Local Commentary

Marcus Simon’s Richmond Report

The Virginia House of Delegates will celebrate its 400th birthday this year. It met for the first time, as the House of Burgesses, in Jamestown, in July of 1619. In a few months, we’ll have a special commemorative session, in which it is my great honor to participate.

While many things about the way the body functions have changed, many more remain almost the same. Members of various communities around Virginia assemble in the same place and work collectively to look for solutions to the common problems that confront their families and neighbors across the Commonwealth.

In the early 1600s, they might have worried about how to resolve land disputes, provide rules for allowing each other to cross one another’s land to get from place to place efficiently and avoid time consuming detours —in other words, traffic.

In the 1800s, they had to come up with laws to regulate an industrial economy and to solve problems brought about by the growth of the railroads. Prior to the early 20th century, there was no such thing as reckless driving. When did running a stop sign become a crime?

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As we are about to enter the third decade of the 21st century, ideas for legislation come across my desk literally and figuratively from a number of sources. Once I decide to pursue them, things actually still work quite a bit like the 1970s School House Rock cartoon on how a bill becomes a law.

Let me explain.

A few weeks before the 2019 session began, I was sitting at my kitchen island with my smartphone when I got a notification that I had been tagged in a Facebook post. The post was a link to newspaper article on a new and growing method of harassment being used mostly in an effort to harm women.

Through the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning programs distributed on the internet, almost anyone can now use widely available software tools to create incredibly realistic images by superimposing their victim’s face onto an existing pornographic video. It’s then sent it to employers, family members or posted on social media as if it were real. Something the 1619 Burgesses could hardly have imagined.

In 2014, I introduced legislation to address a similar problem, known as revenge pornography — when someone shares sexually explicit photos of an individual without their consent. There are even websites that post these photos and then charge individuals to have it removed. Fortunately, now there are legal repercussions for those that violate this law.

So, after reading the 2019 Facebook post I got to work with the attorneys at the Division of Legislative Services drafting an update to include artificially created images. Once we liked the words we’d come up with I submitted it to the Clerk of the House, who numbered it. The Speaker then assigned it to the House Courts of Justice Committee, where the Chairman assigned it to the Criminal Law Subcommittee.

In subcommittee the lawyer legislators worked to make sure we didn’t inadvertently capture cartoons, parody, or speech protected by the first amendment. After several meetings, the bill eventually passed the subcommittee, the full committee, and then the full House.

In the Senate, the bill maintained momentum — my senate colleagues further tweaked the bill and then passed it through committee and the full Senate. Because the bill was now different than when it left the House, it went to a conference committee of six legislators and I worked with my colleagues to put the bill in its best form.

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Then boom. HB 2678 passed the House and Senate again in its final form and was signed by the Governor. It will become law on July 1 of this year.

So, what’s next?

As I said before, legislative ideas come from many places in many forms. And I’d love to hear from you. What are your priorities? Do you have a legislative idea that you’d like to share? If so, please reach out via email or phone: DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov or 571-327-0053.

My goal is always to represent my constituents to the best of my ability and hearing your legislative ideas is a great way to do that.

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