Their party may be at a disadvantage in the House of Delegates, given the new Republican majority, but local Democratic legislators still hope to accomplish much in the General Assembly session that kicks off Jan. 12.
State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax-Vienna) has filed a bill to increase the minimum standard deduction, which would give a tax break to all Virginians, but especially those in lower tax brackets.
“It would conform the Virginia tax system to the federal tax system, whereby the first $25,000 of income would be not taxable,” he said.
Some of Petersen’s bills will be repeats from previous sessions. One campaign-finance bill would limit individual contributions and prohibit ones by public utilities, such as Dominion Energy.
Petersen also will submit legislation to reduce drug prices in Virginia and prevent drug companies from overcharging the market for Medicaid recipients.
In response to legislation passed last year that will shift non-partisan municipal elections from May to the November general election starting in 2022, Petersen will file a bill to allow Vienna to hold May elections again.
Petersen also will submit legislation that would try to normalize the student experience in schools’ by stipulating that school systems cite empirical data on restrictions, such as masks, required of students.
“It’s hard to believe that they’ve been requiring masks for almost a year and they haven’t done a single study as to whether or not it’s effective vis-a-vis other states or other jurisdictions that don’t require masks,” he said.
The split General Assembly, with Democrats holding a slim majority in the state Senate and Republicans a slight majority in the House of Delegates, will mean that neither party will be able to act unimpeded, Petersen said.
“People are going to have to work together,” he said.
State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington-McLean) would like to improve access to affordable health care, enhance tele-health possibilities and advocate for more health-insurance navigators to help Virginians find the health-care plans that best fit their needs. She also hopes to address the ongoing shortages of nurses and mental-health professionals.
Favola also will advocate for enhanced building-efficiency standards, solar-ready roofing and requirements for third-party campaign-finance disclosures.
Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-Great Falls-McLean) said her expectations changed after the GOP won back the majority in the House of Delegates in the November election.
While she will continue to advocate for gun-safety measures, voting-rights protections, transportation initiatives and having children return to school and continue their education, “my approach will have to be more measured,” Murphy said.
Murphy will patron bills that support expansion of broadband Internet, provide tax credits to businesses that hire recent university and community-college graduates for cyber-security jobs, and strengthen anti-hazing laws to prevent injuries and deaths.
Murphy said she had spoken with Gov.-elect Youngkin – “He was gracious and it was a cordial conversation” – and she predicted he would try to make good on some of his campaign promises, including strong support for charter schools.
Murphy said she had been told it is “very likely” that delegates will have to run for re-election again in 2022 because of the recently approved redistricting, and then seek office again in 2023.
“Unfortunately, this will be expensive and time-consuming,” she said. “Many of the newly drawn General Assembly districts have put two delegates or senators in the same district. I am not sure at this point how all of this will be resolved, but it certainly presents us with some problems.”
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-McLean-Arlington) still is determining which bills to introduce for the next session.
“I expect to be active, as I always have, in the environmental/clean-energy space, and my most particular area of focus will be on protecting the progress we’ve made over the last two years,” he said.
Sullivan worried the new GOP House majority would try to roll back or repeal some recently passed firearm-safety measures, including the “red-flag” law he had championed, which allows law enforcement to seize guns from people deemed to be substantial risks to themselves or others in the near future.
“The red-flag law is working and saving lives all around the commonwealth,” he said. “It is important that it continues to be available so that people who are a danger to themselves or others do not have access to a gun.”
Sullivan said he would continue to work to electrify Virginia’s transportation system and encourage more people to switch to electric vehicles.
“I am an optimist and hope for a successful session,” he said. “Virginians expect that from us. I have always tried to work across party lines when I can, and that will not change with the change in control.”