This last Richmond legislative session was a milestone as it was the first unencumbered by any majorities of dinosaur politicians seeking to reinforce antiquated anti-women, pro-gun and related values through legislation, including an ability to kill all the bills they didn’t like. Solid Democratic majorities in both the House of Delegates and Senate, as well as in the Governor’s Mansion, spelled a whole new environment in Richmond earlier this year.
Behold, new laws passed and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, most set to go into effect on July 1, are reflective of this new reality, and those nationally who think the defeat of Trump will lead to a backlash reaction in the 2022 midterms need to take heed. No such backlash occurred in Virginia. On the contrary, even more solid advancement in progressive causes have occurred, and should continue.
Falls Church’s State Delegate Marcus Simon came virtually before the monthly midday meeting of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce this week for his annual legislative update to the business group, and was armed with the power-point presentation that helped him make sure he didn’t forget anything important about the session, which indeed lived up to expectations.
(There have been similar Democratic Party majorities in Richmond before, but only in the days when Virginia Democrats were of the Byrd Machine variety and often more conservative than today’s Republicans. So this year marked the first time ever that a majority of progressive-minded lawmakers reigned.)
At the top of the list and reported in the news this week is the new Virginia law to tighten restrictions on the use by police of facial recognition technology. It was that new law, first introduced by Del. Lashrecse D. Aird (D-Petersburg), which prompted the National Capital Region Facial Recognition Investigative Leads System (NCRFRILS) to announce this week it is ending its controversial program which had created a database of 1.4 million mugshots taken by police in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) region.
The state’s minimum wage law was modified to mandate an increase from $7.50 per hour to $9.50 (with most lawmakers seeing $15 as a near-term target).
The automatic right to vote for all adult Virginians, including those found guilty of felonies and having served their time, was enacted, bypassing the need of a sympathetic governor to one-by-one enfranchise such persons to vote (as Gov. Terry McAuliffe so honorably did a few years ago). Henceforth, as of July 1, it’s automatic.
In another step toward the better enfranchisement of all citizens in the state, a new law was passed eliminating all May elections, moving them all to November. This was a huge issue of controversy in Falls Church a decade ago, when the shift from May to November local elections was engineered over a lot of protests. The new state law this year makes it clear that May elections disenfranchise voters, and the City of Falls Church was ahead of its time in making that shift 10 years ago.
The first moves were made in Richmond this year to repeal the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage instituted in 2006 as the controversial Marshall-Newman Amendment enshrining that ban. In the meantime, State Del. Bob Marshall of Manassas, deemed one of the most conservative members of the legislature and motivator of the constitutional ban, was finally bumped from this job not by a near-equally conservative Democrat, but by a proud transgender progressive, Del. Danica Roem, who won an upset when she took on Marshall, but has been a solid favorite for the job ever since.
Other big steps by this year’s legislature and governor involved the banning of the death penalty, something that advocates for that cause like legislators such as Del. Ken Plum have been faithfully holding the banner for decades.
Possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and up will also be legal in Virginia for the first time as of July 1, including an allowance for up to four marijuana plants to be cultivated at home. Details on means for the sale of marijuana still need to be worked out, Simon said, as a board similar to the one overseeing the state’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms distributions will need to be set up.
New tenant protections will also become law, with landlords of four or more units required to give tenants 14 days after receiving an eviction notice to exit a premises (up from five days now), and prohibited from interrupting essential services to the tenant in the meantime.
The Virginia Dream Act was instituted to provide tuition assistance and more to children of immigrant families, and the sweeping Virginia Human Rights Act, introduced by Del. Mark Sickles, was passed extending important rights to LGBTQ citizens and establishing an LGBTQ Advisory Board to the governor.
A styrofoam ban was enacted that will not go into effect until July 2023, and a rebate program for electric vehicle purchases was enacted.
Corroborating witnesses are no longer required for no-fault divorces, and there are many more new citizen-friendly laws, as well.
Del. Simon rattled through them all so quickly it was hard to keep up Tuesday.