The 2020 Session of the General Assembly has come to a close, wrapping up 5 days late due to extended budget negotiations. This year the Democrats took control of the legislature for the first time in over two decades. While we did manage to defeat or moderate some of their more extreme initiatives, this session saw a number of historic changes for Virginia. I fear they are moving the Commonwealth in the wrong direction.
Below is a summary of legislative actions this session. All bills that passed have been sent to the Governor for his action. We will reconvene in April to deal with any vetoes or amendments made by the Governor.
A new state budget was adopted for the next two years. In short, the budget increases Virginia’s total spending by nearly 20% – a total $21 Billion increase. It includes new taxes and fees with many new commitments. I am concerned that such spending will not be sustainable during an economic downturn, which appears to have already started due to actions in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. I would not be surprised to have to deal with a big budget shortfall the next time we go into session.
The budget continues the initiative to freeze tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities to help keep education affordable and accessible. It includes money for pay raises for state police and other state employees.
The budget provides funds for teachers to receive a 2 percent raise the first year and 2 percent the second year. It includes more than $1.6 billion in additional funding for our K-12 education system. Average per pupil spending has now fully recovered and surpassed the levels before the Great Recession.
The pay raises are contingent on revenue projections in the budget, which I believe are overly optimistic now.
In addition, it deposits $520 million to Virginia’s reserve day fund. This brings our total cash reserves to $2.2 billion, which we may have to use in the near future.
During the past year, Virginia’s tax revenue grew at a record pace, but that was still not enough money for Democrats. The new majority has enacted new taxes, including a significant increase it the gas tax, that would bring in more than $600 million over the biennium.
The subject that generated a lot of interest this session was gun control. Democrats had signaled their intention to introduce a series of new gun control measures as early as last summer.
Fortunately, the worst of these measures failed, thanks to the voices of tens of thousands of Virginians who let the Democrats know their bills went too far. Bans on common sporting rifles, standard capacity magazines, and other accessories will not become law this year. Nor will legislation that would allow local governments to put additional restrictions on firearms not authorized in state code.
Bills that will become law are background checks for any firearms sale, including private transactions, as well as a “red flag” law that will allow the seizure of firearms from those alleged to be a dangerous. Virginia’s “one handgun per month” rule will also return, but with the same exemption for those with concealed carry permits as existed before 2012.
Under current law, local governments come to agreements with employees on an individual basis. With the new legislation, public employees can form unions and negotiate as a group. Unlike the private sector — where a bad deal with a union comes out of the company’s bottom line — a bad deal with public sector unions comes out of the pockets of taxpayers.
While the impact won’t be immediate, the long-term effect will be higher real estate taxes and bigger mortgage payments for homeowners around Virginia.
BAD BUSINESS BILLS
Virginians were rightly proud last year when CNBC found Virginia to be the Best State for Business in the nation. But that ranking — along with thousands of jobs — is in serious jeopardy thanks to legislation passed this session. Democrats forced through a job-killing increase in the minimum wage, with the goal of stepping it up to $15 per hour over next the few years. Business owners will be forced to cut jobs and raise prices to pay the employees the new government-mandated wage.
They also made major changes to the way workers compensation insurance is handled in Virginia, driving up the cost of coverage for businesses. Those costs will cause prices to rise, taking more money out of the pockets of hard working Virginia families.
Another law was a bill allows employees of subcontractors to sue a primary contractor if the subcontractor doesn’t pay them. Even if the main contractor has paid the subcontractor, they’re still on the hook for wages not paid by the subcontractor, though they have no real control over the subcontractor. This is equivalent of making someone responsible for someone else’s debts.
Democrats spent a great deal of time talking about public safety but introduced and passed a number of bills that will make our communities less safe.
Legislation passed that would give people like Lee Boyd Malvo, the Beltway Sniper, a chance at parole. They also pushed legislation that would make it easier for drunk drivers to get back on the road, and defeated legislation to send those who commit felonies with guns to prison for longer terms. Other bills that would have brought back parole for all Virginian felons were ‘carried over,’ meaning they will bring it back next year.
Thieves got a cost of living adjustment, as Democrats voted to raise the felony larceny threshold to $1,000.
One area where Democrats spent a great deal of time arguing among themselves is the “Virginia Green New Deal,” which would spend billions of dollars to close virtually every power plant in the Commonwealth and replace them with more expensive and less reliable solar and wind farms.
They eventually settled on a slightly-less extreme version that requires Virginia to be a “carbon neutral” by the year 2050, which means that all natural gas and coal power plants must close in the next 30 years. Under this legislation, your electric bill will increase by 25 percent or more in the coming years.
Democrats moved forward in their quest to roll back longstanding protections for women seeking an abortion and ensure an informed decision is being made about an abortion. Additionally, under these new policies, those who may perform an abortion has been drastically expanded, to include those who are not doctors, and facility health and safety standards have been repealed.
First some good news, last year I sponsored an amendment to Virginia’s Constitution to establish an independent, bipartisan commission to draw legislative and congressional district lines after the census is completed this year. Basically, it would take away the ability of legislators to draw their own districts. Since it amends Virginia’s Constitution, it is required to pass twice and then be approved by the voters in November.
The proposed amendment passed last year with strong bipartisan support (83-15 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate) and most candidates of both parties pledged to support it during last November’s General Assembly elections.
While it easily passed the Senate with bipartisan support this year, many House Democrats, who voted for it last year, changed their minds, now that they are in control, and tried their best to defeat it. House Republicans were eventually joined by only 9 Democrats to pass the amendment.
Even after the vote, the Speaker of the House took the unprecedented action of not sending the amendment back to the Senate, normally a technical formality performed by staff, until she was forced to do so by the Senate. No doubt she wanted to hold the amendment in the House and try to force another vote on it should some supporters be absent.
It should on the ballot for the voters to decide this November. I want to thank the 9 Democrats who withstood tremendous pressure from their leadership to keep their promise to the voters.
Another positive is that we were able to defeat a Democrat lead effort to give control Virginia’s Presidential Electoral Votes to voters in other states, the so called popular vote compact. It passed the House with only Democrats voting for it, but was continued for further study by the Senate, so it may be back next year.
The bad news, Democrats gutted the voter ID requirement, and passed Election Day voter registration, so someone not registered to vote can walk into a precinct on Election Day, without ID, register and then vote with no way to validate their information.
A bill has passed to allow 5 Virginia cities (Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond) to open casinos if a local voter referendum passes.
Decriminalization of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana passed. There will be a fine of $25 on the first offense and the record can be expunged if dismissed by the court. Legislation to study how to legalize and regulate it also passed.
It will now be up to cities and counties what to do with statues of Confederate soldiers. They will no longer be required to get approval from the state to remove them.