When session adjourns sine die on March 12th, every member will return to their district with a winnowed legislative agenda. This is always the case, but it is particularly true in a year with split party control of the legislative chambers. Often at this time of the year, I get asked, “What happens next? Does this bill have any future?” Understandably, some constituents are disappointed when hard-fought legislation falters. Some are fired up and ready to continue their advocacy. Regardless, the afterlife of legislation plants the seeds for future bills. We don’t let hard work go to waste.
Of my original twenty-five bills, thirteen will not advance to the Governor’s desk. Each faced unique challenges, and for those interested in the debate on each bill, the Senate and House archive all videos of the Committee and Subcommittee hearings where the bills were heard. Three bills were passed by in order to study the problem they sought to address before next year’s legislative session. These include my bill to provide pay parity for public defenders compared to their counterparts in Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices (SB282), legislation to reduce negative interactions during traffic stops and improve data on racial profiling (SB277), and a bill seeking to establish privacy for individuals genetic data, such as that collected by services like 23andme (SB419). The work of our public defenders is a cornerstone to the fairness of our justice system, and I look forward to the results of the study examining their compensation. Addressing the potentially tense moments of traffic stops remains a priority of mine as does codifying consumer protections for personal information in the growing field of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Based on the results of the study and work groups established this session, I may develop new legislation next year to address these concerns.
Two bills were continued to next year, meaning that committees can review them in the interim if they choose, but they will likely need to be brought back in a different form next session. One was my bill aiming to address eviction defenses (SB284) and the other was my major continued effort to establish a legal-adult-use market for cannabis (SB391). This legislation would have comprehensively stood up a legal adult-use sales market, created health and safety regulations to ensure public health and effectively banned youth access to the product. It also would have reformed our criminal justice system, expanded expungements and allowed for resentencing for those with prior cannabis convictions, was the product of two year’s hard work, two studies by the nonpartisan Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, and intense review by the Cannabis Oversight Commission, which I chair. House of Delegates Republicans, though promising to take action to create an adult-use marketplace that would cut down the growing illicit market and create an avenue for burgeoning Virginia small business, killed the bill with minimal debate on a party line vote. Lack of action on this topic means another year of proliferating synthesized cannabis (like “delta-8”) in gas stations and convenience stores and illicit trade which will drown out the legal marketplace without swift action. The House's inaction this year was an abject failure for Virginians and public safety.
Five of my bills were killed outright, including my two measures aiming to address gun violence (SB643, and SB310) and my constitutional amendment affirming the right to marry (SJ5). The Republican House killed the amendment in an early morning subcommittee meeting. In doing so they denied voters the right to decide whether or not to repeal a stain on our state constitution — an inoperable provision denying the right to marriage to same-sex couples and replacing it with an affirming right to marry regardless of gender or sex. I will continue to fight both to defend and affirm the rights of LGBTQ Virginians, as well as to protect our communities from gun violence caused by the proliferation of firearms and unaddressed criminal loopholes.
My bill repealing a cumbersome and unnecessary triennial audit requirement for home care organizations was rolled into SB580, introduced by Senator McDougle (R-Hanover) and I’m pleased to report this bill passed both the House and Senate and awaits the Governor's signature to become law.
Though it does not always turn out as we hope or worked for, the legislation that dies does not disappear. Rather, it lays the foundation for what comes after we all leave Richmond and return home. We will refer to it, build upon it, or modify it as we move ahead. Throughout the year, I will be connecting with constituents, speaking to community members, organizations, and businesses about their ideas for how we can improve legislation and what new bills may be needed. This will help inform what we start drafting for next year.
It is an honor to serve you in Richmond. I look forward to reporting on the successful bills we pass soon.