After 25 long, hectic legislative days, often beginning at 7:30 a.m. and finishing late in the evening, the General Assembly reached “crossover” last week. As indicated by the name, this is the point where all bills must have passed their house of origin to continue on their legislative journey. For my part, I was glad to pass one constitutional amendment and 75% of my introduced bills out of the Senate (18 of 24) with three additional bills headed to interim studies and commissions for a closer look. Crossover day itself was spent mostly on the Senate floor, as members hashed out the details of complicated legislation and debated some of our more controversial bills. While we continue to meet constantly over the following days to discuss amendments to our two year budget, the brief respite from presenting and reviewing bills allows for some time to develop strategies for legislation passing to the other chamber — this year to a body controlled by the other party. Unfortunately, partisan divisions will cause some bills that passed the Senate with ease to face a quick death in the House. However, relying on carefully cultivated relationships and working with an eye towards compromise, this year offers an opportunity for outsized bipartisan cooperation.
Six of my bills passed the Senate with unanimous support, including legislation to protect living organ donors from employment discrimination, requirements for a seller to disclose any financial interest or pending legal action in property purchases, and a bill requiring comprehensive energy reliability reports from Dominion energy to localities. These bills all stemmed from concerns raised by constituents throughout the year, and often were helped along with their support in committee testimony and advocacy. I was also glad to pass legislation providing an alternative to the sometimes cumbersome witness signature for absentee ballots and to remove a roadblock to localities’ ability to procure electric and diesel transit buses with broad support.
My bills aiming to address gun violence, improve the functioning of the Virginia Employment Commission, and require property surveys to be completed in Northern Virginia historic districts before the purchase of a home, have sparked some controversy, and will likely have to jump some hurdles to make it to the finish line. Despite a broad coalition of support from advocacy groups including NRA and Moms Demand Action, my bill to align Virginia code with federal law on firearms that have had their serial numbers removed caught what is proverbially known as a “fever” on the floor after Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach), a federally licensed firearms dealer, raised concerns over collectors who owned machine guns being criminalized by the bill, and squeaked by on a party line vote.
I anticipate the Constitutional Amendment I am carrying to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage and replace it with a fundamental right to marry will face strategic opposition in the House, where despite having the votes on the floor to pass, the Speaker assigned an identical House Amendment, carried by Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), to a heavily conservative subcommittee where it was killed at 7 a.m. with minimal discussion or debate. This Amendment does a simple, but momentous thing. Our Constitution, the foundational document of the oldest Democracy in the western world, only once deprives citizens of a right — the right to marry the person you love. If passed, it removes that stain, and permanently enshrines this right, safeguarding it for Virginians regardless of their sex or gender, providing a fundamental dignity and equality to our family, friends, and neighbors and reflects the will of a supermajority of Virginians. Additionally, the discriminatory amendment was made defunct by the 2015 Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, and it is important for our Constitution to reflect the law of the land. I hope the House leadership can be convinced that voters deserve a chance to consider ratifying this amendment at the polls in November.
With only four weeks left in session, we have our work cut out for us. What lies next for my bills will depend on the coming days, as they begin to be referred by Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) to subcommittees and committees and face hearings and votes. Some, those that Delegates introduced on similar policies, may have to be finalized in a Conference Committee. From these bipartisan groups often emerges compromise. Though progress may not always appear to proceed at the rate we may desire, it advances every time we change the law for the better. I hope to be reporting on such changes in a few weeks.