RICHMOND — The General Assembly session hit its midpoint Tuesday, and here’s where lawmakers in the House of Delegates have reached bipartisan consensus on one major issue, gun safety: a bill to provide a tax credit for buying a gun safe.
Other topics such as abortion, criminal justice and education have also produced little cooperation during a politically charged year when all 140 seats in the legislature are on the November ballot.
Division was on full display this week as lawmakers churned through hundreds of last-minute bills before Tuesday night’s deadline for “crossover,” when the House of Delegates and Senate must finish work on their own measures and send them to the opposite chamber.
Leaders of the GOP-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate know that party-line bills are likely to fail when they make that trip across the Capitol. With that in mind, House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) didn’t allow some high-profile measures to go through the committee process, meaning they never came up for a vote.
None of about 20 proposed constitutional amendments got a vote in the House — most notably, one supporting Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) in his call for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
“We had a lot of constitutional amendments this year, and I think we just decided not to take up anything until we saw what came over from the Senate,” Gilbert said in an interview.
Overall, he said, the session has gone “like we anticipated, which is that there would be a lot of competing ideas that would probably not meet a very good fate on the [Senate] side.”
Several bills related to divisive issues did make it to the House floor over the past few days, though, with patrons reasoning that even if they won’t survive the Senate, they’ll provide fodder for political campaigns this fall.
Del. Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax) called them “brochure bills,” referring to campaign brochures.
Even as the Senate passed a flurry of bills advancing Democratic priorities, some with a handful of Republicans on board, Sen. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton) took a dim view of their prospects on the other side of the Capitol.
“Oh, they’re gonna kill them,” said Locke, chairwoman of the chamber’s Democratic Caucus. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to not deal with a lot of the stuff that we’re sending over, particularly the Democratic bills. That’s generally the rule of thumb, the way things happen around here.”
Below are some of the issue areas where lawmakers took action over the past few days. Each of the bills will have to go through the legislative process all over again now that they’re headed for the opposite chamber. The session is scheduled to wrap up Feb. 25.
The Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 242 to repeal the state’s currently defunct ban on same-sex marriage. The ban, added to the Virginia Constitution in 2006, defines marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman.” That language has been moot since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, but it would have the force of law again if the high court reversed that ruling.
Prospects in the House: Unclear. Gilbert held fire on the House version of this, but it did have some GOP support.
The Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 255 to add broad abortion rights language, declaring “a fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” to the Virginia Constitution.
Prospects in the House: Zero. House Republicans have said they believe the language of the proposed amendment would broaden the availability of abortions. Del. Sally L. Hudson (D-Charlottesville) in a floor speech Tuesday said Republicans were afraid to bring the governor’s proposed abortion ban up for a vote because the threat of a ban powered Democrats to victories in last fall’s midterm congressional elections.
“You’d rather not be on the record on abortion. Not in an election year,” Hudson said. Instead, she added, Republicans passed a handful of less ambitious abortion-related bills so they could “go home to the campaign trail and say they tried to do something.”
Prime among those bills was House Bill 2270, sponsored by Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R-Virginia Beach), which seeks to expand the type of “informed written consent” a woman must provide before having an abortion. The Senate blocked a similar bill last year.
The Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 223, a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to convicted felons upon their release. In most states, convicted felons automatically regain the right to vote upon the completion of their sentences. Virginia is one of 11 states that permanently disenfranchises felons unless the governor restores their rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A similar amendment proposed in the House had bipartisan support, but Gilbert never assigned it to a committee so it never got a vote.
The Chincoteague Pony, already the star of Marguerite Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague” and an annual pony swim, would be designated Virginia’s official state pony under bills that passed both chambers with negligible nay (neigh?) votes. The Eastern Shore herd had a little competition from the wild ponies that roam Grayson Highlands State Park in the state’s southwest corner. In the House, that was enough for seven votes against. But Sen. Todd E. Pillion (R-Washington), who represents Grayson, voted in favor after recalling how the Grayson ponies chased his family on a hike.
The Senate has passed several restrictions on guns, including:
- Senate Bill 1382, which requires that firearms and ammunition kept in homes with minors be stored in locked containers that the minors cannot access.
- Senate Bill 1382 would ban the sale, transfer or possession of new assault firearms, specifically those manufactured after the proposed effect date for the new law, July 1. The measure would grandfather assault weapons already in legal possession. The bill would prohibit anyone younger than 21 from possessing assault firearms, regardless of the date of manufacture. It also would ban the sale of large-capacity magazines to anyone.
- Senate Bill 901 would require that anyone leaving a handgun in an unattended motor vehicle lock the vehicle.
- Senate Bill 1067 elaborates on the factors a judge considers when deciding, under the state’s “red flag” law, whether to temporarily seize the firearms of someone deemed a threat to himself or others. Current law says the judge shall consider “any relevant evidence, including any recent act of violence, force, or threat.” The bill adds examples, such as violating a protective order within the past six months or demonstrating, over the past year, a pattern of violent acts or threats against family members, neighbors, schools or government buildings.
- Senate Bill 1167, which seeks to establish “reasonable controls” or standards for companies that manufacture and sell firearms, allowing people who feel harmed by the industry to sue in civil court.
- Senate Bill 909 would require someone who has lost the right to possess firearms, such as under a protective order, to tell the court system how they have disposed of their weapons. It also would prohibit transferring the firearms to someone who lives in the same household or is younger than 21.
None of those bills is likely to pass the House, where Republicans passed their own set of bills aimed at making it easier to obtain and carry guns. Those, in turn, are likely to die in the Senate — though the Lopez bill on gun safes, which has the support of the National Rifle Association as well as Democratic leaders, has better prospects. The Republican-backed House bills include:
- House Bill 1407 would allow anyone with a concealed handgun permit to carry a weapon or explosive device in Richmond’s Capitol Square or in buildings owned or leased by the state. Democrats outlawed the practice in 2020 for anyone except law enforcement officers and active duty military.
- House Bill 1427 would repeal the authority of a county, city or town to enact its own ban of firearms from parks or other public places.
- House Bill 1570 removes highway rest stops from the state-owned areas where people are prohibited from carrying a firearm.
- House Bill 1871 would make concealed carry permits good for 10 years instead of the current five years.
- House Bill 2449 would restrict law enforcement agencies from getting access to information submitted as part of a background check during a firearm purchase unless the individual is the subject of a criminal investigation.
- House Bill 2460 would allow state employees to keep firearms in their locked vehicle while at work, except at the Department of Corrections, Department of Juvenile Justice or the Virginia Port Authority.
House Republicans passed a pair of bills that support Youngkin’s efforts to tighten school policies around transgender students: House Bill 1387 would ban transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity, requiring that a doctor certify every athlete’s “biological sex” once a year. House Bill 2432 would require school officials to inform parents if a child expresses “gender dysphoria” or asks to be called by a different name or pronoun.
Del. Danica A. Roem (D-Prince William), the first openly transgender woman to serve in the legislature, made an emotional speech Monday about the danger of forcibly outing a young person’s sexuality. “We are dealing with dire consequences on a bill as reckless as this,” Roem said, adding that a child could be subject to beatings, suicide or homelessness. Both bills passed Monday on party-line votes, but they stand no chance in the Senate.