Speaker Filler-Corn gaveled us out and the 2021 legislative session officially came to a close. Being online and having a short session didn’t stop us from passing legislation to improve the lives of Virginians now and in the years ahead. This newsletter highlights some of the bills that passed the General Assembly and are waiting to be signed by the Governor.
Before we dive into this newsletter, I want to take a moment to talk about the incredible amount of progress we made this session. We’ve taken steps forward that I would never have thought possible just a few years ago. We abolished the death penalty. We expanded voting rights and flipped Virginia from being last among states for voting accessibility to one of the best in the nation. We’ve made critical investments in our education system, starting at pre-K all the way through higher education. We have accomplished so much for the Commonwealth and it wouldn’t have been possible without your support. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
I’m proud to say that four of the bills I carried this session are on their way to the Governor’s desk for his signature. With these pieces of legislation, we’ve taken bold steps forward to reform our criminal justice system and ensure that workers are paid for their work.
Abolishing the Death Penalty
HB 2263 eliminates the death penalty in Virginia and converts all existing capital sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Virginia has executed more people than any other state in the nation. By passing this bill, we’re creating a new legacy for Virginia, one that I’m proud to be a part of.
Fighting Elder Abuse
HB 2018 closes an existing loophole in the law and allows Adult Protective Services to seek an emergency protective order for an incapacitated adult who has been subject to physical or financial abuse at the hands of their caregiver.
Compensating Workers for Overtime
HB 2063 creates a state overtime law to give Virginians an avenue to pursue action against wage theft by their employer in local courts. All workers deserve to be compensated fairly for their overtime work and this bill will help make sure that happens.
Establishing Youth Courts
This bill gives localities the option to establish a youth justice diversion program, also known as a youth court. This youth-led and volunteer-driven program serves as an alternative to incarceration. I carried this bill on behalf of the City of Newport News and am thrilled that all localities will soon have the ability to establish their own youth court programs.
We passed a lot of important legislation this session that touches on everything from workers compensation for first responders who contracted COVID-19 on the job, to broadband access, to school funding, to revising the state budget. It would be impossible for me to summarize every crucial piece of legislation that passed this session without turning this newsletter into a novel, but I’ve tried my best to highlight some of this session’s biggest accomplishments below.
Ensuring a Comprehensive COVID-19 Response
Strengthening Virginia’s Vaccination Capacity
HB 2333, which went into effect immediately upon passage, expanded the number of healthcare professionals eligible and able to administer COVID-19 vaccines. This expanded vaccination capability is going to be critical as the Commonwealth begins to receive a larger weekly allocation of vaccines from the federal government.
Ensuring Our First Responders Receive Worker’s Compensation for COVID-19
HB 2207 ensures that first responders, including firefighters, EMS personnel, law enforcement, and correctional officers who contracted COVID-19 will have access to workers’ compensation benefits.
Ensuring Healthcare Workers Receive Workers Compensation for COVID-19
HB 1985 adopts the same language as HB 2207 and expands upon it to allow healthcare workers to file workers’ compensation benefits should they become disabled after treating COVID-19 patients at work.
Providing Paid Sick Leave for Home Healthcare Workers
HB 1237 makes sure that home healthcare workers covered by Medicaid receive paid sick leave. These folks work hard to care for Virginians every day and they deserve access to paid sick leave. We still have a long way to go to ensure that all Virginia workers have access to paid sick leave, but this is an important first step.
Criminal Justice Reform in the Commonwealth
HB 2312 outlines how Virginia will build a regulatory system and launch a public education campaign over the next couple of years, before legalizing possession of marijuana on July 1 of 2024. The legislation approaches legalization and regulation through the lens of social equity and will add Virginia to the ever-growing list of states that have legalized marijuana.
HB 2113 establishes a process for automatic expungement of criminal records for those with certain non-violent felony and misdemeanor convictions and charges administered in Virginia after ten years. If you’ve served your sentence and done the right thing for the last ten years of your life, then you shouldn’t be blocked from employment, housing, and other opportunities. This is huge step towards creating a more compassionate and fair justice system.
Establishing Pretrial Data Collection practices
HB 2110 creates a centralized and publicly accessible data collection system on pretrial detention. The bill aims to increase transparency and equity in the Commonwealth’s judicial system.
Strengthening Our Economy and Workers
Creating the G3 Program
HB 2204 establishes the G3 Program which will help provide free community college for thousands of low and middle income Virginians. This is a win-win for all Virginians as it will help us remain a national leader in maintaining a skilled workforce while also helping to provide opportunity for thousands of residents.
Expanding Broadband Access
HB 1923 expands a pilot program that allows utilities to help internet service providers expand broadband access to underserved areas of the Commonwealth. One of the many things the pandemic has shown us is that having access to the internet is a necessity and this program is a cost-effective way to make sure more Virginians have access to it.
Expanding the Child Care Subsidy Program
HB 2206 expands the Child Care Subsidy program so more families can afford child care during the pandemic. As we face one of the greatest health and economic crises of our lifetime, it is essential that we ensure all Virginian families have the resources they need to properly care for themselves and their children.
Creating the Virginia Agriculture Food Assistance Program
HB 2203 establishes the Virginia Agriculture Food Assistance program. This program will create a system that allows Virginia’s farmers to sell and donate their excess agricultural product to food charities throughout the Commonwealth. This is a great step forward that will help combat food insecurity and support our farmers.
Improving the VEC’s Communication Abilities
HB 2036 allows the Virginia Employment Commission to provide information about claims through email and other electronic mediums. Workers filing claims with the VEC deserve to receive information about their claims in a timely and efficient manner and this bill will help streamline that process.
Voting Rights Act of Virginia
Modeled after the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, HB 1890 secures voting rights in Virginia by prohibiting any election practice, standard, or procedure which results in citizens being denied the right to vote based on their race. Voter discrimination, in any form, is a stain on our democracy and with this bill we take a step forward in ending that practice in Virginia.
Strengthening the Virginia Fair Housing Law
HB 2046 updates the Virginia Fair Housing Law to ban discrimination in public housing and land use decisions. Discrimination should not be a barrier to Virginians’ access to stable homes and any additional resources needed that will enable them to thrive in their community.
Constitutional Amendment to Remove Same Sex Marriage Prohibition
HJ 582 affirms that marriage is a fundamental human right that cannot be denied on the basis of gender or sex. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges made clear that marriage equality is the law of the land and Virginia’s constitution should reflect that basic truth as well.
Updating the Virginia Human Rights Act
HB 1848 includes protections for Virginians with disabilities in the Virginia Human Rights Act. No one should be subjected to discrimination in the Commonwealth.
Investing in Our Children
Raising Teacher Pay by 5%
The budget we passed contains a provision boosting salaries for public school teachers by 5%. Virginia’s teachers and support staff dedicate their time and energy to educating the Commonwealth’s children, and they have gone years without a pay raise. This is well-deserved.
Creating a Virginia STEM Advisory Board
HB 2058, establishes the Virginia STEM Advisory Board. The Board will work to promote and advance STEM education throughout the Commonwealth.
Delegate Mugler’s HB 1918, also known as Conner’s law, creates a statewide process that requires students to have a valid license to get a school parking pass and also revamps driver’s ed classes for 10th graders across the state. To learn more about this bill and Conner’s story, please visit the Conner Gweedo Memorial Foundation website.
Forgiving School Meal Debt
Delegate Roem continued her effort to reform Virginia’s school lunch policies with HB 2013, which prohibits school boards from filing lawsuits against a student or the student’s parent for any outstanding school meal debt. This bill seeks to ensure that no learning environment ever becomes hostile for Virginia students.
Protecting Our Environment
Establishing a Clean Car Standard
HB 1965 directs the State Air Pollution Control Board to implement a low-emissions and zero-emissions vehicle program for motor vehicles with a model year of 2025 and later. This is going to help Virginia in its push to move towards more electric and fuel-efficient vehicles.
Conserving Our Commonwealth’s Trees
HB 2042 gives localities the option to exceed general requirements in its tree replacement and conservation ordinances in specific circumstances, including development that impacts stormwater permit requirements, recurrent flooding, formerly redlined areas, and comprehensive plan compliance. Now, those localities that want to do more than the bare minimum when it comes to conservation can do just that.
Regulating Natural Gas Pipelines
SB 1265 gives the Department of Environmental Quality greater authority to inspect the environmental impact of natural gas pipeline construction projects. It also gives the DEQ the authority to issue a stop work order if they find that a project is causing frequent or widespread negative impacts.
Making Voting Easy and Accessible
Allowing Absentee Voting on Sundays
HB 1968 allows local electoral boards and registrars to provide absentee voting opportunities on Sundays. This is a great tool in the toolbox for localities that want to expand opportunities for absentee voting.
Expanding Curbside Voting
HB 1921 clarifies that any voter with a physical disability or injury is entitled to the option of curbside voting. The bill also states that in a pandemic all voters are entitled to the option of curbside voting. This was a necessary reform to ensure all Virginia voters are able to vote without sacrificing their health or safety.
Creating Voter Pre-Registration
HB 2125 allows people 16 and older to pre-register to vote so they’ll be all set and ready to vote once they’re 18. We always say that we want teens to be civically engaged and this bill is a great way to help do that.
Investing in Virginia’s Future
The budget we adopted makes critical investments in public education, transportation infrastructure, the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination effort, and more. Here are just some of the highlights.
- A 5% pay raise for teachers.
- $443 million to school divisions to ensure none lose funding due to temporary, COVID-19 related, enrollment declines.
- More than $40 million dollars for local school divisions to run summer school and other programs to combat learning loss.
- $89.3 million for mass vaccination efforts.
- $93.1 million to widen I-64 between James City and New Kent and build the HOT lanes network that is part of the HRBT expansion.
- Over $100 million in investments in affordable housing.
This was an eventful session to say the least. I am grateful for everything we were able to accomplish for the people of the 93rd District and all residents of the Commonwealth. I want to leave you with this original composition from the students of Newport News’ own Soundscapes program. This has been a difficult year for us all as we dealt with fatigue, isolation, and tragedy. However, we should continue to find moments of joy and remind ourselves that as the students sing: “The future will be better.”
Thanks for reading. Be safe and be well.
Michael P. Mullin