We’re at the Midpoint
It was a frustrating week. While we knew it was coming, it was nevertheless frustrating when the Republican controlled House began this week by passing a slew of bills trying to reverse the great progress we have made as a Commonwealth over the last two years. During a lengthy floor session that went deep into the evening hours on Monday, party-line votes passed numerous misguided bills, including repealing the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), repealing the red flag statute, backtracking on public health measures to protect children and teachers in schools, and interfering in our public school curriculum.
The attack on our environment by Republicans is neither new nor unexpected. The attempt to dismantle the VCEA, though, is a new low. The Republican leadership had assured us at the beginning of session that they would not try to repeal the VCEA. I carried this legislation during the 2020 Session, and it was an historic step forward on clean energy in Virginia. The VCEA is bringing thousands of good-paying jobs and new businesses to Virginia. Jobs in solar, in energy efficiency and wind. I took to the floor to point out what a huge mistake it would be to reverse course. To see my remarks, please click here.
Unfortunately, House Republicans also voted to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and to delay Virginia’s adoption of clean car, electric vehicle standards. Reversing the progress we’ve made through our previous renewable energy legislation is devastating to the future of our environment and our economy. To read a Virginia Mercury article on this, click here.
HB 509 also passed Tuesday. It would repeal Virginia’s red flag law, another bill I carried in 2020. The law which creates an Extreme Risk Protection Order to protect individuals who pose a substantial risk of harm to themselves or others. I am disappointed that House Republicans continue to refuse to acknowledge the fact that red flag laws save lives. See my floor speech pushing back here. And take another moment to watch this moving speech by my dear friend Delegate Wendy Gooditis about her brother Brian’s suicide, and how the red flag law may have saved his life. There was not a dry eye in the House. And 90 seconds later, the bill repealing the red flag law passed on a straight party-line vote.
With much self-congratulation, Governor Youngkin signed SB 739 on Wednesday, claiming a victory for himself and for Virginia’s parents. The new law has an emergency clause, which makes it effective March 1, 2022. It ends every locality’s ability to make mask decisions for its own schools and students, and instead imposes a one-size-fits-all requirement in our state code. The Governor believes this is a huge win for parents.
But when he says he is “listening to parents,” he means he is listening to some parents. He means he is listening to parents who agree with him. He means he is listening to the loud parents.
That loud part is changing, since a significant number of parents feel their concerns have been ignored. And they are speaking up.
We all want to take off our masks. We all want this pandemic to end. We all want our kids to be in schools, that they be in school safely, and that we can return life to normal. But these are decisions that should be made at the local level based on the facts on the ground in each locality. The situation in Fairfax or Arlington may be very different than the situation in Bristol or Danville.
And the Beat Goes On
The rest of the week continued down the same path of Republicans voting for bills that harm our Commonwealth. The bills passed take us backwards on criminal justice reform, our public school curriculum, and abortion. The debate on HB 787 was remarkable. The bill makes it “unlawful” for “divisive concepts” to be taught in schools. If this bill were to become law, Virginia would join several other states that have passed laws which purport to legislate how issues related to race can be taught in schools. It is unfortunate that Virginia, which has consistently ranked among the top states for its excellent education system, is now joining states that have some of the lowest ranked education systems, such as Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and South Carolina. My colleague Schuyler Vanvalkenburg –a high school history teacher– gave a brilliant speech on this issue. Take a moment to watch: here. To read more about this please click here.
One of the most disturbing results of this week was the passage of two anti-abortion bills in the House: HB 212 and HB 304. These bills are a major setback in the progress we have made on reproductive rights in the Commonwealth, and a glimpse into the Youngkin administration’s future plans on abortion. Similar to the attack on our school curriculum, these anti-abortion bills group Virginia with other states such as Texas, that have passed legislation in anticipation of Roe v. Wade being overturned, which would limit or even end safe and legal abortions. I am counting on the Senate to block these bills.
On Wednesday, HJ 28 and HJ 57 were tabled in the House, which imperils the possibility of amending the Virginia Constitution to remove the outdated ban on same sex marriage and to restore voting rights to individuals who were previously incarcerated for a felony conviction. Virginia voters deserve the chance to vote on these issues this November, and to right these wrongs in our Constitution. We’ll have one more chance when the same Resolutions come over from the Senate, which passed them resoundingly.
In more positive news, my HB 370, the Uniform Fiduciary Income and Principal Act, passed in a Senate Committee this week with bipartisan support. This is my second bill to move through the Senate. HB 386, relating to the Arland D. Williams Jr Memorial Bridge, is already on the Governor’s desk to sign into law. More updates on my bills to come.
The House and Senate budget bill will be released this weekend. Our strong financial position presents a real opportunity to address persistent issues like teacher pay and K-12 funding, health care affordability, school construction, support for our neighbors with disabilities, and perhaps even some tax relief. More on that as the second half of session unfolds.