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The Diplomatic Reach

New Falls Church Senate District Becomes Primary Battleground

SADDAM AZLAN SALIM of Falls Church has launched a primary challenge to State Senator Chap Petersen. The two will compete to represent VA-37, a newly-drawn district that now includes the City of Falls Church. (Photo: Courtesy of Salim for Senate)

On Tuesday, Falls Church resident Saddam Azlan Salim announced a primary challenge to State Senator Chap Petersen, to represent Virginia’s newly-drawn 37th Senate District, which now includes Falls Church.  Only about 44 percent of the new district is within the current district.

Falls Church residents will first weigh in on who represents the new district with the primary this June, followed by the general election in November, in which the entire Virginia legislature is up for grabs.

Considered one of the least progressive Democrats in the Virginia legislature, Petersen, first elected as Delegate in 2002, is completing his fourth term in the Virginia Senate.  You may remember Petersen for his bowties, being a founding member of the “Redskins Caucus,” rushing schools to reopen and end mask mandates or, if you’ve followed his earlier career, enthusiastically voting for a 2004 bill (HB751) — despite an existing law banning same-sex marriage at the time — that referenced “beneficial health effects of heterosexual marriage, as contrasted to the life-shortening and health compromising consequences of homosexual behavior,” amongst other claims that even in 2004 were considered appalling.  

We’ll see what happens when the newer, bluer district weighs in this Summer.

Partisan Gridlock Looms in Richmond:

The Legislative Session in Richmond continued this week, with Republicans primarily blocking bills by Democrats in the House of Delegates, and Senate Democrats passing bills likely doomed for failure in the House.  There are four weeks of legislation remaining before adjourning until 2024.  

Other than emblematic commendations and celebrations, a handful of judge nominations, and (of course) approving the schedule and salaries for the lawmakers, legislation has not yet been sent from one chamber to the other, so no bills have been passed.  Despite this, several moves are being made that are worth taking a look at.  

Voting, Reproductive Rights Under GOP Attack

House Republicans voted to dramatically roll back voting rights in the Commonwealth: reducing absentee voting to 10 days, requiring an excuse, ending ballot dropboxes, repealing same-day registration, and bringing back photo ID laws.  

In the Senate, Democrats were able to block three Republican abortion bans in subcommittee (SB1284, SB1385, and SB1483) while passing out of subcommittee a proposed constitutional amendment enshrining reproductive freedom (SJ255).

The house also passed bills to repeal vehicle emissions standards (HB1378) and pay youth less than the minimum wage (HB1669), both along party lines.

A Silver Lining for LGBTQ+ Virginians

Democrats were able to defeat some bills in subcommittees and committees within the house – in particular unanimously defeating HB1343, which would have forced trans students to receive a court order before school staff could update their name in educational records.  

In the Virginia Senate, SB1096 was passed, which allows marriage regardless of the sex of the parties, with strong bipartisan support. The Senate also passed SB835, which removes “homosexuality” from the definition of “sexual conduct” for the purpose of preventing books to be sold or displayed to minors.

Little Change, Big Criminal Justice Reform

The Virginia Senate also passed SB929, which reduces the maximum possible sentence for misdemeanors from 365 to 364 days (yes, you’re reading that right).  This small change will protect non-citizens from deportation for minor offenses.