RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Several legislative measures were filed this week by Virginia Democrats poised to push the party’s agenda during next year’s General Assembly session after seizing control of the state legislature for the first time in over 20 years.
The bills and resolutions that have been filed already reveal what Democratic lawmakers will be focusing on in January when the General Assembly convenes: the Equal Rights Amendment, gun control, marijuana laws, rules for absentee voting and raising minimum wage.
The first official House bill was filed Monday by Del. Charniele L. Herring (D-Alexandria), who was recently named House majority leader for the 2020 session by Speaker-designee Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax).
House Bill 1 would eliminate the need for an excuse to vote absentee in Virginia. In the commonwealth, voters are obligated to provide a reason to vote absentee through the mail but not when voting absentee in-person within 45 days of the election.
After falling short by a single vote in February, passing the ERA became one of the key issues for Virginia Democrats during the Nov. 5 elections. Approving the amendment in 2020 would make Virginia the 38th state to do so, which is the threshold for ratification in the U.S. Constitution.
The first bill filed by state Sen. Dick Saslaw (Fairfax), who is to become the Senate’s next majority leader, calls on raising minimum wage. Senate Bill 7 would increase Virginia’s minimum wage to $10 in July 2020, and then by a dollar every July until 2025.
“For July 1, 2026, and thereafter, the annual minimum wage shall be adjusted to reflect increases in the consumer price index,” the measure’s summary reads.
Also on Monday, State Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who has pushed for changes in Virginia’s marijuana laws before, filed legislation that would decriminalize simple possession of small amounts of the drug and make the penalty no more than $50.
In 2015, a similar bill introduced by Ebbin was voted down 9-5 in the Courts of Justice committee.
While acknowledging the measure may go through fine-tuning, Ebbin told 8News over the phone Friday that he has received support from across the aisle and is “very optimistic” about the bill getting to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk. He also mentioned that the composition of the House of Delegates could help bring “meaningful passage” of the legislation.
Ebbin cited a list of repercussions that people with a simple possession charge could face — denied security clearances for jobs, child custody issues, student loan denial — as one of the reasons for filing the bill.
House Bill 9, filed by Del. Jeffrey M. Bourne (D-Richmond), would require gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm within 24 hours to Virginia State Police or local law enforcement. Violating the law would come with a penalty of no more than $250.
The measure, similar to the ordinance passed by Richmond City Council last week, would compel authorities to then report the information to the National Crime Information Center.
This story is developing. Stay with 8News for updates.