2022 General Assembly Legislative Update – Volume 3
January 31, 2022
Believe it or not, we are one-third of the way through the 2022 General Assembly Session! The Senate is moving quickly, having already passed over 200 bills and resolutions. We still have a long way to go to address the over 2,000 bills and resolutions introduced by the Senate and House before March 12th.
In case you missed my Senate District 9 Town Hall meeting Saturday, you can watch it here for an update on the last three weeks. You can also listen to my legislative update with Delegate Marcia Price on the Women and Politics Radio Show here.
January 27th marked the second anniversary of when Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment with the passage of SJ1 that I carried with Senator Mamie Locke and HJ1 carried by Former Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy. With our ratification, the ERA has the requisite number of state ratifications to become part of the U.S. Constitution. Last week, I joined Congresswoman Jackie Speier, former Illinois State Representative Steve Andersson, and Nevada State Senator Patricia Spearman in a Joint Op-Ed published by the Hill on why gender equality should finally become the law of the land.
January 22nd also marked the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. As we await the pending U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Roe’s fate, the seven Senate Democratic women reflected on the importance of access to abortion care and our commitment to protect the progress we have made in Virginia during Monday’s floor session. Over the last two years, we have not only protected reproductive rights, but became the first state in the South to expand access to abortion by removing medically unnecessary barriers that were legal even under Roe through passage of the historic Reproductive Health Protection Act that I carried with Delegate Charniele Herring in 2020. You can watch my remarks here and remarks from all seven of the Senate Democratic women here.
Virginia Senate Democrats Defend Progress
The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus continues to be a brick wall to protect legislation we passed in 2020 and 2021.
Last week, we blocked a bill to weaken the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights that I passed in 2020 and in 2021 by excluding babysitters, nannies, caretakers, home health aides, and personal care aides from worker protections in the Virginia Human Rights Act. The patron of the bill even admitted it would have allowed these employees to be fired for breastfeeding on the job.
We blocked two bills that would have gutted my 2021 bill allowing evidence of mental health conditions in criminal cases where relevant to whether a person had the requisite intent to commit a crime.
We blocked several bills that tried to limit access to the ballot box, including repealing the permanent absentee voter list, removing absentee ballot drop-off locations, requiring notaries for absentee voting, and narrowing the timeframe for when absentee ballots can be returned.
We blocked several bills to roll back our progress on addressing gun violence prevention, including bills to repeal local authority to prevent firearm violence, to create loopholes for the Capitol Square firearm ban, and to repeal mandatory background checks for private gun sales.
We also blocked legislation supported by the new Attorney General to allow his office to usurp power from local prosecutors, taking over cases against their wishes.
We made generational progress on these and other issues over the past two years, and Senate Democrats will continue to fight efforts to roll back that progress!
SB 472, allowing any locality to impose up to a 1% increase in their sales tax, subject to voter approval, to be used solely for school construction or renovation, passed on a 28-12 vote. Read more about this bill here.
SB 479, a Virginia Code Commission bill removing obsolete provisions from the health services section of the Code of Virginia, passed unanimously.
SB 494, strengthening the Virginia Human Rights Act, passed on a party-line vote. This bill provides a consistent definition of employer, statute of limitations, and attorneys fees for prevailing plaintiffs. Read more about this bill here.
SB 478 passed unanimously, allowing the government entity that operates Richmond International Airport (RIC) to have a foundation focused on fostering public appreciation of the importance of aviation, assisting the public in aviation travel, and developing the next generation of aviation professionals in the Commonwealth.
SB 470 passed unanimously, authorizing the Science Museum of Virginia to convey right-of-way easements to allow the Children’s Museum of Richmond to use the parking deck and greenspace between the two properties.
In addition, the Senate unanimously passed a bill on which I am a Chief Copatron. Senator Jennifer Boysko’s SB 439 is a fraternity/sorority anti-hazing bill inspired by the death of VCU freshman Adam Oakes last year. The bill requires that an advisor must be present at all official events for new and potential new members and require more hazing prevention training for advisors and members. Read more about this bill here.
Addressing the Crisis in Children’s Mental Health
Many families, advocates, school personnel, and mental health clinicians have been warning for years that children’s mental health access is in a state of emergency. One in five children in Virginia had a diagnosed mental health condition such as ADHD, anxiety, or depression.
COVID has made the crisis worse.
In short, too many of our kids are not ok, and now is the time to act.
I joined Delegates Carrie Coyner, Emily Brewer, and Marcia Price for a Voices for Virginia’s Children press conference outlining our efforts this session to increase mental health support for children. You can watch the press conference on YouTube here.
To address the children’s mental health crisis, I am sponsoring several items to invest more resources to connect our schools to mental health services:
I am working with Delegate Marcia Price on a budget amendment to provide $10 million each year to local school divisions to contract for community-based mental health services for students from public or private community-based providers.
I’ve filed another budget amendment requiring the Behavioral Health Commission to conduct a study of how to maximize school-based mental health services across the Commonwealth.
My SB 490 implementing the Board of Education’s recommended Standards of Quality will increase the number of specialized student support positions–school social workers, psychologists, nurses, or licensed mental health professionals–from 3 to 4 per 1,000 students. I have also introduced a budget amendment to finally lift the cap on state funding of such support personnel. Put in place to balance the budget during the recession in 2008, this cap has shifted funding to localities, placing a strain on their ability to fill these positions.
These are just a few of the many steps we must take now to strengthen Virginia’s mental health system to address the growing needs of children and families.
Governor Youngkin Faces Backlash Over Divisive Actions on Masks in Schools
Governor Youngkin’s executive order seeking to lift the mask mandate in public schools went into effect last Monday. Nearly half of public school districts have opted to maintain their requirements for masks inside the schools, including Richmond and Henrico.
In addition to a lawsuit filed by Chesapeake parents, seven Virginia school districts filed a lawsuit against the Governor over his executive order: Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County. An Arlington County judge has set the date for a court hearing for February 2, 2022, at 1 p.m.
Governor Youngkin also set up an email tip line that encouraged parents to report if “divisive practices” such as critical race theory were being taught in schools. This is the latest attempt to undermine the authority of educators and pit parents against teachers. Looks like the tipline has gotten more than he bargained for, as you can see here and here.
A Public Policy Polling survey released Friday shows that a majority of Virginia voters disagree with Governor Youngkin’s actions addressing Covid, particularly his executive orders on masks in schools and removing the vaccine requirement for state employees, and support those school boards challenging his orders.