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Opinion – New laws took effect July 1

Thursday, July 1, legislation passed during the 2021 General Assembly session became law, with some exceptions. This session, the Democratic majority passed a significant number of progressive policies, continuing last year’s sweeping changes. Below is a snapshot of some of the legislation going into effect.

Elections: In the 2020 session, the majority focused on decreasing standards for voting, repealing the voter ID requirement and implementing same-day voter registration.

In the 2021 session, House Republicans proposed several common-sense election reform bills to increase transparency, security and public trust in elections. However, Democrats killed most of these bills and refused to acknowledge any possibility of election insecurity or public mistrust. Instead, they voted to make permanent the measures they said were only necessary for the duration of the pandemic, including drop boxes for ballots.

Notable Election Legislation: HB 2081 will ban any individuals other than law enforcement from possessing guns within 40 feet of polling places on Election Day. SB 1331, passed unanimously, allows voters with a visual impairment or print disability to vote outside a polling place via accessible absentee voting. HB 1888 requires the establishment of absentee ballot drop-off locations and central absentee voter precincts in each locality. HB 2125 allows for the voter preregistration of persons 16 and older.

Jobs and the Economy: In 2019 and under Republican leadership, Virginia was named the Best State for Business by CNBC, thanks to House Republicans’ efforts at lowering taxes, promoting a strong workforce and protecting a business-friendly climate. Since 2019, Democrats have passed numerous tax increases and anti-business laws that have sunk Virginia’s status as a great state for business.

In the 2021 session, Democrats pushed through a $135 billion budget proposal with a 20% increase in spending. To pay for this, they implemented 16 new tax increases, including taxes on businesses and corporations, which are estimated to cost the average taxpayer around $500 a year. They also granted local governments the ability to impose more than $500 million in new local taxes — costs that will be passed to citizens.

The gas tax had not been raised for more than 30 years, with Virginia formerly possessing one of the lowest gas taxes in the country. The tax is set to increase statewide by 10 cents over the next two years. Also, The cigarette tax doubled from 30 cents a pack to 60 cents a pack.

Notable Business Legislation: HB 1786 applies Virginia’s minimum wage requirements to farm laborers and employees. HB 2032 includes all employees providing domestic services in employee protection laws. HB 2063 requires an employer to compensate employees at least one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate for any hours over 40 worked, by threat of civil and criminal penalties. HB 2137 requires employers to provide paid sick-leave for home health workers.

Firearms: Democrats in the General Assembly pushed forward with their gun control agenda, passing legislation exceeding reasonable and effective limits and suppressing Second Amendment rights.

Republicans are committed to stopping gun violence and limiting weapons access to dangerous persons, but in a manner that both respects the Second Amendment and provides actual results. Instead of working towards evidence-driven solutions to gun violence, the majority passed firearms legislation as a political statement, banning firearms anywhere near the Capitol, even for individuals walking alone at night, and granting school boards the authority to ban firearms in non-educational areas.

Notable Gun Legislation: HB 1909 permits school boards to declare any non-school zone buildings or other school property where employees work as gun-free zones. SB 1381 makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to carry a firearm in the Capitol Building, within Capitol Square and the surrounding area and any state-owned building or building where state employees regularly work.

Protecting Life: The 2020 General Assembly saw the majority push to abandon “safe, legal and rare” abortions and roll back longstanding policies directed at ensuring informed and safe decisions about abortion. Kathy Tran’s 2019 bill allowing late-term abortions up to the moment of birth is a jarring example of how far Democrats are willing to take abortion.

This session, Democrats approved a bill allowing the state to fund abortion directly through state health insurance plans, repealing a longstanding ban against it.

Notable Abortion Legislation: SB 1276 repeals the ban on abortion coverage by state health insurance plans, allowing for state-funded abortion.

Public Safety: House Republicans have consistently backed bills to increase and maintain public safety. Governor George Allen’s abolition of parole increased community safety and lowered crime and recidivism rates. Since taking control of the General Assembly, Democrats have expanded access to parole, targeted minimum sentencing requirements and granted local prosecutors to dismiss any cases at whim.

Under Democratic control in 2020, Virginia’s homicide rate hit the highest levels in more than two decades, with localities large and small reporting increases. Instead of targeting crime reduction, Democrats focused on perceived racial injustice in sentencing and focused their efforts on ending important mandatory minimum sentences, abolishing the death penalty, increasing bail access for violent criminals.

Notable Public Safety Legislation: SB 1165 abolished the death penalty, including for mass murderers, terrorists and those who kill law enforcement officers. SB 1266 grants certain crimes — including assault, gang violence and sex/human trafficking — a presumption for receiving bail and requires a judicial officer to consider all relevant information before denying bail.

K-12 Education: Opening our public schools for a five-day option for parents and students has consistently been a top priority of House Republicans. Republicans have been pushing to reopen schools for in-person learning since the fall of 2020, yet Democrats insisted on kowtowing to teachers’ unions and remaining virtual until mounting political pressure forced their reopening.

This session, the assembly passed a bipartisan bill requiring all schools to offer full-time, in-person instruction. However, pressure from teachers’ unions caused Democrats to block the bill’s emergency clause, a provision proposed by Republicans that would have made the bill go into effect immediately. The version Democrats passed did not go into effect until now, July 1 — long after the school year is over. The Republican version with the emergency clause would have gone into effect February/early March, providing actual relief, and saving months of learning loss.

This past session and next, Republicans are committed to combating learning loss and the residual effects of pandemic isolation, including increased rates of depression and school dropouts.

Notable Education Legislation: HB 1904 requires all school teachers and officials to complete cultural competency training every two years, as directed by the Board of Education, or risk revocation of their teaching license. SB 1303 requires all school divisions to offer full-time, in-person instruction.

Energy: House Republicans have always been strong proponents of keeping energy prices low for residents and businesses. As public opinion has shifted to favor more sources of renewable energy, House Republicans have worked to promote market-based and realistic methods of diversifying Virginia energy, incorporating newer renewable sources without immediately cutting off reliable energy sources such as natural gas.

In 2020, House Democrats passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, one of the most radical pieces of energy legislation enacted in the United States. With the goal of reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2045, VCEA aims to eliminate the fossil fuel industry entirely and pushes this burden on taxpayers. In doing so, VCEA eliminated all oversight from the State Corporation Commission (SCC), a historic watchdog for upholding “just and reasonable” electricity rates. The SCC estimates that consumers’ electric bills will increase on average by $800 a year.

During Republican control of the General Assembly, Virginia had some of the lowest electricity rates nationwide. Rapid energy reform by House Democrats is causing customer bills to soar.

Notable Energy Legislation: HB 1965 directs the State Air Pollution Control Board to implement a low-emissions and zero-emissions vehicle program for motor vehicles starting in 2025. HB 1925 establishes the Virginia Brownfield and Coal Mine Renewable Energy Grant Fund and Program. HB 2001 mandates all state and local government buildings to add electric vehicle charging materials and to add tracking technology to monitor energy efficiency and carbon emissions. Local governments are given the authority to enact even stricter requirements.

SB 1265 makes it easier for the DEQ to conduct inspections and issue and stop work orders during gas pipeline construction.

As always, I am proud to represent our district as your delegate. If you ever have a request, comment or concern, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Del. C. Matthew Fariss represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov.