Our Priority Issues/Bills for 2022 General Assembly
Virginia NOW advocates for issues and legislation furthering justice and equality, especially on measures impacting women and girls: this includes voting rights, criminal justice reforms, economic justice advances, educational equity, and women’s health and safety, including abortion rights and gun safety. We support the two constituional amendments: marriage equality and restoring the right to vote.
Protect Voting Rights
Voting was made more accessible in the past session. We oppose bills that would reverse that progress and support steps that remove obstacles to voting. We oppose : HB24 Wendell Walker Voter identification; identification containing a photograph required. hb34 Ronnie Campbell Absentee voting; return of absentee ballots; drop-off locations. Repeals the provisions of law providing for the establishment of drop-off locations for the return of absentee ballots. Hb35 Ronnie Campbell Absentee voting; excuse required to vote absentee by mail; excuse required to vote absentee in person prior to the second Saturday preceding an election. Hb39 Philip Scott Absentee voting in person; available beginning on the fourteenth day prior to election; hours of operation. Limits absentee voting in person to the two weeks immediately preceding an election. Hb46 Lee Ware Elections; voter identification containing a photograph required; permanent absentee voter list repealed. Hb121 Philip Scott Elections; voter identification containing photograph required; who may register up to and including the day of the election; availability of absentee voting in person; return of absentee ballots. Requires presentation of a form of identification containing a photograph in order to vote and provides that a voter who does not have one of the required forms of identification is entitled to cast a provisional ballot. The bill repeals a provision that would permit any person who is qualified to register to vote to do so in person up to and including the day of the election and limits the persons who are entitled to register to vote after the close of registration records to members of a uniformed service of the United States on active duty, persons who are residing temporarily outside of the United States, and their spouses and dependents. The bill limits the period during which absentee voting in person is available from 45 days to the 10 days immediately preceding the date of the election, including both Saturdays. The bill requires that absentee ballots returned by mail be returned to the office of the general registrar by the close of polls on election day and be postmarked on or before the Saturday preceding the date of the election. The bill eliminates the use of drop-off locations for the return of absentee ballots. The bill requires absentee ballot applications to contain the last four digits of the applicant's social security number and provides that the failure of an absentee ballot to include a witness signature is a material omission, rendering the ballot void.
Criminal Justice Reforms
School Resource Officers (SRO) – . We support discontinuing SROs in the interests of dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. Our special concern is the harm that the pipeline causes to girls and young women.
Elimination of Mandatory Minimum Sentences; modification of sentence to mandatory minimum term of confinement for felony offenses. SB104, Senator Joseph Morrissey Originally touted as a tool to deter serious crime and eliminate sentencing disparities, mandatory minimum sentences have had no measurable impact on deterrence and have coincided with the mass incarceration of African American citizens. Except for aggravated murder of a law-enforcement officer, this bill eliminates all mandatory minimum sentences of confinement from the Code of Virginia. The bill directs the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to establish a work group to evaluate the feasibility of resentencing persons previously convicted of a felony offense that was punishable by a mandatory minimum term of confinement and to report its findings by November 1, 2022.
Paid family and medical leave program. SB1, Senator Jennifer Boysko. Requires the Virginia Employment Commission to establish and administer a paid family and medical leave program with benefits beginning January 1, 2025. Under the program, benefits are paid to eligible employees for family and medical leave. Funding for the program is provided through premiums assessed to employers and employees beginning in 2024. The amount of a benefit is 80 percent of the employee's average weekly wage, not to exceed 80 percent of the state weekly wage, which amount is required to be adjusted annually to reflect changes in the statewide average weekly wage. The measure caps the duration of paid leave at 12 weeks in any application year. The bill provides self-employed individuals the option of participating in the program.
Insurance; paid family leave. SB15, Senator Barbara Favola. Establishes paid family leave as a class of insurance. The bill defines "paid family leave insurance" as an insurance policy issued to an employer related to a benefit program provided to an employee to pay for the employee's income loss due to (i) the birth of a child or adoption of a child by the employee; (ii) placement of a child with the employee for foster care; (iii) care of a family member of the employee who has a serious health condition; or (iv) circumstances arising out of the fact that the employee's family member is on covered active duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States. Under the bill, paid family leave coverage may be written as an amendment to a group disability income policy, included in a group disability income policy, or written as a separate group policy purchased by an employer.
Fully Fund Our Public K-12 Schools: Support SB157; SB490; HB1135; SB481 – Lawmakers will have more than $10 billion dollars in general funds available to finally move Virginia out of the bottom tier for state pre-K-12 funding. We support codifying and fully funding the current Virginia Standards of Quality and removing the arbitrary “cap” on school support personnel currently in the Virginia budget. We oppose cuts or redirection of K-12 public school funding and initiatives shown to hurt student outcomes.
Charter Schools We oppose Sb608 Suetterlein, sb 635 Amanda Chase, hb355 Glenn Davis, all of which would enable the State Board of Education to take over charter schools. Primary control for launching charter schools should continue to be a local function.
Women’s Health and Safety
Reproductive Health and Rights - We support the Reproductive Health Protection Act and oppose all attempts to undermine access to abortion in Virginia, including
HB983, which would reinstate the targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP), which have been proven to be medically unnecessary and designed to limit access and shut down health clinics.
HB212, which would require someone seeking an abortion to receive biased counseling 24-hours before having an abortion. Attempts like this are meant to create an additional burden on health centers providing abortion care and to stigmatize that care. It has nothing to do with health or safety.
HB304, which seeks to shame and criminalize clinicians who perform abortions. All of these bills seek to limit access to abortion, shame people seeking abortion, and insert politicians into decisions that should be between a person and their medical provider.
Guns Violence of Particular Concern to Women -Firearms in the home put women at risk of death. We oppose bb1051 (Phillip Scott) Protective orders; possession of firearms. This bill would allow a person subject to a protective order to continue to possess any firearm while in his place of residence that was possessed by such person at the time of service, provided that he is not otherwise prohibited by law from possessing a firearm. The bill removes the requirement that any person subject to a protective order must surrender his firearms within 24 hours of being served with a protective order.
Marriage Equality - jh57, hb605 (Delegate Mark Sickles), sj5, sb557 (Senator Adam Ebbin)
Both the House and Senate passed a resolution for a Constitutional Amendment repealing the Marshall-Newman Amendment and replacing it with an affirmative right that all marriages be treated equally. Marshall-Newman was struck down by the US Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 but remains on the books. These amendments must pass again in the 2022 General Assembly session, then will go to the voters in November 2022. jh57, hb605 (Delegate Mark Sickles), sj5, sb557 (Senator Adam Ebbin).
Automatic Restoration of Voting Rights - SJ1 (Senator Locke), HJ9, (Delegate Mike Cherry) Constitutional Amendment for automatic restoration of voting rights
Constitutional amendment (second reference); qualifications of voters and the right to vote; persons not entitled to vote. Provides that every person who meets the qualifications of voters set forth in the Constitution shall have the fundamental right to vote in the Commonwealth and that such right shall not be abridged by law, except for persons who have been convicted of a felony and persons who have been adjudicated to lack the capacity to understand the act of voting. A person who has been convicted of a felony shall not be entitled to vote during any period of incarceration for such felony conviction, but upon release from incarceration for that felony conviction and without further action required of him such person shall be invested with all political rights, including the right to vote. Currently, in order to be qualified to vote a person convicted of a felony must have his civil rights restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority. The amendment also provides that a person adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction as lacking the capacity to understand the act of voting shall not be entitled to vote during this period of incapacity until his capacity has been reestablished as prescribed by law. Currently, the Constitution provides that a person who has been adjudicated to be mentally incompetent is not qualified to vote until his competency is reestablished.
Currently, people who have served time for felony convictions are not guaranteed the right to vote under Virginia's constitution, meaning that over 250,000 Virginians are barred from the ballot box as an additional punishment to being incarcerated. Lawmakers in 1902 purposefully and consciously banned anyone convicted of a felony from voting to suppress the Black vote, knowing that Black people were – and would continue to be – disproportionately criminalized. People who have served their sentences and paid taxes deserve a chance to vote for those who represent them. Broadening the electorate to as many people as possible is a huge step toward eliminating the vestiges of Jim Crow that remain in the Virginia constitution.