Tuesday was Crossover Day in the General Assembly, meaning any new laws that were going to get passed this year need to have cleared their respective chambers.
And quite a few significant new laws have.
With Democrats now controlling the Executive Mansion and both chambers of the General Assembly, long-promised but controversial initiatives like new gun control laws, raising the minimum wage, ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, decriminalizing marijuana possession, and doing away with Lee-Jackson Day have all moved ahead.
And while those moves have been celebrated in progressive circles, they have also sent shockwaves through conservatives and conservative areas of the state—with localities across the commonwealth adopting resolutions opposing new gun control laws, and some local leaders even going so far as to discuss “Vexit,” the idea of some localities leaving Virginia to join West Virginia.
Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33), now one of Loudoun’s two remaining Republican state representatives, said the legislature has passed “numerous bills which threaten free speech, religious liberty, patient-counselor privilege, and freedom of association.”
He said state Democrats are “destroying our economic growth potential” by raising the minimum wage, and have “passed numerous laws which make millions of Virginians surrender most common firearms and accessories, or become criminals, leaving the citizens defenseless while jeopardizing people’s livelihood and security clearances.”
Meanwhile Democrats have celebrated their achievements, including voting Tuesday in the House to ban the sale of assault weapons and pass the Virginia Clean Economy Act, House Bill 1526, requiring utility companies to produce all their electricity from renewable sources by 2050.
Del. Wendy W. Gooditis (D-10) said those votes are about “preserving life.”
“We’re not taking people’s guns away, we are banning the sale of assault rifles, and it has shown to be lifesaving,” Gooditis said. “And so it is our hope that our vote today will help preserve lives in Virginia.”
And she said the Virginia Clean Economy Act is “a drop in the global bucket, but we are finally trying to position ourselves to do our part.”
“Most of the world accepts the fact that we are approaching a true environmental crisis with global warming, and little old Virginia isn’t going to save the planet,” Gooditis said, but added if other governments do the same, “we have a shot at really, really making a difference for humanity.”
But local issues for Loudoun haven’t fallen along party lines. While many local initiatives have moved forward in the state capitol, important ones have failed.
For example, a bill that would add cancers of the colon, brain, and testes to the list of cancers that are presumed to be an occupational disease covered by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act for firefighters, supported by the Board of Supervisors, passed the House 99-0, and is now in a Senate committee. It was a priority both for the Board of Supervisors and the local professional firefighters’ union.
Another, House Bill 785, which gives counties the same taxing authority as towns, such as enacting meals or cigarette taxes without requirements for voter approval, incorporates a bill from Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-31) and passed the House Tuesday 60-38.
“Right now, your real estate rates go up and up and up, because that’s the only tax that your locality has authority over,” Gooditis said. She said if localities can lean on other taxes, “that’s an income that maybe will keep your real estate taxes lower next year.”
Del. David A. Reid (D-32)’s bill to let the presiding officer of a Board of Supervisors be officially titled“chairman,” “chairwoman,” “chair,” or “chair-at-large,” instead of just “chairman,” which last year failed, breezed through the House 91-8 (although LaRock voted against) and is in a Senate committee. That will likely be welcome news to one of the bill’s leading advocates, Loudoun’s County Chairman At Large Phyllis J. Randall, who prefers the title “chair.”
But House Bill 359, which would allow localities to choose the best-value bid for a construction contract rather than just the cheapest, died in a House subcommittee 3-4, with three Democrats voting for it, and one Democrat and three Republicans against. Loudoun’s only local representative in that committee, Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34), voted for the bill. County supervisors have before worried that they are not getting the best bang for the taxpayer’s buck under the current system, and have had to hire construction firms with shaky reputations because they submitted the lowest bids on projects.
Some local transportation advocates hailed the passage of House Bill 729, a transportation funding bill that the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance estimated would restore would restore $70 million in funding to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. The authority lost more than $100 million in funding in 2018 when that money was redirected to Metro.
“Fully restoring the money that was diverted to Metro in 2018 has been a top transportation priority for Northern Virginia’s business community for the last two years,” saidJason Stanford, executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance.
But on transportation, too, legislators were divided and results were mixed. Notably, a bill to tighten state oversight of tolls on the Dulles Greenway failed for the fifth year running, frustrating the local delegates behind it, Gooditis, LaRock and Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87). And LaRock was among the 45 delegates who opposed the transit funding bill.
“The Governor’s massive tax hikes for transportation are rolling forward, but local Democrats undercut the Subramanyam/LaRock effort to reform the Greenway’s abusive over-tolling of our community,” LaRock said. “They also killed my common-sense bills which would have reformed the broken SMART SCALE system, allowed localities to fund and complete projects faster and at lower cost.”
And similar bills on a statewide issue that would be felt keenly in Loudoun, giving localities the power to decide whether to move war monuments, passed the House 53-46 and the Senate 21-19, and have each been passed to the opposite chamber. Loudoun has seen an impassioned debate around the statue of a Confederate soldier on the Leesburg courthouse lawn.
“People are going to get hysterical about that, but the fact is, if your locality wants to keep the statues, great,” Gooditis said. “If your locality wants to add more statues, or plaques or whatever for context, that’s great. If your locality really wants to tear down that monument or move it to a battlefield or something or a museum, that’s great. That’s all it’s about, is allowing your locality to do it.”
Gooditis put the sudden jump ahead on progressive priorities to living under a conservative legislature for so long. The last time Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature was in 1996.
“I think if we hadn’t had such a conservative legislature, they could have made some progress on these things so that maybe we wouldn’t have done so much at once,” Gooditis said. “Perhaps we could have kept the legislation that said you could only buy one handgun a month. That could have been a sensible thing that we could have hung onto, and maybe wouldn’t have felt like we had to pass all this gun safety legislation at once. But yeah, some of this is just a reaction.”
The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn for 2020 on Saturday, March 7. It will reconvene April 22 to take up any actions by Governor Ralph Northam.