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RICHMOND – As the General Assembly reached the midpoint of its 2023 session at the end of Tuesday, lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum hailed their accomplishments in an effort to appease voters during an election year when all 100 House seats and 40 Senate seats are on the ballot.
But due to a divided legislature – Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the House of Delegates, while Democrats have a 22-18 majority in the Virginia Senate – lawmakers will continue to spar over their signature proposals as all legislation but the budget bills cleared their originating chambers ahead of what is known as crossover.
From an additional $1 billion in tax cuts that Republicans want to give Gov. Glenn Youngkin to restricting access to guns and enshrining abortion rights in the state Constitution – two major efforts spearheaded by Democrats – political analysts expect few, if any, key proposals to reach the governor’s desk after members head back home to campaign in their districts.
“Anything that can be put off will be put off in an election year,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington. “When you are running in your districts, getting something done is good, but being able to complain that the other party blocked you from getting something done is also OK.”
In the Senate, Democrats defeated three Republican proposals seeking to limit access to abortion in Virginia, including a measure by Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford County, that would have banned most abortions after 15 weeks of gestation while making a violation of the law a Class 4 felony.
A Senate panel also rejected a much more far-reaching bill by Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, that sought to prohibit all abortions, with the exception of pregnancies that occurred through incest, rape or if the procedure is performed to safe the life of the mother.
House Republicans got the message – and did not even take up a slate of proposals aimed at making it harder for women to terminate their pregnancies, including a companion measure to Newman’s bill, sponsored by Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County.
“It’s disheartening to see Democrats declare their reflexive opposition to any and all pro-life legislation, especially when it has the backing of so many Virginians,” Byron said in a statement Tuesday. “Nonetheless, I look forward to working with Governor Youngkin to find consensus on a way forward that protects innocent life.”
Senate Democrats on Tuesday by a 21-18 party-line vote passed their own legislation seeking to protect abortion rights under Virginia’s Constitution, sponsored by Sens. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax.
“Thanks to the progress we’ve made in recent years, Virginia is now a safe haven for reproductive healthcare, including abortion,” McClellan said in a statement. “But, we have seen efforts this session to roll back that progress back through abortion bans. This constitutional amendment would enshrine in Virginia’s constitution the right to reproductive freedom taken away by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dobbs decision.”
The proposed constitutional amendment, however, is almost certainly dead on arrival in the House, where Republicans refused to take up an identical measure.
And Democrats so far were unwilling to compromise by backing additional tax cuts after working with Republicans last year to pass a historic $4 billion in tax relief – a key pillar of Youngkin’s campaign promises.
In December, Youngkin, now in his second year in office and expecting a $3.6 billion budget surplus for fiscal 2023, rolled out his proposed amendments comprising another $1 billion in tax cuts. Democrats instead are pushing for additional investments in public education and school construction.
However, despite the partisan divide, the legislature passed a total of 1,355 bills and resolutions, out of 2,264 proposals filed. In the House, 743 of 1,372 measures advanced to the Senate, where 612 of 892 measures were successful that are now headed to the House.
“When the legislature focuses on cultural war disputes, not a lot is going to happen. But in the alternative, the smaller, less visible pieces of legislation can have a significant impact on Virginians,” said Farnsworth, the political scientist.
Below, we have compiled a list of proposals drafted mostly by lawmakers from Southwest and Southside Virginia that we have been watching during this session, all relating to issues with statewide implications and others that are unique to our coverage area.
Bills with statewide implications
Much like last year, Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, carried Youngkin’s signature tax relief legislation in the House.
On Jan. 24, McNamara’s House Bill 2319, which would lower the top income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5% starting in 2024 – which Republicans said would save taxpayers more than $1 billion in its first two years – passed in the House by a 52-48 party-line vote. Additionally, the bill would raise the standard deduction to $9,000 for single filers and $18,000 for married couples, saving the average Virginia family earning $75,000 approximately $114 annually.
On the same day, the House by a 52-47 vote also passed McNamara’s second major tax relief measure. HB 2138 would lower the state’s effective business tax rate from 6% to 5%, saving Virginia businesses about $300 million annually. The bill also allows for new deductions for small businesses, providing an estimated relief of more than $275 million over the next two years, according to House Republicans. It passed 52-47.
But McNamara had less luck with his House Bill 1484 – his second shot in two years at introducing legislation that would repeal the remainder of the state’s former 2.5% grocery tax. While his bill was reported out by a House Finance subcommittee on a 12-10 vote, it was not taken up by the full House Appropriations Committee.
The companion bill in the Senate to McNamara’s grocery tax repeal, Senate Bill 850, sponsored by Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, also failed when the Senate Finance Committee rejected it by a 12-4 vote.
Suetterlein also introduced SB 851, which sought to increase the standard deduction – starting with taxable year 2023 – from $8,000 to $12,500 for single filers and from $16,000 to $25,000 for married filers (one-half of such amount in the case of a married individual filing a separate return). The measure was rolled into SB 1451, sponsored by Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, which was killed by the Senate Finance Committee last week by a 10-5 vote.
Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, filed two tax relief-related proposals during this session. HB 1402 would have required that tangible personal property used in a trade or business be valued for taxation using the federal Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System of depreciation instead of the valuation methods currently in effect. HB 1476 would have provided that localities and their constitutional officers would be subject to monetary penalties for failure to comply with various deadlines for preparing local financial audit reports and submitting such reports to the auditor of public accounts.
The former proposal was killed by a House Finance subcommittee last month, while the latter was never taken up in committee.
However, the House on Tuesday by a 53-46 vote passed HB 2178, sponsored by Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell County, which would add coal mine methane to the list of alternative sources of energy production that qualify an industry as a creator of green jobs for purposes of the green job creation tax credit.
In Virginia’s first legislative session following the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of the Roe v. Wade decision, Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford County, carried Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s signature legislation aimed at limiting access to abortion.
Newman’s SB 1385 would have made it a Class 4 felony for any licensed physician to terminate or attempt to terminate a human pregnancy or aid or assist in the termination of a human pregnancy by performing an abortion after 15 weeks, unless the health of the woman was at risk or the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. Newman’s bill was defeated on Jan. 20 by a Senate Education and Health subcommittee by a 6-4 vote.
Newman had also signed on as a co-patron to SB 1284, sponsored by Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, sought to provide that life begins at conception and would prohibit abortion entirely, with few exceptions, but the proposal was killed by the same committee as Newman’s bill.
An identical companion measure to Newman’s proposal in the House, sponsored by Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, was never taken up in committee. A more far-reaching measure by Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, sought to declare that life begins at conception and would have repealed all provisions of the Code of Virginia allowing for the performance of abortions, banning the procedure altogether. HB 1395 was never taken up by a House committee.
Legislation sponsored by Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, seeks more regulations for cannabis dispensaries across the state. HB 1846 would allow pharmacists who are employed by a pharmaceutical processor or cannabis dispensing facility to issue written certificates for cannabis products – if the pharmacist is acting as the agent of a practitioner and has verified the patient’s diagnosis with a practitioner with whom the patient has a bona fide practitioner-patient relationship.
The bill would further amend and add numerous provisions regarding the commonwealth’s medical marijuana program, including provisions related to recordkeeping, product registration, expiration dates, allowable deviations, dispensing, packing, labeling and advertising. It also requires pharmaceutical processors and cannabis dispensing facilities to collect and provide to the Board of Pharmacy by July 1, 2024, data regarding implementation of the bill. It passed the House on Tuesday by a 89-10 vote.
However, HB 2294, introduced by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, which would have modified the definition of “marijuana” in drug laws, the Cannabis Control Act and the Drug Control Act, failed to report in a House Courts of Justice subcommittee last week.
A proposal by Del. Jason Ballard, R-Giles County, would allow parents to send their children to any public school of their choice without boundaries defined by ZIP code passed in the House by a 52-47 vote Tuesday. “As a parent, I understand the importance of providing your children with the best opportunities possible,” Ballard said of his HB 2030 last month.
However, a House Education subcommittee removed from its docket HB 1666, sponsored by Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, that would have required school divisions to declare an unscheduled remote learning day in the case of a bad weather event or else. The bill also provided that no school division could claim more than 10 unscheduled remote learning days in a school year unless the Superintendent of Public Instruction grants an extension.
A House subcommittee also did not take up HB 1399, sponsored by Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, that would have required each athletic team or sport that is sponsored by a public elementary or secondary school or a public institution of higher education to be expressly designated as one based on each team member’s biological sex at birth.
Another March measure, House Joint Resolution 474, which sought to dissolve the Virginia Board of Education and transfer its powers and duties to the superintendent of public instruction, was never taken up.
However, HB 1726, sponsored by Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, that requires the Department of Education to authorize a Virginia-based nonprofit organization as a local education agency to provide schools for adults to earn an industry-recognized credential or dual college credit and a high school diploma, advanced in the House by a 95-4 vote Tuesday.
And the Senate last week unanimously backed a measure proposed by state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, that would establish the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Computing (STEM+C) Competition Team Grant Program to encourage interest in STEM+C-related subject areas and support STEM+C-related extracurricular team-building activities in Virginia’s public schools by providing grants to qualified schools for this purpose. SB 806 would also create a related fund to provide such grants to qualified schools.
At the end of January, the state Senate unanimously passed a proposal by Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, seeking to prevent political toying with special elections in the state legislature by requiring certain vacancies in the House of Delegates or the state Senate to be filled within 30 days of a member’s departure or death.
SB 944 would ensure that a political leader cannot deny constituents their elected voice in the General Assembly by unnecessarily delaying a special election.
But the full Senate referred SB 946, another Suetterlein bill, back to the Senate Privileges and Elections committee. The measure would prohibit lawmakers from fundraising on any day the General Assembly is scheduled to meet during a special session. The committee did not take up the bill again.
SB 1380, sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, never made it out of committee. The proposal would have permitted political parties to hold presidential primaries using ballots that allow a voter to rank such party’s candidates in his order of choice.
The same committee by a 9-5 party-line vote killed a measure introduced by Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, that would have required general registrars to verify that the name, date of birth and Social Security number provided by an applicant on the voter registration application match the information on file in the Social Security Administration database.
SB 965 had previously passed during two sessions but was vetoed by two governors.
The committee by a 10-4 vote also killed Peake’s SB 967 that sought to limit voter registration in person up to and including the day of the election to certain persons, such as members of a uniformed service, people residing temporarily outside of the United States, and their spouses or dependents.
Under current law, anyone who is qualified to register to vote is entitled to register to vote after the close of registration records up to and including the day of the election.
Peake’s SB 968 shared a similar fate. The bill would have repealed the provisions of current law allowing a voter who does not have one of the required forms of identification to vote after signing a statement, subject to felony penalties for false statements, that he is the named registered voter he claims to be. The committee defeated it by a 9-5 vote.
In the House, the Privileges and Elections committee never took up HJ 459, filed by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, which would have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote and to vote in local elections.
A measure introduced by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, the House majority leader, that would make several changes to how the State Corporation Commission regulates Virginia’s investor-owned electric utilities, passed in the House by a 52-47 party-line vote Tuesday.
HB 1770 would require a review of rates and conditions every two years instead of every three. It also would change some aspects of how the SCC determines utilities’ rates of return by expanding the peer groups to which they are compared and by requiring the commission to hew closely to the average returns realized by those peers.
Under Kilgore’s proposal, Dominion customers also would see some rate adjustments rolled into base rates, and the measure would change the process through which the utilities retire their remaining fossil fuel-fired power plants, as required by the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act. Currently, the SCC may step in and halt a planned closure if it determines that the retirement would hurt grid reliability. (Disclosure: Dominion is one of our approximately 2,500 donors, but donors have no say in news decisions; see our policy.)
Last week, the House by a 93-6 vote backed HB 1779, sponsored by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County, that would establish the Nuclear Education Grant Fund and Program to be administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
The program’s purpose is to award grants on a competitive basis to any public institution of higher education or private institution of higher education in the commonwealth that seeks to offer a nuclear education program.
And a proposal by Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, making it a policy of the commonwealth to promote the development and operation of small modular nuclear reactors at the earliest reasonable time possible, passed in the House by a 56-43 vote Tuesday. Under HB 2333, Virginia would set a goal of having the first small modular nuclear reactor operating by the end of 2032. The bill would also require the State Corporation Commission to establish a small modular nuclear reactor pilot program. Youngkin has been pushing to build at least one SMR in Southwest Virginia.
In the Senate, SB Bill 1083, sponsored by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, which sought to expand shared solar programs into Appalachian Power and Old Dominion Power service areas, never advanced after it found majority approval by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee last month. Legislation in 2020 created such a program in Dominion Energy territory; a work group convened last year by the State Corporation Commission studied the feasibility of expanding it into the rest of the state.
A Senate committee in January killed SB 779, sponsored by Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford County. The measure sought to repeal the requirement that the State Air Pollution Control Board implement a low-emissions and zero-emissions vehicle program for motor vehicles with a model year of 2025 and later.
SB 933 by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, that would have allowed localities to prohibit the purchase, sale or provision – whether free or for a cost – of any single-use plastic carrier bag that is not recyclable from grocery stores, retail and convenience stores, also failed to advance in a Senate committee.
After Virginia approved four casinos in the commonwealth – including one in Bristol and one in Danville – Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, filed HB 1465 to create a Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee within the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services in an effort to reduce the negative effects of problem gambling. Krizek’s proposal passed in the House by a unanimous vote Tuesday.
However, a measure by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, that would have established a joint committee studying the impact of restrictions on legal and illegal electronic gaming activities in the commonwealth, was never picked up by a House General Laws subcommittee.
Just months after two mass shootings shook Virginia in a matter of days, a Democratic-controlled Senate committee in January passed a slate of gun bills aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of people who could potentially inflict harm on others.
Among them was SB 1382, sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, which would ban the new sale and possession of assault weapons manufactured after July 1, 2023, while also raising the age to buy such weapons manufactured before the bill’s effective date from 18 to 21.
A similar proposal by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, was rolled into Deeds’ measure, which passed in the Senate by a 23-16 vote on Jan. 31.
In the House, Second Amendment advocate Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, filed three proposals this year aimed at expanding gun rights in Virginia. HB 1393 would have eliminated the requirement for a concealed handgun permit, allowing anyone to carry a concealed handgun who is “otherwise eligible” to obtain such a permit.
March also renewed her effort to repeal Virginia’s so-called red flag law, which allows authorities to take guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Although a Republican-controlled House panel approved March’s measure last year, the Democratic majority of a Senate panel defeated the proposal just a few weeks later.
March’s third gun rights measure, HB 1398, sought to prohibit an owner of private property from prohibiting a person who has a valid concealed handgun permit from storing a firearm or other weapon in a motor vehicle in a parking lot, traffic circle or other means of vehicular ingress or egress to private property that is open to the public.
None of March’s measures was taken up by a House committee.
A measure by Del. Ellen Campbell, R-Rockbridge County, which would have repealed the prohibition of carrying a dangerous weapon in a place of worship, also was not taken up by a committee.
A measure introduced by Del. Jason Ballard, R-Giles County, aimed at cracking down on gang violence would expand the definition of “predicate criminal act” to include all felonies and carrying a concealed weapon violation, on Monday passed in the House by a 58-42 vote.
HB 1478 would also increase various penalties for gang crimes.
Legislation introduced by Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, that would create a “rebuttable presumption” against bail for certain criminal offenses enumerated in the bill and for people identified as being illegally present in the United States who are charged with certain offenses, passed in the House by a 52-46 in late January. HB 1365 also requires courts to consider specified factors when determining whether the presumption against bail has been rebutted and whether there are appropriate conditions of release.
HB 1397, sponsored by Williams’ primary opponent, Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, sought to give parents of a child attending any public or private preschool, nursery school, licensed child care center or elementary or secondary school the option not to receive any immunization otherwise required by the State Board of Health. The measure was never taken up in committee.
And HB 1401, another March proposal, which would have repealed the Community Policing Act that under current law prohibits law-enforcement officers and State Police officers from engaging in bias-based profiling in the performance of their official duties, was defeated by a 9-13 vote in a House subcommittee earlier this month.
More successful was HB 1549, filed by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Smyth County, which provides that if the parent or legal guardian of a child is killed by someone driving a motor vehicle or watercraft under the influence, the person who has custody of the child can ask the court that the defendant pay child support.
The measure passed in the House by a 66-32 vote.
The House on Tuesday by a 52-47 vote passed HB 2171, sponsored by Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, that would prohibit the governor or other governmental entity from applying emergency or disaster directives to the exercise of religion in a church, synagogue or any other place of worship.
Bills with implications unique to Southwest and Southside
HB 1539, sponsored by Del. Jim Edmunds, R-Halifax County, establishes a new charter for the town of Farmville in Prince Edward County and repeals the current charter, which was created in 1956. The proposed charter sets out the organization of the town’s government and contains powers typically granted to towns.
Edmunds’ measure passed the House in a block vote, meaning as part of a slate of bills expected to advance unanimously, and the companion legislation SB 961, carried by Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, also passed unanimously in the Senate.
With HB 1641, Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, makes good on a promise he made to residents of Pound a year ago, when he introduced legislation to revoke the troubled Wise County town’s charter by November 2023: If they worked on getting their act together, he told them then, he’d come back during the next General Assembly session and file to repeal the revocation before it could take effect.
Since then, the town, which had been struggling for years with a dysfunctional town council and a declining tax base, elected new council members, named a new mayor and sought help from outside experts to improve how it does business – and Kilgore’s legislation passed the House unanimously at the end of January.
A proposal by Del. Jason Ballard, R-Giles County, would have added Giles County and Pulaski County to a group of localities that are eligible to receive funds from the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Fund and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revolving Fund, but a House subcommittee by a 6-0 vote killed his HB 1441 less than one week into the session.
In light of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposal to build small modular reactors in Southwest Virginia, several lawmakers from Southwest Virginia filed legislation creating the legal framework for such an undertaking.
Among them is a proposal sponsored by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County, that would establish a Nuclear Education Grant Fund and Program to be administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Under HB1779, this fund would award grants on a competitive basis to any public or private institution of higher education that seeks to establish or expand a nuclear education program. The measure passed in the House by a 93-6 vote last week.
Under another O’Quinn proposal, the counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise and the city of Norton would be required to enter into a perpetual revenue-sharing agreement regarding a certain small modular reactor plant or facility to be located in one of these localities.
HB 1780 also establishes the percentage of the revenue to be allocated to each locality and provides that the host locality shall retain the remaining 6% of the revenue. The bill passed in the House Tuesday by a 89-10 vote.
O’Quinn also sponsored HB 1781, which tasks the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority with supporting energy development projects, geothermal energy, advanced wind and solar energy, and advanced reactors and advanced nuclear technologies, among others. The bill unanimously passed the House at the end of January.
A measure sponsored by Del. Terry Kilgore, Scott County, would add coal mine methane to the forms of renewable energy under the Virginia Electric Utility Regulation Act. In mining, methane is contained within a worked-out area of an underground coal mine and eventually escapes to the surface via vents, fissures or ventilation holes.
Kilgore’s HB 1643 passed the House by a 90-10 vote Monday, and SB 1121, the companion measure sponsored by Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, advanced in the Senate by a unanimous vote last week.
Another Hackworth measure, Senate Joint Resolution 258, directs the Department of Energy to study the environmental and economic impacts of eliminating waste coal piles in the commonwealth. It passed the Senate on Monday on a voice vote.
A House panel last week unanimously backed HB 2192, sponsored by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, which directs the Department of Behavioral Health to begin with the transformation of the state-owned Catawba Hospital into a state-of-the-art campus offering substance use disorder treatment and addiction recovery.
But on Sunday, the House Appropriations Committee did not approve Rasoul’s $147 million budget request to fund the entire project, instead opting to fund the planning cost and renovation of an existing building with $14.7 million. Rasoul’s original bill passed in the House by a unanimous vote Tuesday.
A proposal by Del. Jason Ballard, R-Pearisburg, that would have tasked the Department of Transportation with studying the feasibility of widening a portion of Virginia 100 in Giles County from a two-lane highway to a four-lane highway was never taken up by a House committee.
After a Democratic-controlled Senate committee last year blocked his effort to turn the Virginia Transportation Museum in Roanoke into a state agency, Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, gave his proposal another shot by filing SB 1020. The legislation establishing the museum – which is currently operated as a nonprofit – as a public entity and educational institution under the commonwealth, governed by a 15-member board of trustees, passed unanimously in the Senate last week.
Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, this year reintroduced legislation requesting that the Secretary of Commerce and Trade study the effects of the commonwealth’s continued observance of daylight saving time under the federal Uniform Time Act of 1966 and the potential consequences of a decision to use either standard time or daylight saving time year-round in the Virginia. HB 1483 was killed by a House subcommittee at the end of January.