State Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond) submitted her first legislation moments after filing season opened at midnight, putting passage of the ERA at the symbolic head of the list for that chamber.
“It’s past time. There’s no reason to wait,” said McClellan, who is already positioning herself as a possible candidate for governor in 2021.
Similarly, another lawmaker with gubernatorial ambitions — Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) — got a parallel ERA measure filed as House Resolution 1 on Monday. Yet another ERA proposal came from Sen. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton), reflecting that issue’s potency in this year’s political season. Virginia could become the 38th state to pass the ERA, the number needed to ratify it into the U.S. Constitution.
Virginia’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner, on Monday joined a bipartisan effort to remove time limits for ratification of the ERA to ensure that approval in Virginia would be enough to get it into the Constitution.
Democrats took majorities in both the Senate and the House of Delegates in the Nov. 5 election, joining Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam to solidify the party’s power over state government for the first time in a generation. When the General Assembly convenes in January, Democrats have the numbers — a 55-45 edge in the House, 21-19 in the Senate — to enact a sweeping agenda that had been thwarted by years of Republican domination.
“Finally, these bills will get the consideration they deserve in the House of Delegates, and we can take our first steps toward improving voting rights, preventing gun violence, and recognizing all Virginians as equal regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation,” House Majority Leader-elect Charniele L. Herring (D-Alexandria) said via email.
Herring filed a measure that would establish “no-excuse” early voting for the first time in Virginia, by mail or in-person, as the first official House bill of the 2020 session. The ERA measure is a resolution, not a bill.
The next two bills also reflect the party’s priorities: a measure establishing universal background checks for all gun purchases was the second House bill filed, by Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax).
And a measure prohibiting discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual orientation submitted by Del. Delores L. McQuinn (D-Richmond) will be House Bill 3.
Those designations have little procedural meaning, but “reflect our commitment to equality and uphold our accountability to Virginia voters,” Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) said via email.
House Democrats chose Filler-Corn as their speaker-designee, putting her in line to be the chamber’s first female leader in its 400-year history.
Republicans made no effort Monday to draw attention to proposed legislation, which can be filed until 10 days after the session starts Jan. 8.
“I’m not filing anything today,” said Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), who over the weekend was selected to be the House minority leader by the GOP caucus. He beat Del. Terry G. Kilgore (R-Scott), who is more of a low-key dealmaker than the pugnacious Gilbert.
On Monday, Gilbert played his old role as majority leader for probably the last time, just as House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) took what is likely to be his last swing of the gavel. Cox won reelection in a costly race, but declined to take a minority leadership position next year.
A sparse handful of delegates — eight Republicans and six Democrats — showed up for a “pro forma” meeting to officially end the special legislative session on gun control.
Northam had summoned lawmakers to Richmond in July after a May 31 mass shooting in Virginia Beach that left 12 victims dead. Republican lawmakers adjourned that session after 90 minutes, referring all proposed gun-control bills to the State Crime Commission and vowing to reconvene Nov. 15 to take up recommendations.
But after Democrats won their majorities, Republicans said they would leave the matter for next year. The commission issued a three-page report with no recommendations. On Monday, Republicans gaveled in and back out in about nine minutes total.
On the Senate side — where attendance consisted of two Democrats and three Republicans, with Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover) presiding — there was time for one last exchange of rancor.
Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) scolded Republicans for failing to act on gun control when they had the chance. “On Nov. 5, the people of Virginia told that side of the aisle what they thought of their shenanigans,” Ebbin said. “Come January, the people of this commonwealth will see action.”
That prompted Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-Chesterfield) to spring to her feet. “The laws and restrictions that the other side of the aisle want to put forward are going to do nothing more than hurt law-abiding citizens,” she said. “We will do everything in our ability to challenge those thoughts and ideals.”
For this day, though, there was no action. Only a revving up on one side and a battening down on the other.
“I’ve had a good 17 years,” said Del. Tim Hugo (Fairfax), who lost his bid to remain the last GOP delegate in the Northern Virginia suburbs to Democrat Dan Helmer. Hugo said he had come to Monday’s session so he could clean out his desk and declined to say anything about the bills Democrats were putting into the state’s hopper.
“I wish them well,” he said. “I hope they govern well for Virginia.”