This column was submitted by Del. Paul Krizek (D-44), and does not necessarily represent the views of Covering The Corridor.
This week marks the end of the 2019 General Assembly session. It has been a long but rewarding six weeks.
I am proud to say, this Monday, the Governor signed the first of my bills HB 1937, into law. This bill will allow localities the option to exempt disability income from being counted towards eligibility for Property Tax Relief. This was an idea brought to me by a constituent and I am thrilled to see its passage as it will help countless individuals in the Commonwealth and in the 44th District. I am optimistic six more of my bills will be signed into law by the Governor.
It is difficult to provide a comprehensive overview of the entire legislative session as there were about a thousand bills introduced. However, throughout the session, some key issues emerged which I will highlight below.
On Thursday, the Virginia Democratic House Caucus proposed a rule change in order to bring the Equal Rights Amendment back to the House floor for a vote. All 49 members of the House Democratic Caucus and one Republican voted in favor and 50 Republicans voted against. Thus, a final chance to vote on the ERA was blocked. While 81 percent of Virginians support ratifying the ERA, Republican legislators continue to ignore these voices in efforts to push their own agenda over the will of the people. Next year with a Democratic majority we will pass the ERA.
Redistricting continues to be a top priority. This year, redistricting was discussed and debated more than previous sessions due to the pressing need for a constitutional amendment. For a new redistricting procedure to occur prior to the 2021 redistricting process, a constitutional amendment would have to pass the General Assembly this year. In order for an amendment to be engrossed within the Virginia constitution, it must pass the General Assembly twice and then be put on the ballot for voters to approve or reject.
The practice of gerrymandering allows representative to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives. This practice needs to stop and a non-partisan redistricting procedure needs to be enacted. The best redistricting proposal remaining is the original version of Sen. George Barker’s SJ 306.
Currently, his amendment has been conformed to Del. Mark Cole’s proposal which gives far too much power to the legislature. I have been assigned as a house conferee to Cole’s HJ 615 and remain hopeful that my colleagues and I can work together, in conference, to come up with a fair redistricting constitutional amendment.
Sadly, the Code of Virginia still contains references to Jim Crow era language. It is long past time for this discriminatory and racist language to be removed. SB 1079, which removes this type of language from the section of the code relating to the minimum wage, finally passed. Last year, I introduced this same bill, HB 1259, and was excited to see it pass this year. Removing this language is a small step in beginning to move forward from Virginia’s history of racism and discrimination.
Lastly, it is essential to analyze environmental legislation. I will continue to support policies that protect our environment and work to mitigate climate change. Thankfully, the effort to address coal ash was a bipartisan success this year, with much thanks to the leadership of Sen. Scott Surovell. He introduced SB 1355, which requires Dominion to extensively clean up their coal-ash ponds.
This session, House Democrats introduced bills concerning campaign finance, voting rights, gun violence prevention, and criminal justice reform. Almost, uniformly, bills concerning these topics were voted down on party lines, mostly in subcommittees. These initiatives would have created a more safe, fair, and just Commonwealth.