U.S. Supreme Court Abortion Ruling Makes Virginia an Abortion Haven, Triggers Wave of Political Statements

The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade launched a wave of statements from Virginia politicians on Friday. Abortion remains legal in Virginia with some limitations, and split control of Virginia’s government leaves both Republicans and Democrats seeking to use the issue to motivate their own voter base. Pro-choice protesters held multiple rallies across Virginia on Friday, with more planned for the weekend.

Governor Glenn Youngkin has largely been quiet about abortion, but on Friday he released two statements reacting to the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. Additionally, Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said Youngkin is pushing for a 15-week abortion ban.

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Virginia House Democrats Pick Don Scott Jr. for New Minority Leader

RICHMOND, Virginia — Delegate Don Scott, Jr. (D-Portsmouth) is the new Democratic Leader/Minority Leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, elected on Wednesday morning. Scott had pushed to oust then-Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn who was voted out at the end of April, but at that time the caucus opted to delay a vote on a new leader to give time for other candidates to campaign.

“I’ve come through some adversity in life and I’ve been able to overcome it and I’ve done very well for myself,” Scott told reporters after the results were announced.

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VCDL, VAPLAN Rank Virginia’s General Assembly Legislators

Nick Freitas and Mark Obenshain

The pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) has released a scorecard of legislators from the recent General Assembly session, with most Republican legislators scoring 100 percent.  In tallies that count votes, Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) and Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) earned the highest scores based on the number of votes cast and who introduced legislation. The Virginia Progressive Legislative Action Network (VAPLAN) has also released a scorecard, finding that Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and Delegate Thomas Wright (R-Lunenberg) tied for most conservative in the House, while Senator Steve Newman (R-Bedford) was the most conservative in the Senate.

“Congratulations to Senator Mark Obenshain (R – Harrisonburg) and to Delegate Nick Freitas (R – Culpeper) for having the best voting records in the General Assembly,” the VCDL wrote in an update. “And honorable mention goes to Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville and freshman Delegate Marie March (R-Pulaski), who both came in 2nd place.”

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Virginia State Senate Judiciary Committee Kills Local Gun Control Repeal

The Senate Judiciary Committee killed HB 827, a bill that would remove local authority to pass gun control ordinances. In its Monday meeting, the committee also killed several other Republican gun bills. Although a few bills are still working their way through the legislature, Monday’s committee meeting largely concludes the current General Assembly session in terms of gun policy, with few gains made by either firearms advocates or opponents.

“The session looks to be a wash for both sides, except for one bill on the serial numbers, and then a switchblade bill,” Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave told The Virginia Star. “That’s not totally unexpected, but you never know.”

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House Republicans Deliver School Mask-Optional Bill to Youngkin

The House of Delegates passed SB 739, which will require schools to make masks optional. After Republicans were surprised by bipartisan votes in the Senate last week to amend the bill to include the mask clause and to pass the bill, Republicans hustled the bill through the necessary House committee hearing and through three required floor sessions, including a two-minute-long pro-forma session on Sunday. By 1 p.m. on Monday, Republicans had already delivered the bill to Governor Glenn Youngkin, who has committed to adding an emergency clause to make it take effect immediately.
After Youngkin adds the clause, both chambers can pass the bill and emergency clause with simple majority votes, setting up the bill to be law and in effect potentially by the end of the week, House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) said on The John Fredericks Show Monday morning.

“Once we adopt his [Youngkin’s] amendments, he’s already signed it and sent it back, it’ll be the law, and we can put this behind us,” Kilgore told The Virginia Star’s publisher, John Fredericks.

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House of Delegates Passes ‘Operation Ceasefire’ Bill

The House of Delegates passed a bill to fund a group violence intervention program based on the “Operation Ceasefire” projects implemented in Boston. That’s been a goal of now-Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) since 2019, and Governor Glenn Youngkin promised it during his campaign. Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Rockingham) introduced HB 833; the version that passed out of the House on Monday would create a grant fund managed by the attorney general to fund violent crime reduction strategies, training and equipment for law enforcement, grants to law enforcement and other organizations engaged in group violence intervention.

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Virginia House of Delegates Passes Locality Gun Control Repeal

The House of Delegates passed a bill to repeal the 2020 law authorizing localities to ban firearms on locality property. Delegates debated the bill on Wednesday before the vote Thursday.

“House Bill 827 returns our code back to its prior position,” Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Rockingham) said on Wednesday. “Other portions of the bill: it eliminates the requirement to destroy firearms that are confiscated and rather allows them to be offered for sale through a licensed dealer. And it also limits the ability of localities to sue firearm manufacturers.”

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Virginia General Assembly Off to Slow Start as Committees Evaluate Legislation, Youngkin Cabinet Picks

RICHMOND, Virginia – Most of the action in the General Assembly is occurring in committees as legislators decide which bills will survive to be voted on by the full Senate and House of Delegates. House Republicans have advanced some key bills on local gun control repeals, elections reform, and school misdemeanor reporting. Senate Democrats have advanced some key bills, but much of their work has been in killing Republican-introduced legislation.

“What has not surprised me is there has been a conspicuous partisan divide with Democratic pushback against Governor Youngkin’s agenda, particularly in the area of tax reform and education reform, and masks,” Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) told The Virginia Star.

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Youngkin’s Education Tip Line Attracts Democratic Anger; Del. Scott Questions Youngkin’s Faith

Governor Glenn Youngkin’s tip line for parents with concerns about in-school practices is triggering outrage on social media, CNN, and the floor of the House of Delegates.

In a Monday appearance on The John Fredericks Show, Youngkin said the email hotline is “for parents to send us any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools.”

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Virginia Supreme Court Redistricting Map Drafts Shake Up Incumbents

The Virginia Supreme Court’s Special Masters released their first redistricting map proposals Tuesday, receiving mixed reactions over what will be a major shakeup for Virginia incumbents if final drafts are similar to the proposals.

The Court chose Republican-nominated Sean Trende and Democratic-nominated Bernard Grofman to draw the maps.

“These maps reflect a true joint effort on our part. We agreed on almost all issues initially, and the few issues on which we initially disagreed were resolved by amicable discussion,” the Special Masters wrote in a memo. “[W]e took seriously the Court’s command that, although we were nominated by the political parties, we would behave in ‘an apolitical and nonpartisan manner.’ Our duty is owed not to the parties that nominated us, but rather to the Court that appointed us and to the residents of the Commonwealth that it serves.”

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Adjourns Indefinitely Without Completing Any Maps

Virginia may have seen the last of its Redistricting Commission. After multiple perfect ties split along party lines on votes held over the past months, the Commission reached consensus on Wednesday to adjourn until the two co-chairs decide to reconvene the commission. The commission’s one remaining  scheduled meeting on Monday and a public hearing for Friday are canceled. The co-chairs said they would reconvene the commission if two commissioners, one from each party, were able to jointly propose a way to redistrict Virginia’s congressional maps.

Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) said, “That would give us kind of a better basis, so if Senator Barker finds someone that likes something also on the other side they can bring it to the co-chairs attention, and then we can call a meeting for us to all come and consider it. But I think the issue is that if we say that there is some place for consensus and that we can still keep working, but is that going to happen at another meeting just like this?”

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With a Week Left, Virginia Redistricting Commission Far from Consensus on Congressional District Maps

With no quorum, the Virginia Redistricting Commission couldn’t take any votes in its Monday meeting, but the commissioners heard legal discussion of the definition of fairness, and heard public comment on a recent draft map of congressional district that combined Republican proposal for southwest Virginia with the Democratic proposal for northern Virginia. One of the commenters was Sam Shirazi — a member of the public who highlighted links between parts of the draft and maps submitted through public comment by former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA-11).

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Moving on to Congressional Maps, Virginia Redistricting Commission Still Haunted by Questions About Fairness

The Virginia Redistricting Commission has moved on to full consideration of the congressional map without making any decisions about the General Assembly maps and using a two-week extension period. In advance of a meeting Thursday, the co-chairs had asked the Republican map-drawing team to draft a proposal for the Republican-voting southwest region of Virginia, and the Democratic team to draw a proposal for Democratic-voting northern Virginia, while both map drawers roughly followed the existing court-drawn districts three and four. Those districts have the most significant minority voter populations, which require extra protection by law.

Debate over the preliminary proposals again focused how to protect minority voters, but by the end of the meeting, there seemed to be a shaky consensus to leave district three and four mostly intact, with support from both Democratic and Republican legal teams. The commission returned to the question of what fair maps are: do they reflect Virginia’s blue-leaning voter base, or do they give an even split to each party? How important is compactness versus regional identity?

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Frustrated by Partisan Deadlocks

The Virginia Redistricting Commission spent its Friday meeting discussing drafts of House maps, but got bogged down during consideration of greater Hampton Roads and Richmond-area maps. Although there is general agreement over much of the geographic areas considered, proposals from partisan map drawers differ in more populated areas, leaving the commission deadlocked and unable to move forward. While debating the Richmond-area maps, commissioners broke out into a frustrated discussion of the process. On Saturday, the commission is scheduled for a final meeting before presenting the proposed House and Senate maps for public consideration — the commission must finalize its House maps, including discussion of Northern Virginia, and finalize its Senate maps in that meeting. 

“I don’t know if I want to come back tomorrow, or stay the night. If we’re not going to get anywhere, I just don’t see — and I understand the desire to keep tweaking and working,” Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) said. “And what it seems to have devolved to is we’ve got Republican map makers and lawyers trying to minimize the number of Democratic districts they have to draw, and maximize the number of Republican districts they have to draw. and I could say the same thing here on both sides. I think we kind of have to pick.”

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Starts on State House Map

The Virginia Redistricting Commission turned to drafting a House of Delegates map Wednesday, after working on a Senate map Monday. The commission compared Republican and Democratic proposals in southwest Virginia, Southside, and part of Hampton Roads. As with the first look at Senate maps a week ago, the commissioners spent a significant time in southwest Virginia, and weren’t able to keep up with a schedule that would have allowed them to consider all of Hampton Roads or Eastern Virginia Wednesday.

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Redistricting: Draft Virginia Senate Map Highlights Different Definitions of ‘Fair’

Capitol of the Commonwealth of Virginia

A new working draft of a Virginia Senate redistricting map is highlighting the question of what creating a fair map means. The working map was hammered out on Saturday in a closed-door meeting between the Democratic and Republican co-chairs, Democratic and Republican legal teams, and Democratic and Republican map-drawers.

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Sees First Maps of Whole Commonwealth

Partisan map drawers presented the first set of maps of the whole commonwealth to the Virginia Redistricting Commission Monday. The commission is nearing the end of its allotted time to create maps for the Virginia General Assembly; the maps are expected to be submitted between October 10th and October 24th. But the maps presented to the commission are drafts, and the commission still needs to analyze public comment and political data and how that should affect the maps. Additionally, the commission has to find a way to turn the two sets of proposals from the Republican and Democratic map drawers into one final draft.

“We’re three weeks away from when we’re supposed to vote on final maps to be presented to the General Assembly. So the clock is really moving quickly now. So think about your ideas on how to reconcile the two versions of each map that we have,” Co-Chair Greta Harris (D) told the commission.

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Spends a Week Providing Clarification to Map Drawers

After a strategy shift, the Virginia Redistricting Commission spent its two meetings this week discussing guidance from legal teams about how to ensure legal compliance with the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and how to consider political subdivisions, communities of interest, and partisan equity. Republican and Democratic legal teams shared different analyses of how to ensure compliance with section two of the VRA, which requires that districts not dilute the voting power of protected minorities. Democratic legal counsel argued that map drawers must create majority-minority districts where possible including through coalitions of minority groups. Republican counsel said that while creating those districts was permissible and even likely to happen, explicitly instructing the mapdrawers to consider race fell outside the legal criteria under which race can be considered, violating the Equal Protection Clause.

The commission debated the issue for hours across two meetings on Monday and Wednesday and defeated three proposals to say the mapdrawers “shall,” “may,” or “shall provide where practicable,” the majority-minority districts.

Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) summarized the debate over the “shall” language Monday: “This motion specifically means that we’re going to get sued one way or the other — one counsel is saying we specifically can’t do this, one counsel is saying we specifically have to do this.”

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State Sen. Newman Announces Resignation from Virginia Redistricting Commission the Day After Commission Sees First Partial Map Drafts

Another Republican member is resigning from the Virginia Redistricting Commission. On Friday, Senator Stephen Newman (R-Bedford) announced his resignation; the commission will likely appoint a replacement from a list already put forward by Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment, Jr. (R-James City.)

“I have enjoyed working with my colleagues on the Virginia Redistricting Commission for the past nine months. Approved by the voters last November, the bipartisan Commission is in its first year and I wish them well as they continue to navigate uncharted territory,” Newman said in a statement. “Given the newly published Commission meeting schedule and my ongoing professional obligations, I regret that I can no longer serve on this body.”

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Votes to Start with Blank Maps

The Virginia Redistricting Commission voted Monday to start with blank, new maps. Some legislators proposed an alternate proposal to draw two sets of maps, one based off current maps, and one from a blank slate, but that motion was defeated.

Citizen Commissioner Sean Kumar (D) introduced the initial motion for blank maps, noting that in public comment, most of the public has expressed a desire for new maps, and that both parties have an interest in protecting the incumbents.

Barker introduced the substitute plan to draw the two sets of maps, and Senator Steve Newman (R-Bedford) seconded it.

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Virginia Redistricting Commissioners Debate Timing, Procedure, in First Meeting Since Census Data Published

The U.S. Census Bureau released 2020 census data on Friday, but on Monday, the Virginia Redistricting Commission voted 14-1 with one abstention to consider August 26 the date of receipt of census bureau data. That’s due to Census Bureau delays that led to the data being released in an older format that will take vendors two weeks to process.

“This situation is very different from, I think, probably any other redistricting effort that has been done since long before World War II,” Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax) said, noting that law requires delivery of census data within a year of the census date.

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Virginia Senate GOP Criticizes Decision to Postpone Campaign Finance Reform Meeting on Same Day Democrats Hold Fundraiser

The Virginia Senate GOP is questioning General Assembly Democrats’ commitment to campaign finance reform after the inaugural meeting of the Joint Subcommittee on Campaign Finance Reform was rescheduled from Monday morning while a Democratic fundraiser breakfast went forward.

“Evidently, Democrats are very enthusiastic about limiting campaign donations to politicians who aren’t Democrats,” Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment, Jr. (R-James City) said in a Monday press release. “Today’s cancellation is a reminder of their true priorities related to campaign funding: raising as much money as possible to elect Democrats.”

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Fills Vacancy With Just a Month Left Before Receiving Census Data

The Virginia Redistricting Commission voted Monday to nominate Virginia Trost-Thornton as a Republican citizen member after Marvin Gilliam resigned two weeks ago.

“I can support either one of them. I know that Virginia Trost is from the Forest area, she is a chemical engineer and a lawyer and a math major and a pretty smart lady,” Senator Stephen Newman (R-Bedford) told the commission.

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Glenn Youngkin Calls for Reinstatement of Loudoun Teacher Placed on Leave for Opposing Use of Preferred Pronouns in School

GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has called for Loudoun County Public Schools to reinstate a teacher who was placed on leave after opposing a potential policy requiring staff to use students’ preferred pronouns.

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‘Ghost Gun’ Ban Fails in Virginia General Assembly

The Virginia House of Delegates and Senate failed to come to a compromise over a ban on “ghost guns” – a nickname for firearms that are handmade, improvised, or otherwise assembled from unserialized parts. As a result, the bill died when the General Assembly session ended Monday. Although HB 2276 passed in the House of Delegates, senators worried that the bill could have unintended consequences such as preventing legally owned firearms that had been grandfathered in from being transferred to someone else.

A Senate committee had already changed the bill to allow possession of unserialized firearms, but still banned manufacture, sale, or transfer of the weapons.

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General Assembly Votes to Give Virginia Teachers a Raise, Senate Passes In-Person Learning Bills

The House of Delegates and the Senate both voted to give Virginia teachers’ a pay raise in the budget bills passed with bipartisan support Friday. HB 1800, passed 68 to 30, features a five percent teachers’ raise for Fiscal Year 2022, while its counterpart SB 1100, which features a three percent teachers’ raise, passed 31 to eight. The Senate also passed an amendment to the budget that requires schools to provide in-person learning options in 2021-2022; however, the House defeated a similar floor amendment on Friday.

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Joint General Assembly Committee Review of Circuit Court Judge Candidates Turns Explosive

Judicial interviews with a joint meeting of the House Courts of Justice and Senate Judiciary Committee are normally calm formalities as legislators ask the judicial candidates perfunctory questions. But on Tuesday, a virtual meeting to interview 29 candidates for juvenile and domestic relations court, district court, and circuit court judges turned emotional.

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Democrats Kill Right-to-Work Repeal in Virginia House

Delegate Lee Carter’s right-to-work repeal died in crossover Friday, much like in the previous two years, but on Wednesday, Carter fought to give it one last chance. On the floor of the virtual House session, Carter raised a motion to discharge the bill from committee, a procedural move that would allow delegates to vote on hearing the bill in the House even though it had not been passed out of committee.

Carter said, “I’ve introduced this bill for the last three years running, and its fate in both previous years has been to die in crossover without a recorded vote on its final disposition.”

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Virginia House Gun Bill Roundup

The Virginia House of Delegates sent four gun bills to the Senate over the past week, and is scheduled to vote on two more on Monday.

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Virginia House Subcommittee Votes to Change Bill to Automatically Restore Felon Voting Rights After Release from Prison

Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) both pre-filed bills that would automatically restore felon voting rights after the felons complete their sentences including probation. After discussion in a subcommittee Monday, the two bills will be combined under HJ555, and subcommittee members unanimously voted to change the bills to automatically restore voting rights after the felon has been released from prison, before completion of probation or other elements of the sentence.

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A Bill Banning Unserialized Firearms, Moves Through Virginia House

A bill making it a felony to possess undetectable firearms and firearms that do not have serial numbers is scheduled for its first reading on the floor of the House of Delegates on Monday afternoon. Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) introduced HB2276 as a ban on plastic firearms and unfinished frames, although the language of the bill specifically focuses on firearms undetectable by common weapons screening machines.

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Breakdown of Citizen Applicants for Virginia Redistricting Commission

The application window to become one of eight citizen members on the new Virginia Redistricting Commission has reached the halfway point and a demographic breakdown of applicants to date from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) reveals some interesting trends.

VPAP’s visual breakdown of applicants’ demographic makeup features things like race, gender, age, party affiliation and more.

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House and Senate Name Legislators for Virginia Redistricting Commission

Party leaders from the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have appointed the eight lawmakers that will serve on the newly-formed bipartisan redistricting commission tasked with redrawing the Commonwealth’s legislative and congressional lines.

The Senators on the commission will be Steve Newman (R-Bedford), Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), George Barker (D-Fairfax County) and Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Amigo Wade, acting director of the Virginia Division of Legislative Services, told The Virginia Star.

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