If you haven’t heard by now, Democrats won back control of the Virginia House and Senate in 2019, ending years of Republican malfeasance on everything from gun violence prevention to anti-discrimination protections. The 2020 legislative session has just come to a close, so we want to pay tribute to some of the groundbreaking legislation passed this year by the new blue trifecta in the Old Dominion — a true reminder that state elections have life-changing consequences.
The forefront issue on voters’ minds when they went to the polls last November was commonsense gun reform — putting it at the top of the agenda for the new Democratic majority. And they certainly delivered, passing universal background checks and a red flag law, keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, letting localities pass stricter gun safety legislation, reinstating one-gun-per-month purchase limits and a host of other measures that will prevent senseless gun violence not just in the commonwealth, but across the east coast, as Virginia has for years served as a gun trafficking hub to northern states with stricter gun laws.
But those aren’t the only new laws that will have a massive impact on people living outside of Virginia. Democrats passed the Clean Economy Act, which paves the way for 100% renewable energy by expanding solar power, offshore wind generation, and energy storage — initiatives that are integral to addressing the climate change crisis.
Under the leadership of the House of Delegates’ first woman speaker, Eileen Filler-Corn, Virginia has advanced some of the most pro-women, pro-family legislation in decades. Democrats repealed the medically-unnecessary anti-abortion laws passed by the GOP in recent years, including the 24 hour waiting period, mandatory inaccurate counseling, and needless regulations meant to shut down clinics. They also passed bills to combat workplace harassment and ban pregnancy discrimination, require free menstrual hygiene products in schools, and end school lunch shaming. And Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment, banning discrimination on the basis of sex in the U.S. Constitution. When put into effect, the ERA will help to combat gender pay inequity, domestic violence, discrimination against pregnant people, and more.
In addition, Virginia is set to become the first state in the South to ban conversion therapy for minors and establish anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ folks. Governor Northam has signed the Virginia Values Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in employment, housing, and more. Similar bills couldn’t even get out of committee last year under Republican control.
Of course, like Democrats across the country, Virginia legislators have made it easier for people to vote! They repealed photo ID laws, instituted automatic and same-day voter registration, made Election Day a state holiday (by getting rid of Lee-Jackson Day), and allowed for no-excuse absentee voting — extending the early voting period to all Virginians. Because when people vote, Democrats, and democracy, win.
And in the final hours of the 2020 session, lawmakers came to an agreement to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour, the first increase in over a decade, a major victory for thousands of families across the commonwealth who are struggling to make ends meet.
Less than a year ago, these popular policies were sent to the Republican legislative graveyard. Now Democrats are passing bills that will make a dramatic difference in the lives of their constituents, fulfilling the promises they campaigned on. Virginia is moving forward and setting an example for the nation that when Democrats win, we get things done.