2022 General Assembly Legislative Update – Volume 8
March 7, 2022
This is the final week of the Session! Committees must finish their work on legislation today, and several bills are in conference committees to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills. Here is a look at some issues that have already been resolved.
As we did earlier in the year with Senate Republican bills, Senate Democrats stood as a brick wall against House bills seeking to roll back progress made in the 2020 and 2021 sessions on expanding access to abortion and reproductive rights, voting rights, criminal justice reform, breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, combating climate change, strengthening worker protections, addressing gun violence, and strengthening Virginia’s antidiscrimination laws and extending them to the LGBTQ+ community.
House Republicans on a House Privileges & Elections subcommittee killed proposed constitutional amendments related to restoration of voting rights and marriage equality, keeping them off the ballot this November.
We have about 600 bills still pending, and only 6 days to complete our work. Hopefully, we will not need to go into overtime.
Marijuana Legislation Fails
Last week, a House subcommittee defeated SB 391 establishing a regulated retail marijuana market September 1, 2022. As you may recall, in 2021, the General Assembly passed legislation eliminating criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana effective July 1, 2021. The bill also established a legal framework for the regulated retail market beginning in 2024, subject to re-enactment this year. You can learn more about the current legal status around marijuana here.
Frankly, I believe that it is more important that we establish a regulated retail market carefully and equitably rather than to do so quickly. From the beginning, my priority has been to ensure marijuana legalization is done in an equitable manner that addresses potential health benefits and limits the risk of juvenile use. That’s why I sponsored the 2020 resolution requiring JLARC to study and make recommendations for how Virginia should legalize and regulate the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana in a way that meets these five basic tenets:
- Maintain and expand Virginia’s medical marijuana program;
- Install public safety protections to protect minors and identify/prosecute those who sell marijuana without legal authority;
- Create strong testing and labeling protocols;
- Provide equity and economic opportunity for every community, especially those disproportionately impacted by prohibition drug policies with an emphasis on ensuring equity in ownership in the marijuana industry; and
- Ensure racially equitable programs and policies exist that will provide reinvestment in communities most impacted by marijuana prohibition.
The resulting JLARC’s study found that Virginia’s marijuana enforcement disproportionately affected people of color and provided considerations for equitable legalization. In 2021, I worked to ensure JLARC studied the framework established by the General Assembly, and studied legislation passed in New York and New Jersey. In August, JLARC presented its findings to the Cannabis Oversight Commission, on which I serve.
I suspect the Cannabis Oversight Commission will develop new recommendations for the 2023 session, and there is even speculation that there could be a special session on this topic later this year.
In addition to SB 658 mentioned in last week’s newsletter, the House has passed seven of my bills that are now headed to the Governor’s desk.
The remaining bills passed the House unanimously:
- SB 470 grants easements for the Children’s Museum of Virginia to access the new parking deck and greenspace that will be shared space between the Children’s Museum and the Science Museum of Virginia.
- SB 476 adds the Chief Executive Officer of Richmond International Airport as an ex officio, non-voting member of the Central Virginia Transportation Authority in order to provide the Authority a more complete picture of regional transportation needs and issues.
- SB 479 removes obsolete provisions from the health services sections of the Code of Virginia. This bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Code Commission.
- SB 480 clarifies that under the Administrative Process Act, signed originals of final agency case decisions may be retained in an electronic medium. This bill also is a recommendation of the Virginia Code Commission.
- SB 485 strengthens the Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development Act (DPYDA) The DPYDA, passed into law in 1979, focuses exclusively on providing funds for prevention services, such as services for at-risk youth before they enter the juvenile justice system. I worked with students at the University of Virginia School of Law’s State and Local Government Policy Clinic to help develop this bill. Read more about SB 485 here.
- SB 493 protects Virginians from unsolicited digital intimate images by establishing a civil penalty for an adult who knowingly sends such images to another adult who has not consented to or has expressly forbidden receipt of such image. SB 493 only applies to senders, recipients, and images involving individuals above the age of 18, as minors are protected by other laws. You can read about this bill here.
- In addition, the House unanimously passed SJ 34 establishing September as Virginia African Diaspora Month. As a resolution, SJ 34 does not need to be signed by the Governor to take effect.
Five of my bills failed in the House last week:
- The House Agriculture, Conservation & Natural Resources Committee carried my SB 482 over to the 2023 General Assembly Session. The bill would have codified former Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 82 issued in November directing state agencies to consult with Tribal Nations when evaluating certain permits that may impact Tribal environmental, history and cultural resources. You can read more about this bill here.
- A subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee tabled my SB 488 establishing the Transit Transportation Program and Fund to award competitive grants to assist local, regional, and state entities with transitioning public transit bus fleets and infrastructure to zero-emission and low-emission bus fleets and infrastructure.
- The House Commerce & Energy Committee failed to report my SB 494 strengthening Virginia’s employment discrimination laws on a party-line vote. The bill extends the statute of limitations for filing a written complaint or civil lawsuit. The bill also establishes a consistent definition of employer for employment discrimination under the Human Rights Act as one employing 5 or more employees. Under current law, the 5 employee threshold only applies to employers who unlawfully fire an employee, but not to other employment discrimination claims.
- The House Privileges & Elections Committee carried my SB 495 to reform Virginia’s recall process over to the 2023 General Assembly Session. You can learn more about this bill here.
- A subcommittee of the House Rules Committee tabled my SJ 33 creating a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission study of Virginia’s election governance and funding to ensure accountability, uniformity and fairness with a letter to JLARC asking them to consider the study.
You can track all my legislation here.