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Time to Go on Offense: 50 Legislative Ideas for the New, Improved Virginia General Assembly


With 49, 50 or even 51 Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates, including a slew of strongly progressive and pro-environment members, it’s time for Dems to seriously think about “going on offense,” legislatively speaking, for a change — proposing progressive, pro-clean-energy, pro-environment legislation that might actually (what a concept!) have a shot at being signed into law!  I wanted to kick off the conversation with a list of 50 legislative ideas for the new, much-improved Virginia House of Delegates. Note that these 50 ideas are not – repeat, NOT! – intended to be the be-all/end-all, but simply the start of a conversation you are welcome to join regarding what Democrats should try to accomplish in the 2018 General Assembly session. Note that these are in no particular order…

  1. Medicaid expansion, obviously. In fact, there are at least 400,000 reasons to do so, with essentially none not to do so.
  2. No-excuse absentee voting, such as Sen. Janet Howell’s bill that “Allows qualified voters to vote absentee in person without providing an excuse for not being able to vote in person on election day.” Also see Sen. Adam Ebbin’s SB 1002 on this subject.
  3. Make it a lot easier to vote, NOT harder to vote. For instance, see this bill by Del. Rip Sullivan, which “Adds to the list of acceptable forms of voter identification a valid student photo identification card issued by any institution of higher education located in any other state or territory of the United States.”
  4. Raise the minimum wage, as in this bill by Del. Sam Rasoul, “from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $10.00 per hour effective July 1, 201[8], to $12.50 per hour effective July 1, 20[20], and to $15.00 per hour effective July 1, 20[22].” Also see Sen. Rosalyn Dance’s SB 978 on this subject.
  5. Limit firearms “magazines” to 10 rounds; see this bill by Sen. Dave Marsden, which “Prohibits any person from selling, bartering, or transferring a firearms magazine designed to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.”
  6. Enact universal background checks for gun purchases in Virginia.
  7. Do what Massachusetts did recently and ban so-called “bump stocks.”
  8. Reinstate “one handgun a month” limits, as per this bill by Del. Marcus Simon (” Prohibits individuals who are not licensed firearms dealers from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period and establishes such an offense as a Class 1 misdemeanor.”)
  9. Raise Virginia’s pathetically low (50th in the nation) cigarette tax of just 30 cents per pack to at least the national average ($1.72 per pack).
  10. Raise the felony threshold for “amount of money taken or value of goods or chattel taken at which the crime rises from petit larceny to grand larceny” from the ridiculously low $200 to $1,000 or more.
  11. Restrict predatory lending; see here for Sen. Scott Surovell’s four bills that would “protect financially vulnerable Virginians from predatory lending practices by capping interest rates on largely unregulated consumer finance loans, close a loophole that title lenders could use to make predatory loans, prohibit car title and consumer finance lenders from co-locating, and enhancing reporting requirements for consumer finance lenders that co-locate with car title lenders.”
  12. Take the lead on the booming business of energy storage; see Del. Patrick Hope’s bill, for instance, that “Establishes the Virginia Energy Storage Consortium as a political subdivision of the Commonwealth for the purpose of positioning the Commonwealth as a leader in research, development, commercialization, manufacturing, and deployment of energy storage technology.”
  13. Make restoration of voting rights for ex-felons easier/more automatic; see, for instance, Del. Lamont Bagby’s bill which “Authorizes the General Assembly to provide by law for the restoration of civil rights for persons convicted of nonviolent felonies who have completed service of their sentences subject to the conditions, requirements, and definitions set forth in that law. The present Constitution provides for restoration of rights by the Governor. The amendment retains the right of the Governor to restore civil rights and adds an alternative for restoration of rights pursuant to law for nonviolent felons.”
  14. Encourage distributed power (e.g., rooftop solar) and net metering: see here for more on that subject, including bills by Delegate Alfonso Lopez and Senators Edwards and McClellan that would “raise the maximum size of a commercial project eligible for net metering, from 500 kilowatts (kW) currently to 2 megawatts (MW)…a much-needed expansion of the net metering program if Virginia is going to make real headway with solar.” Also encourage Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), which allows municipalities to select the delivered energy mix for their community.
  15. Make “solar gardens” blossom: see here, for instance, about a bill by Del. Rip Sullivan which “creates ‘solar gardens’ consisting of community organizations with 10 or more subscribers. The generation facility can be as large as 2 MW.”
  16. Push Virginia to be a LOT more energy efficient: see here for bills that would establish MANDATORY goals for electric utilities on energy efficiency and to strongly encourage PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) as a great “way to finance energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation upgrades to commercial and non-profit-owned buildings.”
  17. Establish a MANDATORY, AGGRESSIVE Renewable Portfolio Standard; see here for an article about a bill by then-Sen. Donald McEachin “that would convert the state’s voluntary renewable portfolio standard to a mandatory program for investor-owned electric utilities” and that “would ‘incrementally increase until, in calendar year 2025 and thereafter, such sources account for 25 percent of the amount of total electric energy that the utility sold” using the 2007 base year, according to a summary of the legislation.” I’d advocate shooting for something truly aggressive – but totally achievable – like 40% clean energy by 2030, 60% by 2040, 80% by 2045 and 100% by 2050.
  18. Protect (and expand if possible) access to birth control: see, for instance, Del. Vivian Watts’ bill that would define birth control to mean “contraceptive methods that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” and that “shall not be considered abortion for the purposes of Title 18.2.”
  19. Protect a woman’s right to control her own body: see, for instance, Del. Jennifer Boysko’s bill: “Provides that a woman has a fundamental right to obtain a lawful abortion and that no statute or regulation shall be construed to prohibit the performance of an abortion prior to viability or if necessary to protect the life or health of the woman. The bill also provides that any statute that places a burden on a woman’s access to abortion without conferring any legitimate health benefit is unenforceable.”
  20. Defend DREAMers, who are under assault by the Trump administration. See, for instance, Del. Lopez’s legislation on “Eligibility for in-state tuition; certain individuals who have applied for permanent residency; certain individuals approved under deferred action programs.”
  21. Reform and professionalize Virginia’s legislature by, among other things, lengthening sessions, raising legislator pay, tightening ethics laws big time, putting in place a system of public financing (to the extent constitutionally possible, of course) for elections, restricting any lobbying by state-“regulated” entities, preventing for-profit entities (let alone state-“regulated” monopolies, like Dominion Energy) with business before the state from contributing to the very people who pass laws on their companies, putting in place a serious ethics commission with sharp teeth, etc. See Vivian Thomson’s “Climate of Capitulation” for some good ideas on this subject.
  22. Put non-partisan redistricting into place for the next redistricting, scheduled for 2021. We can start by passing all of these bills – “SJ 290, a constitutional amendment that states, “No electoral district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or other individual or entity.” It was sponsored by Sens. Jill Vogel, R-Winchester, and Janet Howell, D-Reston.”; “SJ 231, a constitutional amendment that would create an independent commission to redraw legislative and congressional districts after each census. It was sponsored by a group of Republicans and Democrats.”; “SB 846, a bill requiring Virginia to use an independent commission if a court declares a legislative or congressional district unlawful or unconstitutional. It was sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth.”
  23. Prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, such as in this bill by Del. Mark Levine (“Prohibits discrimination in employment and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill defines ‘sexual orientation’ as a person’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, or gender identity or expression.”).
  24. Require presidential candidates to disclose their federal tax returns – “Any person who does not submit this statement shall not have his name printed on the ballot for a presidential primary election or the official ballot for the presidential election.”
  25. Decriminalize simple possession of marijuana, as in this bill by Sen. Adam Ebbin. Also see this bill by Sen. Louise Lucas.
  26. Allow instant runoff voting (or other forms of “range” or “ranked” voting in Virginia elections, as in this bill by Del. Nicholas Freitas (“Provides for instant runoff voting in elections for statewide offices, the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives, and the General Assembly. With instant runoff voting, voters rank the candidates for each office in order of choice, and only the candidate receiving a majority of the votes for such office is declared the winner.”)
  27. Permit a governor to succeed himself or herself in office, for a maximum of two, four-year terms. See former Del. Bob Brink’s HJ231, for instance.
  28. Make Virginia’s tax code more progressive, by reinstating the “estate tax” and by other means so that the richest 1% or so of Virginians pay a higher percentage of their income, while everyone else pays the same or lower percentage of their income.
  29. Require that Virginia law enforcement officers be fully trained in de-escalation techniques, as in this bill by Sen. Barbara Favola.
  30. At long last, ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, as in this bill by Sen. Scott Surovell.
  31. We badly need universal pre-K in Virginia; can’t believe we don’t have it already – get it done!
  32. Divest the Virginia Retirement System of fossil fuel holdings. For more on divestment, see Growing number of global insurance firms divesting from fossil fuels, World’s Biggest Investment Fund Considers Divesting From Fossil Fuels, New York’s duty to divest from fossil fuel companies: State and city pensions should stop pouring money into oil and coal, D.C. to Divest Pension Fund from Fossil Fuels; What About Virginia???, etc.
  33. Crack down on animal abuser of all kinds (individual and corporate). For instance, see this bill by Del. John Bell, which “Prohibits tethering of companion animals outdoors unless the owner is outdoors within sight of the animal.” Also, it should go without saying that cruelty to animals should be a felony, such as in this bill by Sen. Bill DeSteph. Also see Del. Keam’s bill that would authorize “localities to adopt ordinances prohibiting the sale in a business of any dog or cat that was not obtained from a Virginia releasing agency or a nonprofit animal rescue organization.”
  34. Make sure we do not give billionaire Dan Snyder a penny in taxpayer money to move his (highly lucrative) football team to Virginia. If he wants to do that, he can pay for all of it himself.
  35. Stop f’ing around and pass a serious, dedicated funding source for Metro. Did I mention that it’s time to stop f’ing around on this crucial issue for Virginia?
  36. Seriously consider imposing a revenue-neutral carbon tax in Virginia, with all money going back to Virginia citizens in a progressive manner and/or towards helping Virginia citizens make their homes and businesses more energy efficient and/or to run on clean energy.
  37. Require that transportation projects must take into account the environmental impacts, including sprawl, global warming, etc.
  38. Prioritize transportation money for high-speed rail, local transit, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and other non-fossil-fuel-centered transportation modes.
  39. Prioritize “smart growth,” as in this 2006 bill (“Requires localities to incorporate specified smart growth policies into their comprehensive plans. State funding is tied to such policies.”).
  40. To the extent legislatively possible, direct the Department of Environmental Quality to use all its authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act to deep-six the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline.
  41. Expand the definition of hate crimes and crack down on them, such as in this bill (“Adds gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the categories of victims whose intentional selection for a hate crime involving assault, assault and battery, or trespass for the purpose of damaging another’s property results in a higher criminal penalty for the offense” and this bill (“Adds immigration status to the categories of victims whose intentional selection for a hate crime involving assault, assault and battery, or trespass for the purpose of damaging another’s property results in a higher criminal penalty for the offense”) by Del. Ken Plum.
  42. Legalize hemp, as in this bill by Del. Nicholas Freitas (“Removes all restrictions on the production of industrial hemp, including licensing and regulations.”).
  43. Set an aggressive goal for preserving nature/wildlife habitat in Virginia, along the lines of what acclaimed biologist Edward O. Wilson has suggested – ” If we want to preserve our wildlife, Wilson says, we need to set aside at least half of the world’s lands and seas.”
  44. Impose a plastic bag tax in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, as in this bill by Sen. Chap Petersen, or simply allow localities to ban disposable plastic shopping bags, as in this bill by Sen. Mamie Locke.
  45. To the extent possible, it would be great to loosen the “Dillon Rule” to allow localities more autonomy to go “above and beyond” – strengthen, not weaken, environmental protections, LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws.
  46. Pass Sen. Mamie Locke’s SB 53 — “Removes the requirement that a woman undergo a fetal transabdominal ultrasound prior to an abortion.”
  47. Virginia apparently is going to be joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) by executive action, but how about putting this into law, as in former Sen. Donald McEachin’s SB 571 (“Requires the Governor to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that established a regional CO2 electric power sector cap and trade program and establishes the Commonwealth Resilience Fund, a revolving fund to serve as a consistent revenue stream to assist counties, cities, and towns with the implementation of adaptation efforts to combat sea level rise and recurrent flooding. The bill also provides economic development assistance for families, businesses, and localities in Southwest Virginia to offset negative economic impacts associated with reduced fossil fuel production.”)
  48. Scour the budget for any giveaways to polluters or to wealthy corporations that don’t need or deserve taxpayer-funded corporate welfare. Get rid of them.
  49. Open up Virginia’s power sector to as much competition as possible. Revoke any and all competitive advantages currently held by Dominion Energy.
  50. To the extent possible, open up Virginia’s government to “sunshine,” including getting rid of as many as possible of the “more than 170 exemptions that allow officials to shield records from public view and meet behind closed doors” under Virginia’s current FOIA law.

So those are 50 things to start with — far from a definitive list by any means, but hopefully a start to thinking about how Democrats, progressives and environmentalists might start going on offense (for a change) in the 2018 Virginia General Assembly coming up right after New Year’s…

UPDATE: Let’s add #51, something like Tom Perriello’s plan for two years of free community college – great idea! Also add for serious consideration #52, Perriello’s Plan for Working Families, including family and medical leave, reducing the burden of student debt, etc.

UPDATE #2: The Secretary of the 10th CD and Loudoun County Dems sent me the following excellent suggestions. “53. Pass a Resolution to support a U.S. Constitutional Amendment known as the “We The People” Amendment, sponsored by https://movetoamend.org. The amendment says that only natural persons can have constitutional rights and money is not speech. It thus overturns both of the Supreme Court doctrines underlying the Citizen’s United decision: corporate personhood and treating money as a form of free speech. This amendment is currently before Congress as HJR 48.

54. Have Virginia join the National Popular Vote State Compact. Last year’s HB 1482 – Presidential electors; National Popular Vote Compact, sponsored by Del. Marcus Simon, who is having it re-drafted for introduction again this year.

55. Require that all product packaging be made from recyclable materials.”


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