Commentary, Local Commentary

Delegate Marcus Simon’s Richmond Report

I typically focus my June column on the bills that passed during the most recent General Assembly Session, since the laws we pass during our regular session are effective on July 1st and July 1st is the first day of the fiscal year, the date on which the new budget becomes effective. This year we are running a little bit behind. We finished the regular session in March without a budget, forcing the new Governor to call us back for a Special Session on April 4th.

Unfortunately, he forgot to check with House and Senate leaders first — even those of his same party. So, when we arrived back in Richmond there was literally nothing for us to do. The GOP-controlled House and the Democratic Senate finally reached a budget compromise over Memorial Day weekend, and we returned on June 1st to debate and adopt the budget that was released on Memorial Day Monday. It was then sent to the Governor.

The Special Session convenes again on June 17th to vote on any amendments the Governor may have made, although he’s not obliged to tell us what they are until 11:59 on the 16th of June. So much for transparency. So, I can’t yet tell you exactly what will happen with the Grocery Tax, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or your standard deduction on July 1st. I can talk about a few of the bills that passed, and more significantly this year, a few bills that WON’T become law. This is all thanks to opposition from Democrats in the General Assembly and despite the Governor’s desire to see these changes made.

For instance, the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County will keep those signs at the entrances to our parks, libraries and community centers that remind residents firearms are not permitted in those public spaces. Bills to repeal local authority to regulate firearms were defeated in committee, as were bills to repeal VA’s proven and effective red-flag laws, and bills to allow Virginians to carry concealed weapons anywhere without a permit. LGBTQ+ Virginians will continue to enjoy full legal protection from discrimination under the Virginia Values Act, as efforts to repeal the bill, make it more difficult to enforce, and to provide a myriad of exemptions under the guise of religious freedom were defeated.

Even though Governor Youngkin has created a secret tip line to report the teaching of Critical Race Theory and “inherently divisive topics” in the classroom, bills that would ban the teaching of such topics in our excellent Falls Church and Fairfax County schools were defeated. Efforts to repeal public sector employees’ right to form a union were unsuccessful. This means negotiations can continue toward educator-friendly collective bargaining agreements in Falls Church City that could provide the best model for the rest of VA.

Our furry friends will be better protected now that individuals who have violated the federal Animal Welfare Act will not be allowed to sell or import cats and dogs. Student-athletes can now be compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness (NIL) and prohibits higher education institutions from preventing this except in certain circumstances. We’ll start taking baby steps toward campaign finance reform.

Beginning in Jan. 2024, candidates will have record keeping and retention requirements so that the Department of Elections will be able to annually audit a percentage of campaign committee accounts. If you are a VA Realtor, you will now have the ability to negotiate health insurance options through your member associations. For my fellow environmentalists, localities can now adopt ordinances for the planting and placement of trees during the land development process. Tree conservation can be a bigger priority in areas with high development.

To address the issues at the Virginia Employment Commission, the VEC will develop an unemployment insurance resiliency plan to include specific actions taken when claims increase, to address staffing needs, and overall communications. The law requires employers to submit claim-related forms electronically and the VA Department of Human Resource Management will lead a multiagency workgroup to address support strategies during emergencies. The VEC’s internal audit division will also review and update online resources related to unemployment compensation.

As you know from my previous Richmond Reports, we review a lot of bills during the regular session. You can view a more comprehensive list of bills on dls.virginia.gov.

Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]