Historic measures include marijuana legalization, tuition-free community college, increased access to voting, and expansion of passenger rail –
Governor Ralph Northam highlighted new laws that take effect with the start of the new fiscal year in the Commonwealth. During one of the most consequential legislative sessions in modern Virginia history, Governor Northam worked with the General Assembly to advance policies that confront the biggest challenges facing Virginians, take steps to end racial disparities in Virginia, and help the Commonwealth recover from the impacts of the pandemic.
“I am proud of the transformational legislation we passed this year to continue building a stronger, fairer, more inclusive, and more resilient Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “As we set our sights on post-pandemic life, Virginia’s future has never been brighter. From taking historic steps to end systemic racism and address racial disparities in our criminal justice system to improving voting access, raising teacher pay, expanding passenger rail, and making higher education more accessible, these new laws will have a lasting impact and move all of Virginia forward.”
Key measures that go into effect on July 1 include:
- Criminal justice reforms that legalize the simple possession of marijuana and create the Cannabis Control Authority to establish an equitable cannabis marketplace, seal certain crimes from an individual’s record automatically, abolish the death penalty, limit the amount of active incarceration for technical violations of probation, and allow sentencing by a judge rather than a juryin certain criminal cases.
- Increasing access to the ballot box with the Voting Rights Act of Virginiaand measures that reduce barriers to absentee voting and allow localities to provide access to early voting on Sundays.
- Prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion at state agencies, within emergency managementand disaster responseefforts, and by modernizing the funding mechanism for local health departments. A new law also prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and housing on the basis of a person’s military status.
- Supporting teachers and students by giving educators a five percent pay raise, increasing the number of school counselors, providing cultural competency training for teachers, giving middle and high school students one day of absence per school year to participate in civic or political engagement activities, and prohibiting schools from filing a lawsuit against students or their families because the student cannot pay for a school meal or owes a school meal debt.
- Strengthening worker protections including the Virginia Overtime Wage Act, paid sick leavefor home health workers, and prohibiting employers from taking retaliatory actions against employees who utilize leave. New measures also ensure that domestic workers are covered by employee protections, fair pay laws, and the Virginia Human Rights Act. Virginia is also expanding eligibility for workers’ compensation to first responders who contracted COVID-19 on the job.
- Accelerating Virginia’s renewable energy transition by establishing the Commonwealth Clean Energy Policy and requiring car manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of electric or hybrid electric passenger cars.
- Transforming passenger rail by creating the New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority to support the expansion of passenger rail west of Roanoke.
- Advancing the rights and representation of LGBTQ+ Virginians by creating the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board, striking the discriminatory LGBTQ+ “panic defense,” ensuring equal access to aging services for LGBTQ+ older adults, making adoption easier for unmarried LGBTQ+ couples, and modernizing outdated criminal laws related to people living with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
- Making higher education accessible to all Virginians with the G3 program, which provides tuition-free community college to low- and middle-income students who pursue degrees in high-demand fields. Other measures ban public institutions of higher education from asking about an individuals’ criminal record during the application process, prohibit colleges and universities from denying admission solely based on criminal history, and establish a program to provide scholarships to families of enslaved individualswho labored at Virginia colleges.
- Commonsense gun violence prevention measures that prohibit individuals convicted of domestic assaultfrom owning, purchasing, or carrying firearms for a three-year period and ban guns and explosive materialsfrom Capitol Square and state government buildings.
- Protecting women’s health by increasing access to contraceptionfor Medicaid members and removing the prohibition on abortion coveragewithin the state health insurance exchange.
- Submitted by Alena Yarmosky, Office of the Governor