The 2018 General Assembly session is (mostly) over, except for them having to return to hammer out the budget and a few loose ends. I had slightly unrealistic expectations going into the session that our overwhelming victory last November would result in more progressive legislation getting through, and completely stonewalling the kinds of bills that McAuliffe had to veto last year. But once I saw how the committees were divided up between Democrats and Republicans (and the House Rules Committee, WTF?), and watched a handful of committee and subcommittee meetings, I readjusted my expectations a bit.
And all in all, once I lowered my expectations, it wasn’t a bad year. It’s noticeable how many bad bills died, bills that McAuliffe had to veto last year. And while we didn’t get any gun violence protection bills through, a minimum wage increase, the ERA ratification, or some other things we hoped for, we passed free menstrual supplies for female inmates, medical cannabis, an increase in the felony larceny rate, more school recess, several bills that would break up the school to prison pipeline, a few worker and consumer protection bills, an end to school lunch shaming, and a handful of other modest bills.
Best of all, activists who worked hard to elect 16 new House Democrats followed along throughout the process. We watched the legislators like hawks, calling and emailing and shaming on social media and in op-eds whenever they voted against our interests, and thanking and congratulating those who cast progressive votes. We compiled a stockpile of information on bad votes, bad speeches, and obstruction of democracy that we will certainly put to use when we vote some of these people out in 2019.
Despite our efforts and the work of our Democratic legislators, a handful of bad bills, or imperfect bills still squeaked through (when the House and Senate are this close, sometimes one absence can be the difference between a bill passing or dying). So I say, let’s make our voices heard one more time this year–and let’s have a little fun doing it! Pick one from the list below (or find one of your own), and send the Governor a “veto pen” of your choice, and a note telling him why you oppose this bill, and why you think he should veto it or he should fix it. The more personal your note, the better–if you can tell Governor Northam how this bill will affect you, your family, or your neighbor or friend, this is the most persuasive argument you can make.
Mail your veto pen and letter to:
Governor Ralph Northam
The Way Ahead
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218
HB158: House of Delegates and Senate district boundaries. Gives the General Assembly authority to adjust district boundaries after the decennial redistricting to align legislative boundaries with voting precinct boundaries. This bill deals with the split precinct issue that contributed to voters in district 28 receiving the wrong ballot in the 2017 election. However, there are many other ways to solve the particular problem without giving further authority to the General Assembly to draw boundaries, once again giving the legislators the ability to pick their voters rather than the other way around.
HB287: Special license plates; STOP GUN VIOLENCE. This bill, in its original form, was a simple license plate with the message about stopping gun violence. The bill that passed sends the wrong message about gun violence, by making this a revenue plate with the proceeds going to mental health, which we know is only a small component of the gun violence problem. People who buy the plate ought to have a say in what it supports. Ask Governor Northam to restore the bill to its original language and send it back, or to work with the patron and the group who circulated the petitions to find a plate beneficiary they approve of.
HB375: Prohibit certain local government practices that would require contractors to provide certain compensation or benefits. Prohibits localities from establishing a wage floor for public contracts that exceeds state of federal requirements. This hurts workers on local government contracts, and takes autonomy away from localities to use higher wages to secure products and services they need, and to control the quality of work on those products and services.
HB484/SB994: Restitution. Gov. McAuliffe vetoed two similar bills last year because they “would move Virginia toward criminalizing the inability to pay restitution” and because “it is unclear whether imposing indefinite probation would have any effect other than to expend resources tracking individuals who are simply unable to pay.” This was part of a bad deal made for a felony larceny rate increase—we want a clean felony larceny rate increase (to $1000) without these harmful restitution bills attached.
HB665: Coal tax credits. Reinstates the Coalfield employment enhancement tax credit, which expired in 2016, and extends to 2023. This is the time to be investing in renewable energy alternatives, and renewable energy-related jobs, not encouraging further investment in the least clean source of energy.
HB1144: Voter registration; persons assisting with the completion or collection of completed voter registration applications; certain identifying information required. Requires any person who assists an applicant with the completion of a voter registration application or collects a completed voter registration application directly from an applicant to provide his name and telephone number and indicate the group or organization he is affiliated with, if any, on the registration application. This will discourage groups and volunteers from registering voters, which will adversely affect voter turnout.
HB1167: Jury commissioners; lists of unqualified persons provided to general registrars. Requires jury commissioners to collect the information obtained from people not qualified to serve as jurors as a result of citizenship, residency, or felony rights loss, and to make that information available to that general registrar of elections to identify voters who are no longer qualified to vote. This represents a massive data collection burden on the court system in an attempt to fix the non-existent voting fraud that Republicans like to insist is a problem in Virginia. We should be spending resources on making it easier for people to vote, not on collecting and sharing information across agencies and states in search of this imaginary voter fraud.
HB1193: Persons acquitted by reason of insanity; commitment; sentencing. Provides that a person who is acquitted by reason of insanity of an offense and convicted of another offense must serve his sentence for the conviction prior to being committed for inpatient hospitalization. This bill would put people in need of treatment and hospitalization into the general prison population where they are more likely to hurt themselves or others.
HB1204: Arlington golf club tax break bill. Requires the assessing official in any county that experienced at least a 14% increase in population from 2010 to 2016 to specially and separately assess real property that is devoted to open space and contains at least 20 acres based on the actual physical use of the property, if requested to do so by the owner. This bill gives a tax break to wealthy urban golf courses at the expense of the locality’s taxpayers.
HB1257: Sanctuary City ban. Provides that no locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law. This bill is a completely unnecessary, since sanctuary cities already can’t exist in Virginia. It’s only purpose is to make immigrant communities feel afraid and unwelcome, and has the unintended consequence of making Virginians less safe, by reducing likelihood that people in these communities will report crimes they are victims of or that they witness.
HB1270: Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative participation ban. Prohibits the Governor or any state agency from adopting any regulation establishing a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program or participating in RGGI. RGGI is a collective of nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and is the first market-based regulatory program in the United States aimed at combating climate change. Such programs allow the state to auction off carbon dioxide emission allowances–this both provides disincentives for pollution, and also raises revenues from polluters that can be used for clean energy investments. Tying the Governor’s hands in this way makes it more difficult for him to protect our environment.
HB1550/SB105: Felony larceny threshold increase. Increases from $200 to $500 the threshold amount of money taken or value of goods or chattel taken at which the crime rises from petit larceny to grand larceny. While this is a step in the right direction, it still places Virginia well below most other states in this threshold, and still means that stealing a cell phone is a felony. This was part of a bad deal made with the GOP for the restitution bills. We would ask that the Governor amend this bill to $1,000 and send it back.
HB1598/SB106: Redistricting criteria. Provides criteria by which congressional and state legislative districts are to be drawn, including equal population, racial and ethnic fairness, respect for existing political boundaries, contiguity, compactness, and communities of interest. While this bill is a start towards setting criteria for fair districts, we would like Governor Northam to amend this bill with language that explicitly prohibits political gerrymandering, such as “No district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislators or members of Congress, or potential candidate….”
SB521: Reports of registered voters and persons voting at elections. Requires local electoral boards to direct general registrars to investigate the list of registered voters whenever the number of registered voters in a county or city exceeds the population of persons age 18 or older. This bill wastes time and money chasing down imaginary voter fraud that there is no evidence for. People move in and out of districts all the time, so the numbers can change rapidly between population counts and voting time.
SB834: Voter registration list maintenance; voters identified as registered in multiple states. Requires the Department of Elections to provide to the general registrars a list of registered voters who have been found through list comparisons and data-matching exchanges with other states to be registered in another state. This bill wastes time and money chasing down imaginary voter fraud that there is no evidence for. We shouldn’t be sharing our voter registration data with other states, due to privacy issues.
SB844: Health insurance; short-term plans. Authorizes health insurance carriers in the Commonwealth to offer short-term health plans. It also specifically allows companies to exempt themselves from covering things like pre-existing conditions. Ultimately, while short term plans sound like a good option, these plans would not provide comprehensive care so people will pay a lot of money for potentially horrible care. This is a bad option for Virginians.
SB846: Restitution; penalties other than fines; limitations on actions. Provides that an order of restitution is not subject to any statute of limitations. The bill also provides that the recovery of penalties or costs due the Commonwealth may be enforced within 60 years from the date of the offense (currently 20 years). This means that someone who owes penalties to the Commonwealth (i.e. court fees and fines) can be in debt practically for life.
SB964: Health insurance; catastrophic health plans. Authorizes health carriers to offer catastrophic plans on the individual market, and to offer such plans to all individuals. Under the federal Affordable Care Act, catastrophic plans satisfy requirements that health benefit plans provide minimum levels of coverage only if they cover individuals who are under 30 years of age or who qualify for a hardship exemption or affordability exemption. Catastrophic plans do not provide comprehensive care and only cover things like emergency events, e.g. a car accident. We need to stabilize our marketplace, but filling it with junk plans that won’t actually meet people’s health needs will not stabilize it. People will pay premiums for coverage that they (hopefully) would never use; meanwhile, they will go without basic and routine care.