Guns, LGBTQ Rights and the ERA: The Big Changes Already Happening in Virginia

By Matt Blair

January 28, 2020

Democrats are making real progress on several campaign promises.

UPDATED: February 10, 2020

There has been a flurry of activity since Democrats took over the General Assembly in early January, especially in the past two weeks. With so much happening so quickly, it can be difficult to keep track of where things stand. To help you out, we’ve broken down where things stand on some of the most significant changes coming to the Commonwealth.

Gun Safety

So far, the House has passed the following seven pieces of gun safety legislation that would…

  • Establish universal background checks on private gun sales
  • Require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms within 24 hours
  • Grant local governments the freedom to pass their own gun safety laws, such as banning guns in public buildings and at public events
  • Remove guns from people deemed by a court to be a threat to themselves or others
  • Re-instate Virginia’s one handgun per month restriction
  • Make it a felony to allow access to a loaded gun of anyone 18 and under
  • Expand the limits on gun access to people with protective orders

Meanwhile, some (but not all) of the same legislation has advanced through the state Senate. The “red flag” law, universal background checks on private gun sales, allowing localities to ban guns from public events and restricting people to purchasing only one handgun a month have all been passed by the Senate.

The proposal to make it a felony to allow access to a loaded gun of anyone 18 or younger did not pass out of a Senate committee, but the bill could still potentially pass the chamber.

Voter ID Laws

The Virginia State Senate passed legislation from Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) to repeal requirements and restrictions on voting. A similar bill passed through two committees in the House and now awaits a floor vote.

If the bill goes into effect, voters will no longer be required to bring photo IDs, such as driver’s licenses or passports, to the polling station. Instead, they will be able to present any government documents containing their name and address.

Minimum Wage

Legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 has progressed in both the Senate and the House. A bill from Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw passed the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee last Wednesday, and is now awaiting approval from the wider Senate. In the House, HB 395, which was introduced by Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton), passed through two committees with some substitutions.

Although the bills differ slightly from each other, they both would incrementally raise the minimum wage over several years until hitting $15 by either 2024 or 2025. Virginia’s current minimum wage is the federally-mandated minimum of $7.25.


The Virginia Clean Economy Act advanced through the House’s Labor and Commerce subcommittee Tuesday. The bill, which is being called the most ambitious piece of clean energy policy in Virginia’s history, aims to get the Virginia carbon-neutral by 2050. The bill lays out a plan with benchmarks to help the state achieve its goals on time, including that 30% of Virginia’s energy must come from renewable energy in the next ten years. Also included in the legislation is an expansion of Virginia’s investment in clean energy technology and establishment of new energy efficiency standards.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s version of the legislation, which was introduced by Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), passed through committee on Sunday. The Senate also advanced two pieces of legislation aimed at expanding the use of solar in the state.

LGBTQ Issues

This past week, both the Senate and House passed the Virginia Values Act, which bans discrimination against LGBTQ community in employment, housing, and public accommodations. If Gov. Ralph Northam signs the protections into law, Virginia will become the first Southern state to pass such protections.


The General Assembly officially ratified the Equal Rights Amendment on Monday, January 27, becoming the 38th state to do so. Both the House and Senate had already approved their own versions of the ERA earlier in the month, but rules required the chambers to approve the other’s version as well. This marks the end of a contentious fight over the ERA’s adoption, which was blocked by the Republican-led General Assembly for years.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring joined two other state attorneys general to file a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the Trump administration must add the ERA to the Constitution. Even though the 38 states needed to ratify the amendment have now signed off, the Trump administration released a letter claiming the deadline to actually add the amendment had passed.


Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget plan, which will need to be approved by the General Assembly, has increased spending on K-12 education and teacher pay built into it. Teachers groups are calling for more, however, saying that Virginia’s teachers will still be paid less than the national average even after the pay increase.

There have also been several other bills addressing K-12 education introduced into both chambers. Last month, the Senate passed a bill requiring schools to include free menstrual products in their bathrooms. Several other pieces of legislation, including extending kindergarten programs to full-day and increasing the number of school counselors, have also been introduced.

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