While the 2023 Legislative Session is only halfway over, the last few days leading up to “crossover” were a whirlwind. Each body of the General Assembly has now completed action on its own legislation and has transferred what passed to the other. The last few days prior to crossover were intense and drawn out. Committee meetings, budget meetings, and floor sessions felt like marathons. Similar to a marathon, which takes months of preparation, many of the decisions that were facing the General Assembly this session took months of preparation and deliberation leading up to final votes being cast.
Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade this past June by the U.S. Supreme Court, it became evident that the issue of reproductive freedom would be a dominant theme of session. Without the Supreme Court precedent, both anti-choice and pro-choice advocates are seeking legislative action, rallying at the Capitol and gathering in the halls of legislative offices. On the anti-choice side, legislation has been introduced to ban abortion totally, implement unnecessary, onerous barriers to accessing abortion, and ban abortion after fifteen weeks. The final bill, which has staunch support from Governor Glenn Youngkin, was introduced by Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Bedford). This bill was not docketed in the House and the Senate version introduced by Senator Steve Newman (R-Bedford) was defeated in committee. While on the pro-choice side, Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Delegate Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) introduced a constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to reproductive healthcare into our state constitution. I was proud to vote for the Constitutional amendment in the Senate.
Governor Youngkin attended a “March for Life '' on Capitol Square last Wednesday, rallying with the religious school groups and activists to show his support for their cause and Delegate Byron’s bill, which he has listed as one of his top legislative priorities. Two days later the bill’s committee of origin – the House Judiciary Committee – held their final meeting without giving the bill a hearing. As such, it is dead for this session without a single vote being cast.
Another issue that has been in the headlines is the role of the State Corporation Commission in regulating utilities like Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power. There have been two proposed legislative changes on the Senate side to address this issue. SB1265 introduced by Senator Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) would establish a bi-annual review of rates that a utility would be able to charge for electricity, and change the way the State Corporation Commission, which regulates energy utilities, calculates allowed return on investment for the company. The calculation would change the minimum return on equity based on a peer group of other electric utilities in the south. The average return of this peer group is 10.07%, over 1% higher than what Dominion currently receives, which could potentially increase your monthly electric bill. Despite my vote against the legislation, it did pass. This bill will continue to be amended as it proceeds through the House of Delegates. A different proposal by Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Charlottesville) would install more parameters to protect consumers from rate hikes including restoring the State Corporation Commission’s authority to lower electric utility rates when the agency determines that customers will be overcharged. I voted for this bill in committee and was pleased to see it pass the Senate.
As we begin the second half of the session, all but one of the bills that I introduced have reported positively and await hearings in the House. My SB1133 which would create a regulated cannabis retail market for adults. Another of my bills that I am pleased to see in good posture is my legislation to allow condominium owners to apply as a group to a locality’s Stormwater Management Grant Program for joint projects. Previous state law did not specify that condominium owners could apply for these items jointly. This bill would allow more Virginians access to funds to help protect their property from flooding. My SB1085 which would establish a work group to research and propose solutions to reduce excessive vehicle noise passed. SB1087 which stipulates that companies like ancestry.com and 23andme cannot sell your genetic information without your consent, passed unanimously. Additionally, I have two bills designed to improve our elections, one to allow additional protections for election workers and another to provide more funds for election administration have passed the Senate as well. You can read more about my full legislative agenda here.
After crossover, we are officially in the second half of the session and the process in a way has started all over again. All of my bills that passed in the Senate will be put to the test in the House of Delegates, and my fellow Senators and I will begin the process of vetting all the bills that passed the House. While it may feel a bit like the movie Groundhog Day having to foster bills through a second time, the process is important to promote thoughtful legislation.
I look forward to the challenge, and it is my continued honor to serve the 30th District.