Governor Ralph Northam announced the signing of 14 bills on Wednesday, March 31, which was a deadline for the Governor to take action on legislation passed in the 2021 General Assembly sessions. According to his announcement, took action on 552 bills with no vetoes, although he sent some back to the General Assembly with amendments.
“Newly-signed laws include measures to ensure schools provide safe, in-person learning opportunities for students during the pandemic, ban firearms at polling locations, extend eviction protections, and provide paid sick leave to home health care workers,” his press release states.
On Monday, Northam also announced the signing of his Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back program. The legislation included $36 million to provide tuition-free community college for low- and middle-income students in high demand fields like health care, tech, and public safety.
“The G3 program will connect thousands of Virginians with the skills, training, and resources they need to secure jobs in high-demand fields and support themselves and their families—all without being forced to shoulder mountains of student debt,” he said in a press release. “Tuition-free community college was one of the key issues I ran on during my campaign for governor, and I am thrilled to be delivering on that promise.”
The program is one of Northam’s signature policies, passed in the final year of Northam’s term in office. In December 2019, Northam announced $145 million allotted to the program in his proposed budget. But the initiative was unallotted from the budget in April 2020 amid concerns over how COVID-19 would affect Virginia’s economy and budget needs. The Senate and House versions of the program passed the 2021 General Assembly with substantial bipartisan support.
Other Bills Northam Signed This Week
Delegate Mark Levine’s (D-Arlington) HB 2081 bans the possession of firearms within 40 feet of a polling place. The bill passed the Senate along party lines, but Delegates Chris Hurst (D-Montgomery) and Roslyn Tyler (D-Sussex) joined Republicans in voting against the bill in the House, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).
HB 2075, sponsored by Delegate Joshua Cole (D-Stafford), renames U.S. Route 1 as Emancipation Highway; the route is currently called the Jefferson Davis Highway in parts of Virginia. The bill earned significant bipartisan support, passing the House 70 to 28 and the Senate 30 to nine.
Senator Bill Stanley’s (R-Franklin) SB 1122 repeals the remaining provisions of the Habitual Offender Act, a former provision of Virginia law allowing the Department of Motor Vehicles to declare people a habitual offender if they had three major convictions or 12 minor convictions in a decade. Habitual offenders were banned from driving. It also requires the Commissioner of the DMV to reinstate driving privileges to people who had their licenses revoked or suspended as habitual offenders. The bill split Republicans — most Senate Republicans voted against the bill, and 20 House Republicans voted against it, according to VPAP.
SB 1303 is Senator Siobhan Dunnavant’s (R-Henrico) bill requiring schools to offer full-time in-person learning. It does not include an emergency clause, so it will take effect in July, and expires August 1, 2022. The bill earned significant bipartisan support in both chambers, according to VPAP.
Northam also signed three bills that add legal protections for domestic workers: SB 1310, introduced by Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), HB 2032, sponsored by Delegate Wendy Gooditis (D-Clarke), and HB 1864 introduced by Delegate Marcia Price (D-Newport News). The bills are focused on banning discriminatory practices, implementing safety standards, and requiring worker’s compensation insurance. Advocates say the current exemption for domestic workers dates back to racist Jim Crow legislation and should be removed, but opponents say the bills put more burdens on domestic workers and the people who hire them.
Bills Northam Amended
The General Assembly will meet next week for a veto session to vote on Northam’s proposed changes to some bills.
Northam amended two firearms-related bills. HB 1992, sponsored by Delegate Kathleen Murphy (D-Fairfax) prohibits individuals convicted of assaulting family members from possessing firearms. Northam proposed an amendment to make the prohibition apply specifically to people in a domestic partnership and extended the ban from three to five years.
He also amended Levine’s HB 2295 and Senator Adam Ebbin’s (D-Alexandria) SB 1381, which ban firearms in Capitol Square and state-owned buildings. Northam’s amendment would exempt magistrates.
The press release includes more details on key bills Northam signed or amended. A full list of legislation signed by Northam is available on Virginia’s Legislative Information System.
“Throughout this session, we have focused on responding to the ongoing public health and economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and moving our Commonwealth forward,” Northam said in the release.
“These new laws will increase support for Virginia families and businesses, ensure our children and teachers can safely return to classrooms, advance equity, and tackle systemic racism. I am extremely proud of the meaningful progress we have made to enact legislation as unprecedented as the challenges we are facing,” he said.
At the end of the General Assembly Session in March, GOP House leaders characterized recent General Assembly sessions as a step backward from Republican-led progress. They wrote that Democrats had blocked efforts to reopen schools, enacted regulation that will harm businesses, and made Virginia less safe.
“Yet they’ve enacted law after law that will reverse the gains we’ve made,” a House GOP press release states. “New rules and regulations will cripple businesses who have managed to hang on during the pandemic, and new laws that expose employers to significant litigation.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Ralph Northam” by Governor of Virginia.