A List of All the Progressive Bills That Just Became Law in Virginia

By Arianna Coghill

April 13, 2020

Gov. Ralph Northam made numerous Democratic priorities official this weekend, after signing dozens of bills into law.

Democrats won the General Assembly for the first time in a decade last fall, and with a Democratic governor in office, the “trifecta” of power delivered on many progressive issues.

Gov. Northam had until April 12 to consider all legislation sent by the General Assembly, an extended date to the coronavirus pandemic. All bills passed into law will go into effect on July 1. 

Voting Rights

Gov. Northam not only signed several bills expanding voting rights for Virginia residents, he also declared Election Day a state holiday. 

“Voting is a fundamental right and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot,” the governor said in a statement. 

The state’s photo ID requirement has been thrown out, and now people can vote absentee without having to offer an official excuse. Democrats said the laws will help prevent the disenfranchisement of minorities, the elderly and disabled individuals. 

LGBTQ Rights

On Saturday, Gov. Northam signed the Virginia Values Act, a nondiscrimination bill that would protect the rights of LGBTQ people in the state. The bill prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public and private employment, housing, credit transactions and public spaces. Virginia is the first southern state to codify protections like those in the bill for the LGBTQ community. 

“No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are,” Gov. Northam said in a statement. 

Confederate Monuments

Gov. Northam signed a law that gives local governments control of what happens with Confederate memorials in their jurisdiction. The law will allow local governments to recontextualize, alter or remove the war memorials. 

Local authorities in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, as well as Charlottesville, Norfolk and Alexandria have requested this authority. In 2017, a woman was killed and several people were injured protesting a white supremacist rally in support of the monuments in Charlottesville.

“The signing of this bill is a monumental step in the direction of telling a fuller story of who we are,” said Zyanha Bryant, who in 2016 was a high school student who started a petition to remove the monuments. “No more odes to white supremacy and oppression.”

Reproductive Rights

On Friday, Gov. Northam passed a bill that repealed numerous abortion restrictions in Virginia. It eliminates what the governor calls “medically unnecessary restrictions on women’s healthcare”. 

That means Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law is no more. Also gone are mandated counseling and the 24 hour waiting period that was required before an abortion. 

The bill also rolls back restrictions on reproductive health centers that Democrats said were simply aimed to close centers that perfom abortions and not medically necessary.  

Decriminalizing Marijuana

The simple possession of marijuana has officially been decriminalized due to a bill signed by Gov. Northam over the weekend. Those caught with the drug will now only pay a $25 civil penalty. 

This legislation also allows a group to study and report the impact of legalizing marijuana in Virginia. 

Gun Safety

Gov. Northam signed five gun safety bills, and sent two back to legislators with amendments. 

The bills that were passed:

–Established universal background checks

–Established an Extreme Risk Protective Order, which allows authorities to confiscate guns from those deemed too dangerous to themselves or others 

–Reactivated Virginia’s one handgun a month law

–Requires gun owners to report lost/ stolen guns to the authorities within 48 hours or face a civil penalty

— Stiffens the penalty for leaving loaded firearms in a reckless manner that endangers a child 

The bills that were sent back to legislators included:

–A bill to give local governments the power to ban guns in public spaces including buildings, parks and recreation events. 

–A bill that bans those with protective orders from owning firearms and orders them to turn over their weapons within 24 hours. 

The governor recommended that the people violating those bills be held in contempt of court if they refuse to follow, amendments that were originally suggested by Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Assault Alliance. 

Immigration Rights

Gov. Northam signed SB 395 into law, which allows all Virginia students to get in-state tuition, regardless of their immigration status. It makes all students eligible for in-state tuition if they have attended a Virginia high school for at least two years. To qualify, they need to have graduated on or after July 1, 2008, or pass equivalency education. 

The students must also prove that at least one of their parents have filed state taxes for at least two years prior to registration or enrollment at a public institution of higher education. 

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