Highlights from the 2019 General Assembly Session!

Don’t miss it this Friday — DPVA’s Post Session Decompression

Join elected officials and fellow Democrats to celebrate the closing of the Virginia General Assembly. We’ll discuss our recent legislative successes, look ahead to opportunities in November, and cheers to another year of Virginia democracy!

We’re excited to have Crowdpac sponsor the Post Session Decompression.

Crowdpac’s mission is to help emerging leaders reach their first political dollars as fast as possible. We’re a Certified B-Corporation and proud to make political participation easier than ever.

• Date: Friday, March 1st, 2019 
• Time: 7:30–9:30 PM 
• Location: Sam Miller’s, 1210 E. Cary St, Richmond, VA 23219

• Ticket includes entrance and light appetizers 
• Cash bar 
• Your donation will support efforts to flip the General Assembly in November!

Visit the event page on Facebook or our website to learn more and get your tickets today!

Thank you Delegate David J. Toscano for your service to your constituents, the Democratic Party of Virginia and to the Commonwealth.

“I am proud of my contributions over the last 25 years of public service. But there comes a time to write a new chapter. And for me, that time is now. I have decided that I will retire from this office at the end of my term, and therefore will not be seeking reelection this fall.” — Delegate Toscano

Click here to read Delegate Toscano’s full statement.

Highlights from the 2019 General Assembly Session

Track all the legislation that was introduced, passed, failed, and signed from the 2019 Virginia General Assembly Session here.

Virginia General Assembly OKs limited ‘no-excuse’ absentee voting for 2020 (WTKR)

Beginning in fall 2020, Virginia will have more than Election Day. It will be more like Election Week.

Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, to cast ballots for president and other political offices. But for the first time, Virginians will be able to vote early that year — from October 24 through October 31 — without needing to provide an excuse.

Currently, Virginia is one of 16 states that require an excuse to vote absentee. To cast an early ballot in the commonwealth, voters must provide one of a dozen reasons for voting absentee, such as having a health, religious, school or business reason that prevents the person from voting on Election Day.

That would change under SB 1026, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Lionel Spruill of Chesapeake, and HB 2790, introduced by Republican Del. Nick Rush of Montgomery County. On Thursday, the Senate joined the House in passing the final versions of both bills.

The legislation “allows for any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot in person beginning on the second Saturday immediately preceding any election in which he is qualified to vote without providing a reason or making prior application for an absentee ballot,” according to a summary by the Legislative Information System. The absentee voting period ends on the Saturday immediately before the election.

Read the full article here.

Virginia’s General Assembly pass coal ash cleanup bill (13 News Now)

Virginia’s General Assembly passed a bill Friday that would require Dominion Energy to clean up over 28 million tons of coal ash in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The bill would require the company to clean up the coal ash at four sites, Chesapeake, Chesterfield, Bremo, and Possum Point. The ash will be recycled into building material or excavated to lined landfills.

On Friday, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 93–2 and passed the bill.

The legislation would also require Dominion Energy to offer municipal water hookups or water testing to residents within one-half mile of the coal ash basins, in addition to biennial reporting on progress, plans, and water quality.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Executive Director Rebecca Tomazin released the following statement:

“Finally, Virginia is on the right path towards cleaning up the toxic coal ash that has long threatened public health and our waterways. Moving coal ash out of risky unlined pits will keep dangerous pollution out of Virginia’s major rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

“The passage of this legislation represents years of hard work by concerned residents, conservation groups, and elected officials. Thank you to Virginia’s legislators, the conservation community, Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler, and Dominion Energy for their support for this historic agreement. We look forward to the governor signing the bill.”

Read the full article here.

Jacob’s Law passes General Assembly, heads to governor’s desk

Jacob’s Law updates Virginia’s surrogacy laws — which are over a generation old — to, among other things, reflect changes that the General Assembly has already made to Virginia’s adoption laws. Both heterosexual and same-sex couples will benefit from the bill, which clarifies and streamlines the surrogacy process. The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk for signature.

“This is a great day for all Virginia families,” said Delegate Sullivan. “I am glad that both chambers of the General Assembly passed this important bill on a bipartisan basis, affording same-sex couples and intended single parents the same rights as heterosexual couples wishing to start or grow their family through surrogacy.”

Rea the full article here.

Va. lawmakers vote to ban handheld devices while driving (Washington Post)

With passage of legislation by both houses of the General Assembly, Virginia joins Maryland, the District and other states nationwide in banning the handheld use of cellphones while driving.

Supporters say they expect the legislation to clear final procedural votes and be signed into law. Fines would be $125 for the first offense and $250 for the second and subsequent; the law would take effect Jan. 1.

Existing law was “impossible to enforce and also continued to make it legal to chase Pokémon, play ‘Angry Birds’ or make Snapchat videos while driving,” said state Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax), one of the bill’s sponsors. Driving around Virginia, it feels like “every other person driving has a phone in their hand,” he said, and the ban will raise awareness about the dangers of succumbing to such distractions.

Read the full article here.

Virginia Gov signs ban on people under 21 buying tobacco (Washington Post)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation banning people under 21 from buying tobacco and nicotine products, a measure enacted in a state known historically for its tobacco production.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the bill, signed Thursday, received bipartisan support as well as backing from Altria, the nation’s largest tobacco company.

The law’s restrictions apply to cigarettes and liquid nicotine used in vaping devices and exempts active-duty military personnel. It curtails sales of tobacco and nicotine products from vending machines considered accessible to people under 21.

Read the full article here.

Governor Northam signs Amazon incentive bill (Richmond Times)

Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday signed legislation to carry out Virginia’s promises to Amazon for up to $750 million in cash incentives if the company creates 37,850 high-paying jobs at the new headquarters it plans in Arlington County.

The agreement that Northam and Amazon announced on Nov. 14 requires that the jobs average $150,000 in annual pay, not including benefits. It also limits the number of jobs tied to federal government contracts to 10 percent of the total, as Virginia officials try to wean Northern Virginia and the state economy off federal spending.

The legislation would provide an additional $200 million if Amazon chooses to build a second phase that would create 12,850 more jobs, at a cost to the state of $15,564.

Read the full article here.

Virginia General Assembly passes affordable housing fee waiver legislation (12 News Now)

Virginia’s General Assembly passed a bill aimed at reducing impediments to the financing, development, and construction of affordable housing units.

House Bill 2229 passed both the House of Delegates and State Senate unanimously and now heads to Governor Northam’s office for review.

The legislation expands the authority for local governments to waive building permit fees and other local fees of private sector entities involved in the construction of affordable housing.

Lawmakers pass “Tommie’s Law” to make animal cruelty charge a felony in Virginia (WTVR)

The legislation by Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) increases the penalty for “cruelly or unnecessarily beating, maiming, mutilating, or killing a dog or cat” to a felony.

Under current law, the animal must die as a direct result of the torture or inhumane injury before a suspect faces a felony charge.

The animal cruelty bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously on Wednesday. It cleared both chambers without a vote against it. Now, the bill heads to the governor’s desk, and DeSteph said he expects Governor Ralph Northam (D — Virginia) will support it.

Read the full article here.

Major juvenile justice reform sails through General Assembly (Daily Press)

It’s a big change in Virginia’s juvenile justice system and it sailed through the General Assembly with no opposition.

But thanks to Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, Virginia’s Juvenile Crime Control Act will now say its purpose isn’t only to “ensure imposition of appropriate and just sanctions and to make the most efficient use of correctional resources” for young people accused of a crime or subject to a petition for court-ordered supervision or services.

The Act will also be to “ensure the prevention of juvenile crime…” and themost efficient use of community diversion and community-based … resources” for youth “who have been screened for needing community diversion or community-based services using an evidence-based assessment protocol.”

Read the full article here

After gaining momentum, the Equal Rights Amendment does not pass.

Virginia was on track to be the last state needed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that affirms equal protection under the law regardless of sex. The Virginia Senate passed a resolution, but it did not get past house subcommittee. Delegate Hala Ayala called for a vote to let the Equal Rights Amendment get to the floor for a vote, but those efforts failed. We will never stop fighting to get the ERA passed in Virginia!

Lead Virginia Forward Rally in support of the ERA on February 14

Only one more state needs to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to finally get it ratified (CNN)

This week Illinois lawmakers approved the Equal Rights Amendment, a long-proposed addition to the United States Constitution that would ensure equal rights to all Americans regardless of sex.

You would think that 230 years after ratifying its Constitution, the US would have some sort of federal protection like this enshrined in its supreme law.

But the ERA, which states that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” has been languishing in Congress since 1923.

After decades of debate, it was passed by both the House and Senate in 1972. But for an amendment to be added to the Constitution, a minimum of 38 states have to sign off. By the time the deadline for ratifications passed in 1982, approvals had slowed to a trickle and stopped short of the magic number.

Recently, with the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, there has been renewed interest in passing the Equal Rights Amendment. The vote in Illinois now brings the tally to 37 states — just one shy of the 38 needed to add the amendment to the Constitution.

Many states now have some sort of equal-rights language in their constitutions. But ERA advocates argue that amending the US Constitution to protect women’s rights is still a critical step that goes beyond mere symbolism.

In the wake of women-led movements like the Women’s March and #MeToo, ERA activists have found renewed energy.

“As we see attacks on women’s rights, autonomy, and bodies every single day from the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress, passing the ERA is our strongest weapon to fight back,” Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) said this week.

Maloney is the House sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment and will host a shadow hearing on the need for an ERA next week on Capitol Hill. There has not been a committee hearing on the ERA in the House or Senate since 1984.

“The #MeToo movement was such a powerful phenomenon because for far too long women have not felt heard,” actress and political activist Alyssa Milano said Wednesday. “It’s hard to empower women when they are not recognized as part of our constitution. It’s simple, we need the ERA to protect women’s rights.”

But opponents of the ERA, mostly Republicans, have argued the amendment isn’t needed and would enable the removal of abortion restrictions.

Meanwhile, there are other official protections that ensure equal treatment among the sexes. Nearly half of states have state consitutional amendments or specifications that cover, among other statuses, discrimination based on sex.

Some of these predate the ERA, and others, added after 1972, contain language similar to the ERA itself.

For example, Article IV of Utah’s constitution, ratified in 1896, says, “Both male and female citizens of this State shall enjoy equally all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.”

An amendment to Texas’ constitution, added in 1972, states, “Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed, or national origin.”

In the US Constitution, the closest thing to an equal-rights assurance may be the 19th amendment, which guarantees women the right to vote.

Technically, the last deadline to ratify the ERA passed in 1982. However, Congress has the power to vote to simply extend the deadline if 38 states end up approving it. So, once the ERA gets one more state’s blessing, there may be more legislative red tape to get through before it reaches official amendment status. Here are the states that have not voted to ratify the amendment:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Virginia

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