2021 General Assembly Session Round-Up Part 1
Another monumental legislative session has wrapped up where the progressive majority in the Virginia legislature continues to flex by showing the rest of the South that it too can leave Jim Crow behind. Our lawmakers just keep on pushing! As the 2021 General Assembly is wrapping up its business, we’re looking at the whirlwind of activity from the past several weeks and smiling even though we’re still trapped in a long COVID-19 winter.
Most of the bills below are already approved by both chambers of the legislature. Some of the legislation is being worked out in a conference committee, an ad hoc group of legislators from both chambers whose purpose is to reconcile differences in legislation. Let’s take a look at some of our faves that are on the way to the Governor’s desk for his autograph.
Vote, Vote, Vote in Virginia!
Last year, the General Assembly took steps to make voting more accessible and then during the special session took additional steps to make it EVEN MORE accessible during the pandemic. A couple of measures were taken to codify those efforts into law because Virginians are just getting so damn good at voting. Now, drop boxes will be at every registrar’s office and there will be a process where voters can correct errors on their absentee ballots. Also, the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots is *POOF* gone!
The biggest news for voting is that the Commonwealth now has its own Voting Rights Act of Virginia. Our angels, Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Marcia Price, sponsored legislation in both chambers, making the Commonwealth the first state in the South to proactively write voting rights into state law. This is crucial because the national Voting Rights Act was gutted and with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, we can’t be sure that they’ll protect it.
Changing the Books on Criminal Justice
We’re not at the place yet where we can truly hold police accountable for the violence they enact on our communities, but there are a few advances we’re making as a state that we’re proud of. First of all, Virginia is ABOLISHING the DEATH PENALTY. Capital punishment is modern-day lynching and the state has no place in dictating who lives and who dies.
Next up, a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore the civil rights of returning citizens has passed its first round of approval. There are two versions of the amendment from each chamber that are being reconciled in a conference committee as we speak. In order for a constitutional amendment to reach voters, it has to be passed during two legislative sessions with an election occurring between them. So, we have to maintain our progressive majority in the 2021 election, pass the amendment again in the 2022 legislative session and voters will vote on it in November 2022. Also, speaking of automatic, the General Assembly passed legislation that would automatically expunge criminal records of certain offenses. We’re super happy about that because we know even a minor record can be a life sentence to poverty.
Finally, for criminal justice reform, Virginia is making headway in legalizing sweet ol’ mary jane. Legalization won’t happen until 2024, but we’re stoked to see elements that will bring equity to communities ravaged by the drug war!
Abortion is Accessible in Virginia
Just a couple of years ago, Virginia was a place where abortion wasn’t accessible. Soon, you’ll be able to buy an insurance plan that covers abortion on the marketplace. Well, call me a monkey’s uncle, but I never thought that would happen in the Commonwealth. We’re still working on getting the Reproductive Health Equity Act passed (next year), so we have all of our bases covered so everyone can have access to reproductive healthcare no matter their gender identity, zip code, immigration status, or insurance plan.
There’s plenty more that I haven’t covered and I could go on for a long time, but I’ll leave this right here for now. You can go about your day happy to live in a state that’s just a little bit easier to live in. Continue on to part 2 of our 2021 General Assembly round-up if you can take it.