By Chip Lauterbach
Virginia lawmakers passed over 1,200 new laws in two months, a variety of them in the final days of the 2020 session, which expanded into Sunday evening to accommodate the backlog of legislation.
This session has been the first time since 1994 that the Democrats have controlled both chambers of the General Assembly along with the governor’s office. The House passed 746 of 1,732 bills introduced, while the Senate passed 543 of 1,096 bills introduced, excluding resolutions, according to the Legislative Information System. The number of bills sponsored in the House led to long sessions in both chambers and left the Senate grappling with an approaching deadline.
In eight weeks, starting with a vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, Democrats worked to overturn close to 30 years of Republican dominance over issues such as gun control, reproductive rights and voter rights.
They also passed new measures such as empowering localities with the authority to remove or contextualize war memorials and adding LGBTQ protections from discrimination in housing and employment, as well as a ban on conversion therapy for minors, becoming the first Southern state to pass such legisation.
Seven out of eight major gun control measures supported by Gov. Ralph Northam are on the way to the governor’s desk for his signature. The legislation includes bills that limit handgun purchases to one per month, a background check on all firearms sales, and extreme risk protection orders, also known as the red flag law.
Other legislation that passed in the home stretch included decriminalization of marijuana, but efforts to legalize marijuana were squashed to the dismay of advocates. The decriminalization bill does away with the criminal penalty for simple marijuana possession, instead instating a $25 civil penalty for a person caught with not more than 1 ounce of marijuana. The Senate amended the bill from the original amount of not more than a half-ounce.
“For far too long our approach to cannabis has needlessly saddled Virginians, especially African Americans and people of color, with criminal records,” Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. “Those days are over.”
Herring, who pushed for the legislation, said there were 29,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2018. He also said decriminalization is an important first step toward legal, regulated adult use.
Lawmakers reached a compromise to increase the minimum wage, with a bill that gradually increases the wage to $9.50 in 2021, $11 in 2022 and up to $12 in 2023. Following these raises, the measure is to be brought before the General Assembly for a future vote that must pass by 2024 in order to guarantee that the wage can reach $15 by 2026.
Democrats also pushed through an amended bill that allows access to collective bargaining for public employees — such as teachers and firefighters — in localities where local governments choose to participate. Sens. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, and Amanda Chase R-Chesterfield, criticized these policies, which they said create hurdles for enterprises.
“We’ve just crushed the small business atmosphere,” DeSteph said in a video posted on Facebook. “CNBC had us as the No. 1 place to do business. We’re going to be in the 20s after this. It’s a very sad day for the commonwealth.”
Freshman Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Richmond, who defeated one-term incumbent Glen Sturtevant in November, reflected back on her first session.
“It’s been incredible, I have immersed myself in all the issues and critical pieces of legislation that we have had,” Hashmi said. “We have been able to pass some very important bills this year, for immigrant rights and for education, focusing on teachers and higher education, I’ve really enjoyed the work and am looking forward to coming back next year.”
In the House, Democrats held 55 seats to the Republican’s 45 seats. Democrats ushered changes that Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, felt will be instrumental in improving the lives of Virginians.
“With the partisan change in both chambers, the question coming down here was: ‘What kind of majority are we going to be?’” Carter said. “Whether we were going to be the type of majority that stood unequivocally for working people, against corporate interests and decided to make lives better for the people that desperately needed it, or if we were going to be a majority that was content to merely not be as bad as the Republicans.”
Carter said that he was happiest with the outcome of his bill that capped the price of insulin at $50 for a month’s worth.
“I introduced the bill with the cap at $30, the Senate put it at $50,” Carter said. “I’m hoping that the governor will put it back down to $30 or even lower, so we can get some relief to those people who have health insurance but their deductibles and copays are too high for them to be able to afford their insulin products.”
Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, looked back on her third session in the General Assembly with pride, joking that she was able to pass 13 bills for the 13th District. Roem was pleased that her bill, HB 1024, which would establish a statewide cold case database, passed the Senate on the final day of this year’s session.
“This will allow reporters, as well the public in general, to look up every missing persons case, unidentified persons case, and every unsolved homicide in the state that is at least five years old,” Roem said. “This is a huge win for government accountability and transparency”
Some legislation that moved through the House met resistance in the Democrat-majority Senate, where moderate Democrats sided with Republicans. Three moderate Democrats tipped a Senate panel vote to continue HB 961 until the next session, the assault weapons ban sponsored by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria.
On Saturday, citing concerns of minority profiling, Senate Democrats helped vote down HB 1439, which would have made not wearing a seatbelt in any seat of the vehicle a primary offense.
Some Republicans also advanced legislative reform. Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, passed a measure that will remove the suspension of a driver’s license for nonpayment of fines. Stanley also supported a bill granting tenants the power to make repairs on their property and deduct the costs from their rent, with conditions.
Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn issued a statement saying that Democrats were celebrating a “historic, legislative session.”
“This General Assembly session has been historic in the extraordinary progress the House of Delegates has made for Virginians in every corner of the Commonwealth,” Filler-Corn said. “In November, voters called for swift, impactful action to make their communities safer and more prosperous. We have delivered on that mandate.”
Multiple House and Senate Republicans did not respond to a request for comment.
Lawmakers will return later in the week to tackle the state budget.
Must-See RVA! — Cokesbury Building
A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.
- 415 East Grace Street
- Built, 1921
- Architects, Carneal & Johnston
Once there was this trendy little bookstore in the heart of the downtown shopping district.
This building was built for the Methodist Publishing House and designed by Garnett & Johnston. Its design clearly is related to the Mosby Store at the corner of Jefferson and Broad Streets, by Starrett & Van Vleck.
That design was, in turn, related to McKim, Mead & White’s Gorham Building in New York, a modernized version of an Italianate palazzo with an arcade at the base of the building and a heavy projecting cornice at the roof.
This design was felt to be a particularly successful blending of traditional and modern features, most appropriate for a modern shop.
The Cokesbury Building is designed carefully and well detailed. The first floor arcade was glazed fully, but is now closed partially.
The interior vaulted ceilings have been removed, but the building is otherwise well preserved. The reason for the popularity of this building type is seen easily. It is simple, dignified and impressive. [ADR]
The Cokesbury Building, with the Cokesbury Bookstore on the first floor, was an outgrowth of the Methodist Episcopal Book Concern. Created in 1789, this organization was established to religious materials for the Methodist church. It would eventually expand to include books and religious supplies and rebranded as the Cokesbury Press in 1925. By 2012, there would be 57 Cokesbury Book Stores nationwide, one of which used to be on Grace Street.
But in that same year, Cokesbury announced the closure of their brick-and-mortar stores, and today they’re online only. The Grace Street location had long been abandoned by that point, having relocated to Tuckernuck Square shopping center in 1992. A loss, really. They were more than just religious books and often had unusual or hard to find titles, back in the days before Amazon.
Today, it’s the Cokesbury Building Apartments.
(Cokesbury Building is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)
- [ADR] Architecture in Downtown Richmond. Robert Winthrop. 1982.
Must-See RVA! is a regular series
appearing on rocket werks – check it out!
Suspects Sought in Credit Card Fraud
Richmond Police detectives need the public’s help to identify the individuals in the attached photo, who are suspected of using a stolen credit to make fraudulent purchases last week.
On Monday, March 30, the victim was notified that their card had been used at the Farm Fresh located in the 2300 block of East Main Street. Surveillance footage shows two females buying food and cigarettes worth over $400 with the victim’s card. They were last seen leaving the store in a silver convertible with a black top. A photo of the vehicle is attached.
Detectives determined the card was also used at the McDonald’s located in the 1800 block of East Broad Street.
Anyone with information about the identity of these suspects is asked to call First Precinct Detective J. Mitchell at (804) 646-0569 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 or at www.7801000.com. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones may also be used. All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.
Billy Jack’s Shack Closing for Good
Unfortunately, I’m sure this won’t be the last time we’ll be writing about a restaurant not being able to re-open.
Billy Jack’s Shack the local spin-off of the Westend’s Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint at 5810 Grove Ave. will not survive the economic downturn of COVID-19. According to this Richmond BizSense.com article on the closure, Jack Brown’s is doing alright for now considering the situation.
Owners Jason Owenby, Mike Sabin, and Aaron Ludwig made the announcement on Billy Jack’s Shack Facebook.
It is with heavy hearts that we make the unfortunate announcement that Billy Jack’s RVA will be closing down permanently. While our time here was brief, the relationships and memories we’ve made are eternal. We appreciate everything that y’all have done for us, especially those of you in the Bone Club. These are difficult times for everyone involved and if you would like to support some of our staff who are now facing employment uncertainty, please feel free to donate at the link below. We can not properly express how much this decision pains us and how bad we are going to miss everyone. Please message with any further questions and stay tuned to our Instagram page for some trips down memory lane