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Four dead GA bills: Eliminated divorce period, sexual harassment education, wrongful death and shorter absentee vote period

Lawmakers introduce thousands of bills each year during the Virginia General Assembly. Here are a few of the bills that failed to advance so far this session.

Capital News Service

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By Anna Chen

Elected officials serving in the Virginia General Assembly have a short amount of time to potentially discuss thousands of proposed measures that are either defeated or signed into law.

Over 1,900 bills were introduced this session, in addition to joint resolutions and legislation carried over from last year. So far, over 100 bills have failed to advance in the House and over 300 in the Senate. There are over 1,000 bills pending in the House and over 500 in the Senate, with the session midpoint approaching.

Here are a few of the bills that failed to advance this session.

Senate Bill 1288: Petition for defendant to pay child support due to wrongful death of child’s guardian resulting from driving under the influence

The measure introduced by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, would allow the court to consider child support payment in an instance of wrongful death of a child’s parent or legal guardian that was caused by driving under the influence.

The legislation was passed by indefinitely with a 14-0 vote in the Senate Judiciary committee and is likely dead for the session.

Committee members felt the bill did not add additional value to the current scenarios in wrongful death civil cases.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, questioned the legislation because it is not “a policy solution to a specific problem.”

“It’s not clear to me why we would say ‘you pay child support if somebody dies by drunk driving instead of murder,’” Surovell said during the committee.

Senate Bill 880: In-person absentee voting period shortened to week prior to any elections

The measure, introduced by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, would shorten the in-person absentee voting period to seven days prior to the election. Currently, absentee voting in person begins 45 days before the election.

The bill would create a burden at high-volume localities, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said during the committee hearing.

“They would need hundreds of people [staff] to get those people not having to wait for hours and hours in line,” Ebbin said

The legislation was passed by indefinitely with a 10-4 vote in the Senate Privileges and Elections committee.

House Bill 1720: Eliminates one-year divorce waiting period due to cruelty, bodily hurt

Del. Nadarius Clark, D-Portsmouth, introduced a measure to eliminate the one-year period spouses wait to be pronounced divorced and legally separated. A separation or divorce would be granted before the one-year period in cases of spousal abuse such as cruelty, reasonable apprehension of bodily harm, abandonment or desertion, and more by either party. The bill would have applied to divorce filings on or after July 1.

A divorce is currently permitted if the parties lived apart without interruption for one year, or entered into a separation agreement and have no minor-aged children born or adopted, and lived apart without interruption for six months.

An anti-human trafficking advocate and victim of spousal abuse offered testimony on behalf of the bill.

“Right now, this does not solve the problem that Del. Clarke wants to solve,” said Richard Garriott, with the Virginia Family Law Coalition, in opposition to the bill. “We have a solution for that, it is called an emergency and permanent protective order.”

The House of Delegates Courts of Justice subcommittee defeated the bill with a 5-3 vote.

House Bill 2003: Enforcement of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination training and education

Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill to require employers with 50 or more employees to provide annual interactive sexual harassment and workplace discrimination training and education. Employees in a supervisory role would be required to complete at least two hours of training. Other employees would be required to complete one hour.

A provision in the bill called for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers to have the one-hour training, to start Jan. 1, 2024.

Employees would receive a certificate of completion.

A House Commerce and Energy subcommittee recommended the bill not advance, with a 5-3 vote. Still to come

There will be plenty of other failed bills this session. In fact, gridlock is to be expected when “voters put one party in charge of one chamber and the other party in charge of the other,” according to Stephen Farnsworth, director of the University of Mary Washington Center for Leadership and Media Studies and a political science professor.

“From guns to abortion to taxes to schools, Republicans and Democrats in Richmond demonstrate over and over again that there is little interest in compromise in these polarized times,” Farnsworth stated in an email.

The session is approaching the midpoint with “crossover day” on Feb. 7, which is when a bill must have passed its respective chamber in order to advance, or it will be left behind.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.