Virginia General Assembly Special Session Set for August

The Virginia General Assembly’s second 2021 special session is scheduled for August 2. One of the top priorities for the legislators will be allocating American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Although Virginia has already received the money, it can’t be spent until the legislators allocate it.

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Independent Investigators Release Report on Investigation into Virginia Parole Board Investigation

Independent investigators found probable bias in the Office of the State Inspector General’s investigation (OSIG) into the Vincent Martin parole case, according to a report released Monday. The report says that OSIG’s investigation was not thorough enough and says OSIG failed to identify likely bias in its Senior Investigator Jennifer Moschetti. It also says the OSIG investigation and findings were not influenced by Governor Ralph Northam.

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Law Firm Nixon Peabody Appointed Investigator of Investigation into Virginia Parole Board

Travis Hil

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office announced that major international law firm Nixon Peabody LLP will investigate the Office of the State Inspector General’s investigation of the Virginia Parole Board. The firm is required to send a report on the investigation to leading Virginia elected officials from both parties by June 15, 2021.

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General Assembly Republicans Call for Special Session to Investigate Virginia Parole Board

General Assembly Republicans renewed calls for a special session to investigate the Virginia Parole Board (VPB) after media obtained recordings of a call held last summer between Northam administration officials and State Inspector General Michael Westfall.

House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said in a Monday press release, “The recording of the meeting between the Office of State Inspector General and Governor  [Ralph] Northam’s team explains why the Governor’s budget amendment only called for an investigation of OSIG, and not the Parole Board. The Governor’s office doesn’t think the Parole Board did anything wrong.”

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Democrats Approve Northam’s Investigation into Parole Board Investigation

Democrats approved Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal for an investigation into a 2020 investigation of the Virginia Parole Board. In Wednesday’s veto session, legislators passed a Northam budget amendment funding a $250,000 investigation into the 2020 Vincent Martin parole investigation. Although both Republicans and Democrats have been calling for a new investigation, Republicans said the proposal was too narrow and criticized the decision to allow the Attorney General any oversight.

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Effective in July, Virginia Legalizes Small Amounts of Marijuana

RICHMOND, Virginia Simple possession of up to one ounce of marijuana will be legal in Virginia, effective July 1. On Wednesday, the Virginia General Assembly approved Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal to expedite legalization from 2024 to later this year. But legislators warned that doesn’t mean there will be a marijuana free-for-all.

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Virginia Abolishes Death Penalty

Virginia became the first state in the south to abolish the death penalty when Governor Ralph Northam announced Thursday that he signed twin death-penalty repeal bills introduced by Delegate Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) and Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax). Virginia joins 22 other states that have also repealed the death penalty.

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Governor Northam Signs Consumer Data Protection Act

Virginia now has consumer data protection laws after Governor Ralph Northam signed HB 2307. Out of 139 legislators in the General Assembly, only 15 voted against the Consumer Data Protection Act. According to legal site JDSupra, that makes Virginia the second state (after California) to pass such a law.

Key provisions of the bill allow consumers to opt out of data collection, require entities to post conspicuous notices when collecting data to be sold to third parties, and require them to post privacy notices describing how to opt out. However, the bill also allows those entities to deny the opt-out request under certain circumstances, authorizing the consumer to file a complaint through the attorney general.

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Governor Ralph Northam Signs Major New Clean Car Standards Bill

Governor Ralph Northam announced newly-signed legislation Friday that will require approximately eight percent of model year 2025 vehicles sold in Virginia to be zero-emissions vehicles. HB 1965, introduced by Delegate Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), adds Virginia to the list of states following California’s vehicle emissions standards, which are stricter than the federal standards Virginia currently follows.

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One-Fourth of Bills Passed in 2021 Virginia General Assembly Sessions Passed Along Party Lines

In 2020 and 2021, the Democrat-led General Assembly passed nearly 20 percent more bills through strict party-line votes than in the three previous years when Republicans controlled both chambers. According to a data visualization from the Virginia Public Access Project, in 2020, 24 percent of bills passed were passed along party lines with Democrats voting for and Republicans voting against. In 2021, that number grew to 25 percent. In the Republican controlled sessions of 2017, 2018, and 2019, the percentage of bills passed along party lines was respectively 7.7 percent, 4.7 percent, and 5.7 percent.

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Northam Snubs Herring, Endorses Jones for Attorney General

Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) picked up a big endorsement in the race for Attorney General this week. Governor Ralph Northam chose to endorse Jones instead of incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring, Northam’s former running mate.

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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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Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee Kills Ban on Cyber Flashing

Delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler’s (D-Virginia Beach) HB 2254 passed with unanimous support in the House of Delegates. The bill would ban people from sending unsolicited obscene images to others. But after the House sent the bill to the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted eight to five to table the bill February 17, citing concerns that the bill could be applied too broadly.

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General Assembly Votes to Make Virginia First Southern State to Abolish Death Penalty

The Virginia General Assembly passed a death penalty repeal on Monday. Governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign the bills, which would make Virginia the first state in the South to ban capital punishment. Advocates have argued that the death penalty is vulnerable to wrongful conviction, is expensive, cruel, and applied unfairly, but opponents say some of the most heinous crimes require a death penalty to make sure the criminal doesn’t get free. During the 2021 session, House Republicans have emphasized the names of victims of particularly serious crimes, who they say are being ignored by Democrats.

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A More Restrained Bicycling Safety Act Passes the Virginia Senate

Delegate Chris Hurst’s (D-Montgomery) Bicycling Safety Act passed the Senate on Wednesday. The Senate version of the bill focuses on increasing passing safety. It requires drivers to move over a lane if there isn’t room to pass bicyclists by three feet, and it also allows two bicyclists to ride side-by side in a lane. It also creates a study of the potential effects of a ‘Safety Stop,’ a traffic law that would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yields under certain conditions.

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Virginia General Assembly Considering Protections for Domestic Workers

The Virginia General Assembly is considering three bills that would add legal protections for domestic workers in jobs like cleaning, landscaping, and childcare. The bills are focused on banning discriminatory practices, implementing safety standards, and requiring worker’s compensation insurance. Advocates say the current exemption for domestic workers dates back to racist Jim Crow legislation and should be removed, but opponents say the bills put more burdens on domestic workers and the people who hire them.

HB 2032, introduced by Delegate Wendy Gooditis (D-Clarke) adds “Domestic Service” as a category that would be included under current workplace safety and workers’ compensation law. Gooditis said that the bill makes domestic service subject to workplace safety standards, and that inspectors can require access.

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Governor Ralph Northam Extends 2021 General Assembly Session

Virginia Democrats will get more time to pass legislation after Governor Ralph Northam called a special legislative session to begin February 10. Northam’s announcement effectively adds 16 days to the current regular session, which is scheduled to end February 11. The proclamation comes after Republicans blocked a move to extend the 30-day regular session, hoping to limit their losses in a Democrat-controlled legislature.

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Two Bills Seeking Increased Transparency From State Parole Board Pass Virginia Senate

The Virginia state Senate on Monday passed two bills relating to the Virginia Parole Board that aim to bring more transparency to individual votes and give warnings to victims of crimes or their families when a decision to release an offender has been made.

Senate Bill 1125, introduced by Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), specifically requires the board to notify a victim of a crime through either written or electronic means that a decision has been made to grant parole to the inmate who committed the related offense.

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Virginia Senate Strips Amanda Chase of Final Committee Assignment

The Virginia state Senate on Wednesday voted to update the body’s standing committees for 2021 and simultaneously stripped GOP gubernatorial candidate Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) of her lone committee assignment from the previous year, resulting in a lengthy debate that highlighted the disconnect between the lawmaker and her colleagues.

The standing committee’s membership was updated at the request of Republicans in order to fill the vacancies left by the late Sen. Ben Chafin, who passed away from COVID-19 complications on New Year’s Day, according to Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax).

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Legislation Abolishing Death Penalty Advanced by Virginia Senate Committee

Legislation to abolish the death penalty in the Commonwealth of Virginia was advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday morning.

Introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), Senate Bill 1165 was reported out of the committee by a vote of 10-4, mostly along party lines with Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County), chief co-patron on the measure, the only Republican who voted in support.

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The Virginia Star Person of the Year 2020: Scott Surovell

Most Virginians have not heard of State Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax). They should. He runs Virginia’s government.  

For the first time in 26 years, Virginia’s government was in total Democrat control in 2020, including the executive offices, the judicial branch, and the General Assembly. 

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Virginia Senate Democrats’ Top Agendas for Upcoming Legislative Session

The Virginia General Assembly 2021 regular session is right around the corner on January 13 and the Democrats will again be calling all the shots for the legislature thanks to their majority in both the Senate and the House of Delegates.

This means that the agendas and priorities of Democrats in the Senate – as well as their counterparts in the House – have quite a good chance of passing through each chamber if broadly supported. Yet, what exactly are Senate Democrats focusing on?

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Holding a Phone While Driving Will be Illegal in Virginia Come January

Virginia drivers who like to use their phone while behind the wheel will need to break that dangerous habit once the new year begins or be ready to cough up money.

Thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly last spring, starting January 1st it will be illegal to hold a phone while driving in the Commonwealth.

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Virginia State Senator Sues Democratic Leaders Over Public Access to Office Building

Republican Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) is suing Democratic legislative leaders over plans to restrict the public’s access to the Pocahontas Building during the upcoming regular session due to a rise in COVID-19 numbers.

On Tuesday, DeSteph filed a complaint in Richmond Circuit Court against Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County), Senate Rules Committee Chair Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), both the clerk of the House and the Senate as well as the Virginia Division of Capitol Police.

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Democrat State Senator Morrissey Faces Charges in Virginia for 2019 Polling Place Violation

State Senator Joe Morrisey (D-Richmond) was charged last week for campaigning at a Richmond polling place in on Election Day in November 2019. According to a Morrissey press release, he faces three alleged misdemeanor violations of a Virginia statute that prohibits loitering within 40 feet of a polling place entrance, attempting to influence any person’s vote within 40 feet of the polling place, and to hinder voters from leaving or entering the polling place.

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Top High School in U.S. Releases New Admissions Plan Based on ‘Racial Equity’ Lottery Instead of Academic Merit

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) released a new admissions plan for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology largely based on lottery rather than academic merit. The new plan proposed by FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand omits the current standardized testing requirements.
FCPS says it will admit 100 students based on high evaluations. The high school would select the remaining 400 at random through something they call a “merit lottery.”

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Bill to Allow Law Enforcement Civilian Review Boards Passes Virginia State Senate

The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation that allows localities to establish law enforcement civilian review boards with outlined oversight duties. 

Sponsored by Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield County), the bill passed by a vote of 20-Y 15-N along party lines of the present senators. 

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Democratic State Senator Scott Surovell of Virginia Discusses Top Priorities During Special Session, Complacent on Northam Emergency Powers

Tuesday morning on The John Fredericks Show, host Fredericks welcomed Virginia Democratic state Senator Scott Surovell to discuss special session priorities and the emergency powers of Governor Northam.

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