During the 2020 legislative session, we saw over 3,600 pieces of legislation introduced between the House of Delegates and the Senate. I personally introduced 22 bills, 4 joint resolutions, and 8 resolutions. I am proud to say that regardless of full Democrat control, 10 of my bills, 3 of my joint resolutions, and 7 of my resolutions passed both houses and were signed by the Governor.
A lot of legislation passed quickly through committee meetings along party lines without careful, cautious deliberation and debate. When it came time for me to vote on legislation that was not good for Virginia, I built consensus and killed everything I could. I amended anything I couldn't kill. And, I spoke out against anything that I couldn't amend or kill.
I was very pleased that several programs that I initiated with previous legislation over the past five years were expanded because of the ongoing strong support for the program. Those include the Perinatal Quality Collaborative, Literacy Lab and school behaviorists.
July 1 is when new laws take effect in Virginia. Here is a breakdown of new laws including my legislation and my concerns for Virginia as we move forward.
SB 1026/HB 1506 | After this bill passed out of the Senate with the support of 38 of 40 senators, this bill was killed for political reasons in a House committee on a party line vote. I was able to amend the house version of the bill HB1506 to reflect my priorities. Never giving up is an important part of legislative success.
SB 185 | This is an expansion on the past work to allow patient access to CBD and THC-A. SB185 will allow nursing homes and assisted living facility staff members to dispense medical cannabis to residents that have a valid certification and registration.
SB 186 | This bill enables children with intellectual or developmental disabilities to access age and developmentally appropriate family life education.
SB 365 | SB365 reforms the current credentialing process for health care providers. It’s one simple way we can adapt the system to be more efficient, cut costs and improve access to care.
SB 567 | SB567 extends maternity coverage for individuals in the private sector to 12 weeks. By expanding maternity leave within someone’s disability insurance, we are developing a private sector solution to ensure families and employers thrive.
SB 568 | It chips away at the power of pharmacy benefit managers by prohibiting their practice of spread pricing when contracting with our managed care organizations’ managed care plans. We must continue our work to put profits back into patients’ pockets and lower the cost of prescriptions.
SB 575 | My 2017 legislation created The Emergency Department Care Coordination Program (“EDCCP”) to connect all emergency departments in Virginia, which allowed for better coordinated care for patients that are high utilizers of emergency room care. SB575 simply clarifies that the EDCCP is allowed to access patient specific information from the Prescription Monitoring Program. The original intent of my 2017 legislation was to give ER doctors quick access to prescription data to identify someone who may be at risk or abusing opioids.
SB 585 | SB585 is the result of a Joint Commission on Healthcare study that identified several policy options on Supported Decision Making for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Later this year, a group of stakeholders will convene to further study supported decision making agreements and how they can be a less restrictive alternative to the appointment of a guardian.
SB 586 | SB586 is a house cleaning bill allowing the Auditor of Public Accounts greater flexibility when posting information to the Commonwealth Data Point Website.
SB 1025 | SB1025 will remove barriers for kin to become foster parents. In 2016, only six percent of children in foster care were placed with relatives which is significantly lower than the national average. One explanation for this is Virginia’s existing training requirements. SB1025 addresses these by allowing greater flexibility with the training and approval requirements of a foster family.
SB 1070 | I was heartbroken to learn that pet owners could not be buried with their cremated pets. SB1070 addresses this by allowing owners to be buried with their cremate pets in designated sections of cemeteries.
Other Areas of Interest
Kept VA a Right to Work State
We fought and succeeded in keeping our Right to Work status in Virginia. This means that our workers will not be forced to join unions - which was something the Democrats proposed this session.
I support that the minimum wage be increased because it had not increased since 2009. However, I argued for a regionally specific minimum wage increase because the economies in different regions of VA are so different. This is not what we passed. I believe the way it was passed jeopardizes businesses who operate in a unique and now fragile economy.
At least 16 bills approved by the General Assembly this session create new taxes or increase existing taxes on Virginians. Some of these bills authorize a local government to increase taxes by ordinance.
HB1414 - raises the statewide tax on gasoline and diesel by five cents per gallon July 1 of this year and then again on July 1, 2021.
Expanded Local Tax Authority
HB 785 - grants localities the ability to collect four taxes previously allowed in cities.
HB 534 - allows any locality to impose a 5-cent tax on plastic bags at retail locations, on a local option basis. Virginians will not be forced to pay a five-cent tax on plastic bags. Republicans amended this bill so that a locality may by ordinance decide to impose the tax.
SB 851 - Clean energy omnibus bill - This session, the new majority passed what is called the “Virginia Clean Economy Act.” This new law imposes the first statewide carbon tax on electric power generation, among many other things. These changes come with a significant price tag - which we will see when our taxes and utility bills increase over the next year and beyond. The SCC estimates that with this new law our electricity bills will increase on average by $28 monthly by 2027-2030. We heard from advocates that this new law will create thousands of jobs and help address climate change. However, the Clean Economy Act fails to include performance and job-creation requirements. How many of these jobs will be permanent and full-time versus temporary construction positions? Where is the skilled workforce going to come from to complete these projects? Hampton Roads employers already experience skilled labor shortages. The VCEA also strips the State Corporation Commission of its constitutional responsibility to protect ratepayers from unreasonable and imprudent utility expenditures.
HB 582/SB 939 - Passage of these bills repeals the existing prohibition of collective bargaining by public employees, including local general government and school system employees. The potential fiscal impact of collective bargaining for our localities is alarming and could cost our County taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually. Under a collective bargaining structure, the demands made for employee salary and benefit increases are allowed to exceed available County resources. This puts our Board of Supervisors in an extremely difficult position to find a solution. This will deplete local resources and the costs will have to be passed on to local taxpayers through property taxes. A compromise negotiated between the House and Senate now calls for a local Board of Supervisors to take a vote before allowing collective bargaining in their locality.
Governor’s Transportation Package
For the first time in three decades, the state gas tax will increase. The tax will increase by 5 cents a year for two consecutive years and then will be indexed to inflation. This was part of Governor Northam’s transportation package. A portion of this revenue will go towards local transportation projects, but another portion will fund statewide rail projects (predominantly in NOVA). This tax hike will hurt our residents at the gas pumps and the eventual 10-cent increase would cost the average family an extra $200 a year. We were able to keep our state annual vehicle safety inspections, which the governor wanted to eliminate.
There was a lot of legislation passed without evidence that it will decrease the risk of gun violence. Legislation that has a real possibility of infringing on the second amendment rights of conscientious law abiding citizens. I don’t support legislation that has unclear benefits but clear risk, and I voted against these bills. I did support universal background checks and was able to help and amend that bill to be sure it protected law abiding citizens. I carried a bill that has strong evidence it would have reduced gun violence and would make mental health crisis services more readily available. For the second year in a row, it passed the Senate unanimously and was killed by the House.
I want to make sure you know all of the variables I consider when looking at controversial bills. For more detail on my votes this year, please see my blog called Critical Thinking.