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Virginia government shifts with Democrats dominating Election Day

Virginia Democrats take control over the chambers, flipping both the Senate and the House of Delegates blue. The last time Virginia Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governorship was in the mid-1990s. This trifecta could make it easier for the party to pass its agenda.

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By Rodney Robinson

Democrats have taken control of the Virginia General Assembly, flipping both the Senate and House blue.

“Tonight, the ground has shifted in Virginia government,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a press release late Tuesday. “The voters have spoken, and they have elected landmark Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House of Delegates.”

Key House Victories

Democrats grabbed six additional seats, giving them a 55-45 lead in the House.

In House District 94, Democrat Shelly Simonds defeated Republican incumbent David Yancey in a rematch from 2017. Simonds garnered 58% of the votes for the district, while Yancey earned 40%, according to unofficial election results.

In House District 76, Democratic candidate Clint Jenkins defeated Republican incumbent Chris Jones. Jenkins tallied 56% of the vote, while Jones gathered 44%.

Democrat Martha Mugler won House District 91, an open seat previously held by Republican Gordon Helsel since 2011. Mugler garnered 55% of the vote in the district and Republican Colleen Holcomb won 45% of the vote.

In House District 40, Republican incumbent Tim Hugo lost to Democratic challenger Dan Helmer. Helmer accumulated 53% of the vote to Hugo’s 47%.

In House District 28, Democrat Joshua Cole defeated Republican Paul Milde in an open seat. Cole amassed 52% of the vote, while Milde won 48%.

Democrat Nancy Guy won House District 83, defeating Republican incumbent Chris Stolle. Guy garnered 49.95% percent of the vote, while Stolle earned 49.87%.

Key Senate Victories

In the Senate, Democrats gained two seats previously held by Republicans. They will now lead the chamber 21-19.

In Senate District 13, Democratic candidate John Bell defeated Republican candidate Geary Higgins. Bell garnered 55% of the vote in the district, while Higgins gathered 45%.

Democratic challenger Ghazala Hashmi defeated Republican incumbent Glen Sturtevant to flip Senate District 10. It was a tight race throughout, but Hashmi garnered 54% of the vote in the District.

Though the Democrats celebrated many wins, they fell short of flipping some competitive districts. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, fought off Democratic challenger Sheila Bynum-Coleman, despite redistricting which left House District 66 more Democratic. In a competitive race not called until well after midnight, Republican Siobhan Dunnavant maintained her seat in Senate District 12, in a tight race against Debra Rodman.

The last time Virginia Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governorship was in the mid-1990s. This trifecta could make it easier for the party to pass its agenda.

“Since I took office two years ago, we have made historic progress as a Commonwealth,” Northam said. “Tonight, Virginians made it clear they want us to continue building on that progress.”

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Senate advances bill allowing transgender people to change birth certificate

The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

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By Rodney Robinson

The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

Senate Bill 657 would allow a person to receive a new birth certificate to reflect a change of sex, without the requirement of surgery. The individual seeking a new birth certificate also may list a new name if they provide a certified copy of a court order of the name change.

“I just think it’s important to try to make life easier for people without being discriminated [against] or bullied,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. “Allowing an individual who is transgender to change their birth certificate without having to go through the full surgery allows them to live the life that they are due to have.”

The bill requires proof from a health care provider that the individual went through “clinically appropriate treatment for gender transition.” The assessment and treatment, according to Boysko’s office, is up to the medical provider. There is not a specific standard approach for an individual’s transition. Treatment could include any of the following: counseling, hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, or a patient-specific approach from the medical provider.

A similar process is required to obtain a passport after a change of sex, according to the State Department.

Once the paperwork is complete, it is submitted to the Virginia Department of Health vital records department, Boysko said.

Boysko said her constituents have reported issues when they need to show legal documents in situations like leasing apartments, opening a bank account or applying for jobs.

This is the third year that Boysko has introduced the bill. Neither bill made it out of subcommittee in previous years, but Boysko believes the bill has a better chance of becoming law this year.

“I believe that we have a more open and accepting General Assembly then we’ve had in the past, where people are more comfortable working with the LGBTQ community and have expressed more of an interest in addressing some of these long-overdue changes,” Boysko said.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the organization is “really pleased that this bill is moving through.”

“This bill is really important for the transgender community,” Lamneck said. “Right now many transgendered people do not have identity documents … this is really problematic when people apply for jobs or try to open a bank account.”

There are 22 other states in America that have adopted legislation similar to this, including the District of Columbia, Boysko said. The senator said that “it’s time for Virginia to move forward and be the 23rd state.”

The Senate also passed Tuesday Boysko’s bill requiring the Department of Education to develop policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools, along with bill outlawing conversion therapy with any person under 18 years of age.

The bills now advance to the House, where they must pass before heading to the governor’s desk.

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Bill to strike Lee-Jackson Day, make Election Day state holiday advances in General Assembly

Virginia lawmakers have advanced Senate bills that make voting easier, including not requiring an excuse to vote absentee and recognizing Election Day as a state holiday.

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By Zach Armstrong

Virginia lawmakers have advanced Senate bills that make voting easier, including not requiring an excuse to vote absentee and recognizing Election Day as a state holiday. Other legislation that would extend citizen access to voting — part of the 11-point “Virginia 2020 plan” put forward by Gov. Northam — has yet to clear committees.

Senate Bill 601 designates Election Day as a state holiday to give more citizens the chance to cast their ballot. The bill also would strike from current law Lee-Jackson Day, which celebrates the birthdays of Confederate generals. The legislation, introduced by Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, passed the Senate Tuesday.

“Even on Election Day, people have to go to work, people have to handle childcare, people have to go to class and often it can be hard to make it to the polls,” said Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Herndon. “It just makes sense that those folks should be given the opportunity to come out and vote in a time window that works for them.”

A bill that removes the need for an excuse to cast an absentee ballot passed the Senate Monday. SB 111, introduced by Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, permits any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot in any election in which he is qualified to vote.

Several other bills that facilitate ease of absentee voting are SB 46, removing the requirement that a person applying for an absentee ballot provide a reason to receive the ballot; SB 455, extending the deadline when military and overseas absentee ballots can be received; SB 617, authorizing localities to create voter satellite offices to support absentee voting; and SB 859, making absentee voting easier for people who have been hospitalized.

Legislation in the House includes a bill that would also allow for no excuse absentee voting, automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration. In the Senate, a bill would pre-register teens 16 years old and older to vote and one bill in the House would reduce the period of time registration records must be closed before an election. All House bills are in an Elections subcommittee.

“Restrictive voting provisions almost always disproportionately affects people of color and low-income individuals because those are the groups that move more frequently, work multiple jobs and have less spare time,” said Jenny Glass, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

The House and Senate also introduced bills that would remove requirements that voters present a photo ID when voting. Under the legislation, voters can show voter registration documents, bank statements, paychecks or any government document that shows the name and address of the voter. Neither bill has made it past committee.

Virginians currently must present a photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a U.S. passport, to vote in person. According to a 2012 study by Project Vote, an organization that works to ensure all Americans can vote, approximately 7% of the U.S. population lacks photo ID. This is especially true of  lower-income individuals, those under the age of 20 and ethnic minorities.

Voters can provide their social security number and other information to get a free Virginia Voter Photo Identification Card, but some legislators said that service is unknown to many.

“Before the photo ID requirement voters had to sign the affidavit to say they are who they say they are, and I think that was enough,” said House Majority Leader Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. “I feel the photo ID was a way to suppress the vote because not everyone has one.”

Former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signed SB 1256 into law mandating voters have a form of ID with a photograph. Virginia is one of the 18 states with such voting requirements, according to the National Conference of Legislature.

In 2016, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ID requirement after attorneys for the state Democratic Party challenged the law, arguing it had a disproportionate impact on low income and minority voters.

“People are fed up with our overly restrictive and racist voting policies, and the legislature is finally getting rid of some of the biggest roadblocks to progressive reform,” said Glass. “This has been a long time coming.”

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Republican-backed gun bills fizzle on heels of massive rally

Democrats halted a slew of Republican-backed gun legislation — including bills that would not require concealed carry permits, allow firearms in places of worship, and allow state employees to bring concealed guns to work — during a firearms subcommittee meeting held Tuesday.

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By Hannah Eason

Democrats halted a slew of Republican-backed gun legislation Tuesday, including bills that would not require concealed carry permits, allow firearms in places of worship, and enable state employees to bring concealed guns to work.

One day after 22,000 gun rights advocates flooded the State Capitol in support of Second Amendment rights, 11 gun bills failed to advance out of a Democratic-majority legislative subcommittee.

House Bill 162 would have allowed those injured in established gun free zones to file a civil claim for damages. The bill states that if a locality or the commonwealth creates a gun free zone, it also waives its sovereign immunity in relation to injuries in that zone. Sovereign immunity protects government entities and employees against certain lawsuits.

Jason Nixon addressed the panel of delegates in support of the bill while wearing a Virginia Beach Strong T-shirt. His wife, Katherine Nixon, was killed in the May mass shooting in a Virginia Beach municipal building that left 12 dead and four injured.

“If you tell my wife that she has to go into gun free zones under city policies or state policies, and you can’t protect her, and you harbor her right of protecting herself, is that fair?” Nixon said.

Nixon said his wife expressed safety concerns the night before the shooting — and contemplated bringing a gun in her purse — but decided against it to comply with the law.

“This bill probably should be called the ‘put your money where your mouth is,’” Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, said. “If you are in a gun free zone, you should be able to hold the local government accountable for preventing you from doing anything in self defense.”

During a block vote of HB 162 and HB 1382, which supported similar measures, the bills were tabled in a 6-2 vote. Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, broke party lines to vote alongside Democrats.

HB 161, sponsored by McGuire, would have changed the law to not require a permit for a concealed handgun.

Louisa county resident Myria Rolan supported the bill, saying she had to obtain a concealed carry permits because winter clothing often covers her firearm.

“But the reason I needed it isn’t because I was going to do anything crazy. It’s because I wear a coat or sweatshirt,” Rolan said. “Do you know how easy it is for current clothing to cover your firearm, and now you’re committing a crime just because you are being fashionable or warm?”

Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, sponsored HB 596, which would repeal the law banning dangerous weapons in a place of worship. It was tabled in a 5-3 vote.

Steve Birnbaum, the head of a volunteer security team at his local synagogue, said he supports the bill.

Birnbaum said it took law enforcement 10 minutes to respond during the mass attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He said churches should have the option to protect themselves before officers arrive.

“There are some synagogues that don’t even want paid security, because they don’t like firearms, they don’t always want off-duty officers, they don’t want to pay for security, and that’s their choice,” Birnbaum said. “But there are synagogues that understand that law enforcement are not coming, and that they’re on their own for 10 minutes, if not longer, especially in rural parts of the state.”

One attendee said that church and state were separate, and legislators shouldn’t control whether people bring guns in churches. Current law allows armed security guards in places of worship.

The subcommittee tabled HB 596, HB 373 and HB 1486, all in a 5-3 vote. The bills would have allowed guns in places of worship.

HB 669, patroned by Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, would have allowed state employees with a valid concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun to their workplace.

Other bills tabled Tuesday include :

  • HB 1470 would have allowed a landowner with property in multiple localities to extend the firearm ordinance of the country where the largest parcel was located to anyone hunting on site.

  • HB 1471 would have given property owners the ability to use HB 1470 in their legal defense.

  • HB 1175 would have increased the penalty for use or display of a firearm while committing certain felonies. It would raise the mandatory minimum sentence for first offenses from three years to five years, and second and subsequent offenses from five years to 10 years.

  • HB 1485 said that no locality shall adopt or enforce any workplace rule preventing an employee from carrying a concealed handgun if the employee has a valid concealed handgun permit.

  • HB 976, patroned by Del. Matthew Fariss, R-Campbell, was not heard today and will be consulted by the subcommittee at a later date.

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