the once-a-decade redistricting process, allowing them to shape district boundaries to benefit themselves or their party.
Some are wary of the role judges will play in the new process. In addition to giving the Supreme Court the power to draw district maps if necessary, the amendment puts retired circuit court judges in charge of selecting citizens that legislators will ultimately appoint to the commission.
“I was a little surprised at the lopsidedness of the outcome,” Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd District) said of Amendment 1’s passage. “I hoped we would’ve done a better job at communicating some of the flaws with the constitutional amendment and convincing folks that we can do a better job of redistricting reform without the amendment than with it.”
Like many other Democrats, Simon initially supported the amendment when legislation to put it on the ballot passed the General Assembly in 2019, but he reversed his position when the issue came up again, as required by state law, during the 2020 session.
Now that the amendment has passed, however, Simon says the General Assembly can craft legislation to address the issues that people have raised, such as bills to establish qualifications for citizens appointed to the commission, ensure diverse representation, and limit the Supreme Court’s discretion.
With the General Assembly still in a special session first convened in August to address the state budget and criminal justice reform, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam will likely introduce the first set of enabling legislation for the redistricting commission by the end of this week, and state lawmakers could vote on the proposals early next week, according to Simon.
“I think we can continue to work on a better constitutional amendment for 2031,” Simon said. “So, I plan to start working right away to try to get us to achieve truly independent and nonpartisan redistricting, if not in time for this redistricting, then for the future.”
(Updated 2/28/2020) Students at Fairfax County’s public schools will get to stay home on March 3 for Super Tuesday.
Large crowds are expected to turn out for the primary election in Virginia. Brian Worthy, a spokesperson for the county, said that 167 polling places will be in the schools for voters casting their ballots for the Democratic presidential nomination.
While students will have the day off, staff will still need to report to the schools, Lucy Caldwell, an FCPS spokesperson, said.
On Wednesday (Feb. 26), Reston residents can attend a candidates’ forum with candidates running in the upcoming Reston Association Board of Directors election.
The public is invited to the debate-style forum at the RA headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive) beginning at 6:30 p.m. All seven candidates will available for a meet and greet as well, according to the event listing.
In this election, candidates will be competing for four open seats and the RA encourages all members and residents to vote. A minimum of 10 percent voter turnout is needed to make the results official.
The election will take place from March 2 until April 3, according to the RA, which added results will be available online later in April.
Those who cannot attend the forum in person, can watch it online and are even able to submit questions through email until the end of today (Feb. 24).
Participating candidates are below:
At-Large (3-year term):
- Kerri Bouie
- Robert T. Petrine
At-Large (1-year term):
- Paul Berry
- Sarah Selvaraj-Dsouza
Hunters Woods/Dogwood (3-year):
- Caren Anton
Apartment Owner (3-year):
- Mike Collins
- Jennifer Sunshine Jushchuk
Beginning later today, Reston Now will begin publishing candidate statements written by those running.
Photo via RA/Facebook
Last Sunday I made my annual winter trek south to Richmond for the General Assembly session. My two-hour trip is not far enough to get me to sunny weather, but it is far enough for me to be in some hot debates. I stay in a hotel with such proximity to my office that my daily commute is just a walk of a couple of minutes. Going south in the winter may be a vacation for some, but for the next 60 days it is the most intense period of work that one can imagine. Fortunately, I get home most weekends for a brief reprieve.
This trip south has been one filled with great anticipation. For the first time in two decades I am not in the minority! I chair a committee now, the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee, that will be acting on many environmental bills. I can expect that bills I introduce will get a fair hearing and most of them will pass. My colleagues and I reflect the population of the Commonwealth more than any previous General Assembly session ever. Not only do we have more women in the legislature, but we have the first ever woman Speaker of the House!
Being a member of the majority party brings enormous responsibility. As the party “in power,” we must exercise our duties in ways that are judicious and fair. There is no time for political pay-back. We must shift from campaigning mode to governing mode. Although it may be tempting to do otherwise, we must conduct ourselves in ways towards the minority party members that would be the way we want to be treated in the distant future when we may find ourselves the minority again. Yes, the golden rule should apply even in the legislature.
How exciting it is to realize that in a few short months we will be able to add Virginia to the list of states that have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment even if we are the last needed for ratification. We will strengthen our existing antidiscrimination laws and add to them. We will make our communities safer from gun violence. We will add essential funding increases to our educational and human service programs. We will make critical decisions on protecting our environment and responding to climate change. And more. When all this work is done we have a governor who has pledged to sign our bills into law!
Last Saturday’s public hearing by the Fairfax General Assembly delegation reminded us that there is not total accord on what we will be doing. About half the audience of around 300 people in attendance seemed to be there to shout down those with whom they disagreed. Their efforts to show support for what they define as their second amendment rights was to violate the first amendment rights of others. The lack of civility in public discourse across the country has found its way to Virginia. What a shame!
I am honored to be here, and I am going to do my best to fairly represent your interests. Make a trip south to see me and the legislative process over the next couple of months. To live-stream the legislative sessions, go to House of Delegates and to Senate. To follow the progress of bills, visit lis.virginia.gov.
In the oddities of the Virginia government calendar, the one-term limited governor spends the first two years of the term implementing a biennial budget proposed by the previous governor and passed by the General Assembly in the first two months of his term.
It is only after serving nearly two years that the governor has the opportunity to propose a budget reflecting the priorities on which he was elected. The governor then has two years to implement his budget before proposing a budget that will be implemented by his successor.
The complexities of changing the calendar are more than is likely to be undertaken at this time. Some like the system for it slows down the process of change for certainly the “Virginia Way” has never been to bring about any change too swiftly!
A fix that would take care of part of the snail pace of doing business in the Commonwealth would be to allow the governor to run for a successive term. I support such a change for it would allow the voters to decide if an individual should be granted a second term.
One area in which there is a need for haste in taking action is related to the environment and the role the state will take in reducing carbon emissions and responding to climate change and all of its ramifications.
Gov. Ralph Northam ran on a platform promising more protection for the environment. He and his staff worked busily on his new budget that was announced yesterday before this column was written. In the weeks leading up to his announcement, the governor held press conferences around the state on various parts of the budget including one on his environmental proposals.
The budget and legislative proposals he announced on environmental protection are the strongest ever proposed by a Virginia governor. He said of his proposals that “these significant investments in environmental protection, environmental justice, clean energy, and clean water will combat climate change and ensure we maintain our high quality of life here in Virginia.”
To reduce carbon pollution the governor recommends removing budget language added by the Republican legislature two years ago prohibiting Virginia from participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). He instead proposes legislation making Virginia a part of the regional effort to reduce carbon emissions by requiring the purchase of credits that through the marketplace will make fossil fuels more expensive than solar and wind sources of energy. The proposal is already being attacked as a “carbon tax.”
The governor’s proposals include $400 million for the Chesapeake Bay clean up that will keep that effort on track. Significant new investments in state agencies with environmental responsibilities will provide the staffing and resources for doing a more effective job in enforcing environmental regulations, improving public engagement, and ensuring environmental justice.
An investment of up to $40 million to upgrade the Portsmouth Marine Terminal will support the offshore wind supply chain and the development of offshore wind energy generating capacity to achieve 2,500 megawatts by 2026. Additional funding will also be provided for land conservation. This additional focus on the environment is sorely needed in Virginia.
Four hundred years ago is a long time, but what happened four centuries ago has implications for us today. Virginia is in the midst of a year-long series of programs and experiences based on events that happened a dozen years after the first permanent English colony was settled at Jamestown in 1607. All the activities taken together are referred to as American Evolution 1619-2019. There are many events scheduled for the remainder of this year.
The planners of the commemoration are to be commended for recognizing that while the historic events that occurred are noteworthy and interesting, the real lessons to be learned come after the actual dates of historic events as we discuss and consider their resulting impact. Many references are made to America’s beginning as being 1776, but it can be argued that the beginning of America as a representative democracy began in the Virginia colony with the meeting of the first representative body meeting in Jamestown in 1619. Remembering that date in 1619 should cause us to reflect on all that has happened after that date that led us to the society and government we have evolved into today.
Similarly, the arrival of 20 or so Africans at Old Point Comfort just down the James River from Jamestown Island four hundred years ago in August of 1619 must be noted. They came not with steamer trunks of fancy dress; they came in shackles having been captured in Africa and brought here at the beginning of a slave trade that would fuel the economy of the colony and then the Commonwealth of Virginia for the next 250 years. To look at African Americans then and now without an examination of what happened in between is to miss a tragic part of our evolving history–the racism that gripped our country for its entire history and is still with us today.
Those Africans who arrived in 1619 were slaves. Soon after their arrival that first legislative body passed laws that defined their enslavement and the limitations on their very existence. The few efforts like Nat Turner’s rebellion that attempted to gain freedom for slaves were put down harshly with further slave codes being passed to limit them from being taught how to read and write and allow for more cruel punishments to keep them in line. When the constitution was written for the new country after the Revolution, slaves were to be counted as three-fifths of a person, despite Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence proclaiming that “all men are created equal.” It was not until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that the descendants of the slaves of 1619 could claim anything close to equality.
We did not start with a perfect union; we have not achieved one today. We have been on an arc of history that in another context suggests that it is bent towards justice. The American Evolution 1619-2019 program is providing an important context for understanding the stream of history that is our past and upon which we must strive to build a more perfect union.
Absentee voting in Fairfax County begins tomorrow (Sept. 20) for the Nov. 5 elections.
Eligible community members can register to vote for the upcoming elections online or at the Office of Elections (12000 Government Center Parkway) in conference rooms two and three. Voters may also receive their ballots through the mail.
Absentee voters in Reston may also submit their registration or ballots to the North County Governmental Center (1801 Cameron Glen Drive) on Oct. 17- Nov. 2 from 3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays.
All absentee voters will need a valid driver’s license or state-issued identification card and their social security number to register.
For those unfamiliar with the process of absentee voting, Fairfax County published a variety of resources to explain the procedure and help answer questions.
Ballots will be translated into English, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese.
The last day to apply for an absentee ballot is seven days before the election, or Oct. 29 by 5 p.m., according to Fairfax County. All absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Nov. 5 in order to be counted.
State Senator Toi Hutchinson of Illinois who is president of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) spoke last week in Jamestown as part of the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of representative democracy in the United States. She was eloquent in describing the evolution of legislative bodies in the states: “That evolution is breathtaking–from that rudimentary gathering of a handful of land-owning, white men to professional legislative bodies filled with the best and brightest of every race, every creed and every gender. Legislatures now serve as the place where ordinary hard-working Americans become extraordinary ambassadors of their neighborhoods, towns and cities and strive together to secure the blessings of liberty.” (full text of her remarks)
I am attending the annual meeting of the NCSL this week. NCSL uses the term “laboratories of democracy” in describing the states. The attendance at its annual meeting reflects the diversity that President Hutchinson described in her remarks at Jamestown. The Virginia General Assembly has made major strides in becoming more diverse the last several years as more people reflecting diversity have come forward to run for office and have been welcomed by the voters. Recent court decisions that wiped out some of the gerrymandering that kept white men in charge will no doubt add to the diversity in election winners this November.
Just as in any laboratory setting, the results of some experiments are worth keeping and others are just as well cast aside. Too many states are still involved in passing laws to restrict those who can vote and to legalize discrimination against certain classes of people. Fortunately few if any of these people show up at this conference but rather go to other meetings where they might feel more comfortable. NCSL for the most part tends to attract middle-of-the-road moderates to progressives.
With the federal government reneging on so many matters that might best be resolved with common solutions across state lines, the states are having to step up to respond to these issues. The current federal administration continues to deny climate change, but it is the people in the states who are getting their feet wet and who are suffering the consequences of climate change including extreme weather events. I look forward to attending sessions with expert speakers and panels who will present what is happening in states that are taking environmental issues seriously.
Criminal justice reform, educational reforms including the expansion of early childhood education, new approaches to mental health, cybersecurity, and a fair census and resulting redistricting are a short list of topics that will be on my mind and the minds of legislators from other states with whom I will have an opportunity to interact during the several days of the conference. I will share some of what I have learned or confirmed in future columns.
As at any meeting, discussions that take place at the breaks and social gatherings can be the most profitable. I know there will be an overwhelming number of attendees who will be gravely concerned about what is happening with our national leadership and institutions. That makes work as state legislators even more important as we work to maintain our laboratories of democracy.
(Updated at 1:50 p.m. to clarify that the ALEC contribution and contributions from Alcorn’s developer friends are two separate issues).
Walter Alcorn, a candidate running for the seat of Hunter Mill District Supervisor, has returned small donor contributions from the CEO and Strategist of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing, pro-business group that has been criticized for furthering the goals of its corporate benefactors.
In that release, Dodd also pointed out that Alcorn accepted contributions from developers in violation of his pledge to not take money from developers.
Alcorn said the donations were from college friends who do not have projects in the Hunter Mill District. He said he has maintained his pledge to decline donations from developers, noting the small size of the contributions from ALEC employees.
According to the latest campaign finance reports, the Democrat raised nearly $71,000 and has $44,942 in the bank — well beyond his competitors.
In 2012, the Democratic Party of Virginia condemned donations from ALEC, stating that the organization is on a “stealthy mission to purchase our democracy,” powered by funding from the Koch brothers.
Dodd told Reston Now that Alcorn’s statements about the matter are unethical and deeply disturbing.
Alcorn clarified that he will not accept contributions from developers who have a stake in land-use cases in the Hunter Mill District.
Dodd, Shyamali Hauth and Parker Messick have also pledged to accept no developer contributions.
Photo via Walter Alcorn
If a sign of a healthy democracy is a lot of people running for elective office, we have become a true democracy in Virginia. This year is a busy year for elections because a lot of terms for elective offices are up this year. In Fairfax County, for example, all the seats on the County Board of Supervisors are up for election as is the chairman of the Board who is elected county-wide. The June 11 Democratic Party primary election has four contenders vying for the supervisor’s seat that is being vacated with the retirement of Supervisor Cathy Hudgins. I am not sure whether the Republicans intend to nominate a candidate to make for a race on November 5. For chairman of the Board there is a Democratic primary to pick the nominee who the Republicans will presumably challenge in the November election.
School Board members for Fairfax County also are up for election. A member is chosen for each magisterial district plus three at-large members. School board elections are non-partisan, but candidates seek endorsement of one of the major parties. Currently there is a scramble in Hunter Mill district to replace retiring member Pat Hynes. A broad and diverse field of candidates is seeking party endorsements.
Constitutional offices which in Fairfax County are the Commonwealth Attorney and the sheriff are also on the ballot this November. The incumbent Commonwealth Attorney must withstand a primary challenge in the Democratic Party before getting to the fall election. The sheriff is likely to move smoothly through the November election.
Adding to the number of candidates for whom you are likely to see ads, receive brochures or answer those pesky robo-calls are the candidates for the House of Delegates and the Senate, all of whom are up for election this year. While it is too early to know for sure who all the challengers will be as it is possible for political parties to name candidates up until early June, we already know the field is crowded. There is an unprecedented number of challenges in primaries and a larger than usual number of retirements of incumbents. On the State Senate side there are eleven Democratic and five Republican primaries that include challenges to four incumbent Democrats and three Republican incumbents.
On the House of Delegates side of the General Assembly there are 13 Democratic primaries involving five incumbents and seven Republican primaries with two incumbents being challenged. These numbers do not include districts in which conventions may be held to select candidates.
All this activity is good news for democracy but might seem overwhelming to voters. At this point in time races are not all set with candidates. After the June 11 primaries, the line-ups will be clearer. Party activists will be busy informing voters who their candidates are. In the meantime, please forgive me if any of my numbers are off as this story continues to emerge. The good news is there will be many choices that have the potential to lead to better government. Don’t be alarmed by this crowded field!
While I would never recommend reading the Code of Virginia for pleasure, as it is filled with legalese intended for trained lawyers and judges to debate its intended meaning, it can be a useful document to understand the history of an era.
Because court decisions at the state and federal level can change the application of a law, the words that are in the Code may have been superseded by such a decision or by later enactments of law.
If all that is not enough to confuse us non-lawyers, there are the “notwithstanding” clauses that effectively say that whatever else the law may provide the effective meaning follows the clause.
Laws can be read to help understand the community mores and values of the past. This session saw a meaningful number of bills passed that reflect a cleaning-up of the Code to reflect changing community values.
Some of these include repealing remnants of Jim Crow laws of racial oppression of the past. Thanks to Del. Marcia Price and State Sen. Lionell Spruill, the provisions in Code that exempted Virginia’s minimum wage requirements for newsboys, shoe-shine boys, babysitters who work 10 hours or more per week, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and cashiers in theaters, all of which were occupations that were most likely held by African Americans, were repealed. The old law made it legal to discriminate through wages. A new law will require employers to provide pay stubs as a way to assist low-wage workers to manage their money and be treated fairly.
Up until action of the General Assembly this session, if you owed court fines and fees in Virginia, your driver’s license could be suspended unless you established a payment plan. As the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy that advocated strongly for a change in the law explained it, one in six Virginia drivers (approximately 900,000 people) has had his or her license suspended because of owing court fines and fees. Almost any poor person who has interacted with the criminal justice system owes some court fines and fees.
Essentially, by taking away someone’s license and therefore likely preventing the person from finding or keeping a job, the state denies the person opportunity to escape from poverty (and ever pay back those fines and fees). This policy was a “debtors’ prison” approach. There is no evidence that suspending people’s licenses increases the rate of payback for fines and fees. The issue disproportionately affected low-income workers, and its repeal this year was past due.
Virginia has historically had one of the highest rates of rental evictions in the country. Laws that disproportionally favored landlords over tenants caused this situation that was disruptive to families. A series of revisions to create a better balance in the law and that provides more options for tenants should make the laws operate more fairly.
Virginia has also had a very bad record in the management of its foster care program. Children were shifted from family to family with limited stability in their lives. Major changes in the laws related to foster children should greatly improve the situation.
It is critically important that we clean up the Code from time to time.
The House of Delegates and the State Senate were in session yesterday (April 3) for the annual reconvened session as required by the constitution. Often referred to as the veto session, part of its business is to consider bills vetoed or with amendments proposed by the governor.
During the regular odd-numbered short session that adjourned on Feb. 24 after 46 days, there were 3,128 bills and resolutions considered. Setting aside resolutions that do not have the force of law of bills, there were 883 bills that passed the legislature all of which must have the signature of the governor in order to become law. The governor’s veto can be overturned by a vote of two-thirds of the members of both houses.
The governor in Virginia has the unique ability among executive officials to propose amendments to bills that previously passed but then must be approved by the General Assembly in the reconvened session with the amendments proposed. This ability for the governor to make corrections or to change the provisions of a bill gives the governor important legislative powers and enhances the importance of the reconvened session that typically lasts for a single day but can go up to three days.
Among the bills on the docket for this reconvened session is a bill that had passed both houses of the legislature but died at the last moment of the regular session. The dispute was over legal language to prohibit the use of cell phones that are not hands-free. The bill will be back before the legislature thanks to an amendment by the governor, and it is likely to finally pass.
I expect to support the governor in his vetoes of bills. One bill that he vetoed would limit his authority to involve Virginia in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program among Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that mandates emission reduction in the power sector. Virginia’s involvement in this program is among the most important steps the state can take in reducing greenhouse gases and tackling climate change.
Governor Ralph Northam has also vetoed a bill that I had opposed during the regular session that would force law enforcement agencies to use precious resources to perform functions of federal immigration law that are part of the current immigration hysteria. He also vetoed a bill that would have limited the ability of local governments in making decisions about their local employment and pay consideration.
Included among the bills that passed are bills that passed in identical form but were only introduced in one house. Some advocates and legislators believe that there is more certainty that a bill will finally pass if it moves through the legislature on two separate tracks. The governor signs both identical bills to keep from choosing among competing bill sponsors. No one that I know has taken the time to count these bills, but I believe that more than half fall into this category. I question that approach — it seems like unnecessary duplication in an already complex system.