At the end of June, Republicans and Democrats across the Commonwealth voted in the primaries to select the candidates for the November general election. Primaries are an important part of the election process, allowing voters to be more involved in selecting the candidates to best represent their community. With the results of the primaries now behind us, Democrats are united in their goals for the general election.
This year, reproductive rights are under the microscope now more than ever before. Having just passed the one-year anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we can now reflect on the impact that decision has had across the country. Virginia is now a safe haven for women’s reproductive rights, as every other Southern state has passed strict laws that limit the circumstances in which a woman can access the reproductive care she needs. These lawmakers across the country have infiltrated what should be a private decision between a woman and her doctor. Instead, they have chosen to cross a line and put women’s lives at risk when they are not able to access the care they need. If Republicans obtain a majority in both chambers in Virginia, they will be quick to implement similar restrictions to those of North Carolina and Florida. It is essential that Democrats expand our majority in the Senate and flip the House of Delegates to prevent Republicans from enacting their agenda of rolling back the clock.
Before we welcome a new class of legislators, there is still unresolved business from the 2023 session. Virginia is currently operating under the 2022-2024 biennial budget, meaning we are not at risk of a shutdown. This year’s budget is simply to make adjustments and allocations with the extra revenue we have on hand. With that being said, neither Democrats nor Republicans want to leave surplus money on the table. From our public schools to mental health facilities and infrastructure projects, there is no shortage of ways this surplus money could be spent. However, talks have recently reached a tipping point, with both sides frustrated. The fly in the ointment remains tax policy. With opposite perspectives on how to best allocate the surplus money, it can be difficult to find a compromise –– but not impossible. I suspect Governor Youngkin will call the legislature back to Richmond for a Special Session to address the budget impasse.
While we do not yet have a new budget, we do have new laws that are now in effect. July 1 was a significant day, as it is when the legislation from the previous session became law. This year, there are a number of significant changes. First, SB 982 requires drivers to change lanes or reduce their speed when passing a vehicle with their hazard lights on or vehicles with properly marked caution signs or road flares. This is similar to the law requiring drivers to move over for emergency personnel with either blue, red, or orange lights. Second, compromises on gun violence prevention were difficult to achieve, but we did pass HB 2387 which incentivizes the purchase of a safe storage device for gun owners through a tax credit. This law is a great first step in encouraging safe storage and responsible gun ownership. Third, SB 1291 creates a Class 1 misdemeanor for individuals who intentionally report false information to emergency personnel that results in an emergency response. The penalty increases to a Class 6 felony if anyone is injured as a direct result from their false report. This law is an attempt to deter the increasing number of “swatting” incidents.
Lastly, I would like to comment on the recent decisions issued by the conservative-minded Supreme Court. Last week, they issued a ruling that reaffirms the right for businesses to deny certain customers service under the protection of the First Amendment. This is extremely concerning — especially for vulnerable populations that are likely to face discrimination as a result. Secondly, I am disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the student loan forgiveness program. The cost of higher education has never been greater, and students deserve some relief. I hope the Biden Administration continues to pursue alternative avenues to reduce this financial burden. With no end in sight to the overturning of decades of precedent, it is our responsibility at the state level to do what we can to prevent these controversial decisions from harming the progress we have made here in Virginia.