By: Reeve Ashcraft, Contributing Writer | Twitter: @PGJournal
Posted: January 10, 2019 | 1:29 p.m.
VIRGINIA – As the 2019 regular session of the Virginia General Assembly gets underway this week, leaders of both chambers from both parties are preparing for what could be a very tumultuous meeting of the Commonwealth’s legislative body. With Republicans holding narrow one-seat majorities in both chambers, compromise and bipartisanship are already being tested as both parties have been busy building a heavy legislative agenda.
Following a 2018 session which culminated with the expansion of Medicaid as the highlight accomplishment, this session is without a dominant legislative priority. Despite this, however, Republicans and Democrats are using it to their advantage to push what would otherwise be ‘low-level’ priorities to the front of the agenda.
What to Watch
Tax Conformity – Following the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in Congress this past year, the General Assembly has to take action on whether to confirm Virginia’s existing income tax system with the modified federal system. To date, current bills that outline this procedure are as followed: HB1980 – Patroned by Del. Joe McNamara (R- Roanoke) SB1211 – Patroned by Sen. A. Ben Chafin (R-Lebanon)
Repeal of Prohibition on Sports Betting, Casinos – Despite direct opposition from religious conservatives that has lasted decades towards the act of sports betting and casinos housed in the Commonwealth, this appears to be the most movement this issue has had in years. Localities such as New Kent County and the City of Danville are already preparing themselves to jump on this opportunity should it be legalized this upcoming session. To date, current bills that outline this procedure are as followed: HB1638 – Patroned by Del. Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax)
Redistricting – As of this report, the Supreme Court has ruled against the House Republican motion to halt the implementation of redistricted maps for the 2019 election. This issue will continue to be important ahead of the 2020 census as both parties attempt to pass legislation and render maps that could potentially be the difference in being the majority or minority party come next November, and for years to come. Bills that have been prefiled call for a non-partisan commission to create legislative and congressional districts following a decennial census. To date, current bills that outline this procedure are as followed: SJR274 – Co-patroned by Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) and Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton)
Equal Rights Amendment – The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia has the potential to be the 38th state to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and subsequently ratify the amendment into law. Following over four decades of work by feminists and equality sympathizers, the debate over passage still continues. Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) has proposed her own piece of legislation that stresses the essence of the ERA, ‘while refuting the necessity, utility, and viability of the Equal Rights Amendment.’
Marijuana Decriminalizing – With certain CBD oils gaining legalization for medical uses during the 2018 session, advocates and legislators alike are back to make more headway on bringing this issue out of the shadow. While not seeking direct legalization, by legislation nor by referendum, many lawmakers across both aisles are warming to the idea of making charges associated with the Schedule I drug a civil offense rather than its current criminal status. According to a study conducted by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, arrests for marijuana reached a decade-level high of 27, 852 in 2017. Bills to watch outlining the process of decriminalization are as followed: SB997 – Patroned by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)
Other key issues that are expected to rise to the top of the list involve gun control legislation, increases in education funding, voting rights, and campaign finance/ethics reform. For more information on the upcoming session or to find out who your legislator is, visit the General Assembly’s website at http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/.