A legislative session like none other in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia will commence next week in Richmond. Already, Democrats submitted more than 260 bills for consideration in the upcoming session, with many more expected before the swearings in and gavels for the new session next Wednesday.
With the results from November’s statewide legislative elections bringing clear majorities to the Democrats in both the House of Delegates and State Senate in Richmond, combined with their command of the governor’s office, a veritable plethora of progressive legislation is expected to pass over the next two months and be signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam.
It’s been 20 years since the Democrats have had this kind of control in Richmond, but more realistically, those with the kind of progressive values of the current majorities have never come close to running the show in Richmond before.
Earlier Democratic majorities were dominated by the so-called “Blue Dog Democrats,” most of whom were far more conservative than today’s newly elected Democratic legislators.
The current Democratic majority that will be sworn in next Wednesday will include the 25 new delegates who prevailed in previously Republican districts, 15 elected in 2107 and 10 more in 2019, giving them a 55-45 majority in the House.
In the Senate, the Democrats came away with a 21-19 majority as a result of November’s election, after trailing by a single vote, 20-19 (including a vacancy), before then.
Before heading to Richmond next week, enthusiastic Democrats are holding a spate of public events to rally their supporters and give them a sense of what may be accomplished in the 60-day session commencing Jan. 8.
That includes Falls Church’s Delegate Marcus Simon, who will be holding such a session today (Thursday) at the NVAR Northern Virginia Headquarters, 8407 Pennell St., near the intersection of Rt. 50 and Gallows Road, at 11:30 a.m.
On Sunday morning at 11 a.m, officials from throughout Fairfax County will assemble at the Westwood Country Club in Vienna for the region’s biggest pre-legislative session event. Falls Church’s two representatives, Simon and State Sen. Dick Saslaw, will be present and speak.
Democrats are expected to focus their energies on legislation to make voting easier (including same day registration and voting), gun control, criminal justice reform (including four bills by Simon alone), marijuana decriminalization, energy and environmental reforms, women’s health, fair redistricting, student loan reforms, campaign finance reforms, the redressing of racial disparities and raising the minimum wage.
They are also seeing opportunities in the budget recommendations by Gov. Northam introduced last month that include increasing the gas tax to pay for transportation infrastructure and the elimination of the annual vehicle inspection requirements.
The annual vehicle inspection and fee requirements are considered regressive because the same amount of the fee is charged to individuals regardless of their income, thereby unfairly impacting poorer persons. There is also no evidence in 20 states where the removal of the annual inspections have already occurred that vehicle safety has suffered as a result.
Del. Simon told the News-Press this week that he hopes the legislature will implement sane gun legislation early in the session to help defuse opposition, which will have to deal with it as a fait accompli as a result.
Prohibiting guns in the Capital and its galleries, universal background checks and banning the sales of large magazines are most likely to occur, with the issue of an assault weapons ban presenting challenges for dealing with existing firearms.
This is happening as the Virginia Beach City Council will be holding two special sessions next Monday to consider declaring the city a “Second Amendment Constitutional City” in opposition to any gun control laws that may pass, according to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper there.
On women’s rights issues, foremost will be the date that the legislature decides to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), becoming the deciding two-thirds majority state to ratify the constitutional amendment that emblazons the equality of women into the U.S. Constitution.
Simon says he expects a wide bipartisan vote to ratify this long overdue move, which will be accompanied by a lot of deserving ceremony. The only issue will be to determine which date will work best, he said.
He said it is most likely an incremental approach to raising the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour at present to $15 by 2025 will be taken.
“A lot of the debates this session will be about the rate of change,” he said, noting that some Republicans who are hoping to run for Congress next year will be taking only symbolic positions to hopefully improve their election chances.
The majority will need to pass the same redistricting reform act it did last year to make it law in time for the upcoming U.S. Census that will determine U.S. Congressional and state legislative districts for the next decade.
While there are some who are worried the proposed new formula will keep control in the hands of a Republican-appointed State Supreme Court, others like Simon are not so distrusting of the courts and hold that the proposed reform will go a long way to overcoming the kind of gerrymandering of districts that have led to so many unfairly-drawn districts in the past.
One of Simon’s four bills submitted last Friday, he said, allows for arrests for underage drinking and marijuana possession to be expunged from court records.