RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-Governor Glenn Youngkin ceremonially signed bipartisan bills on Tuesday aimed at reforming the state’s unemployment system and expanding family leave options.

It’s a step towards solving issues exposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Youngkin said these reforms will make government work better for Virginians.

“The mountain that we inherited on January 15th seemed unscalable and I’m incredibly pleased with the progress that has been made to-date but there is still more to do,” Youngkin said during his remarks on the Virginia Employment Commission.

Governor Youngkin sped up one bill so that it could take effect immediately, though it’s expected to take longer to fully implement the reforms. It creates new positions dedicated to customer advocacy and directs the VEC to simplify instructions. It calls for improved planning before the next crisis and appoints a group of lawmakers to do ongoing oversight of the agency. It also requires employers to submit files electronically, replacing slow, paper processes.

“These bills secured unanimous support because the need is so urgent and the solutions are so obvious,” said Del. Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg), one of the bill sponsors.

Separate legislation, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2023, says the VEC needs to follow all federal mandates and recommendations to prevent ineligible applicants from getting unemployment payments. It directs the agency to perform a review of “suspicious or potentially improper claims.” It also requires the state to recover incorrect overpayment of benefits to the fullest extent possible under the law and provide annual updates on enforcement.

“Every dollar wasted in unemployment is a dollar taken directly out of small business in Virginia,” said bill sponsor Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania). “The safety net will be protected for the truly needy. The system will be protected so it doesn’t overstress and overstress our employers and the door will always be closed to people looking to defraud Virginia.”

Another bill taking effect July 1 creates a pathway for private employers to begin providing family leave as a benefit to employees in certain circumstances, including recent childbirth, adoption or fostering. Employees could also use it to care for a sick relative or if a military spouse is called to serve.  

Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington), who sponsored the bill, said the state’s approval opens the door for insurance companies to come into the Virginia market to offer family leave as a benefit to employers.

Favola said specific details of each plan, including how long employees are allowed to take off and how much they’ll get paid, will be negotiated individually. 

“It’s not a mandate but we’re hoping to change the culture of the workplace so that this becomes a fairly normal expectation,” Favola said. “In a tight labor market, employers really have to accommodate that work-life balance and accommodate family demands. COVID brought that out loud and clear.”

Youngkin made a similar case during his remarks but he wouldn’t say for sure if he would support a mandatory family leave policy if one crosses his desk in the future. Previous efforts have failed in the General Assembly.

“Employers are competing for employees and, by offering enhanced benefits, we’re going to watch people in fact cater to the employment market today,” Youngkin said. “So let’s see how this plays out. I do believe that many, many employers will take up this option and many employees will have this benefit.”