This column was submitted by Del. Paul Krizek (D-44).
The 2020 General Assembly session is fast approaching, and my team and I are busy preparing. The 2020 session will be a “long session,” running 60 days, from January 8 to March 7, where Governor Ralph Northam’s budget will be considered in addition to the thousands of bills that Virginia legislators will introduce.
My 2020 legislative agenda aims to make voting easier, our roads safer, our Commonwealth’s environment cleaner and healthier, and ensure that our government works better for all of us. I will continue to push for better worker protections and benefits, pay increases for teachers, and to adequately fund education (early childhood through higher education).
My first two bills introduced for this session are HB 15 and HB 16, which would require seat belts on school buses and require all passengers to use a seat belt in motor vehicles, respectively. I have endeavored to pass these two pieces of legislation every year I have been elected, and I believe that we can finally get them passed into law in 2020. HB 15 requires new buses purchased by school systems to include seat belts when they replace their current fleet, and for seat belts to be included in all school buses in the Commonwealth by July 1, 2038.
According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, there were 54 fatalities of school-age children between 2006-2015. Having seat belts or restraints in these buses statistically could have saved the lives of 27 young children. The number of children injured is even higher. While buses do a good job of protecting against front and rear impacts, their safety designs do not protect against side impacts or rollovers. Protecting our children on their way to and from school is a priority of mine.
There are still too many people who don’t wear their seat belts. Seat belts are the single most cost-effective traffic safety device in the event of an accident. Seat belts hold drivers and passengers in place, keeping them from being thrown forward into the steering wheel, windshield or being ejected from the vehicle. HB 16, courtesy of constituent Jonathan Tucker, a former West Potomac High School student, finally closes the backseat exemption and would require all passengers, regardless of age, in a motor vehicle to wear their seat belts.
Under current Virginia law, there is no requirement to use a seat belt in the backseat of a vehicle if you are over 18. This makes Virginia one of only ten states with backseat exemptions for anyone over 18. According to the DMV, more than half of the people who died in Virginia crashes were not using their seat belts. In 2016, 304 unrestrained drivers or passengers were killed. The year before that it was 310, and in 2014, there were 256. This problem is acute here in Virginia where nearly 16 percent of drivers do not use their seatbelts.
You may have heard about the legislation passed during the last session (finally passed by Delegate Price, I first introduced this bill in 2018) to remove the Jim Crow-era minimum wage exemptions for newsboys, shoe-shine boys, ushers, doormen, and others. However, wage inequality in the Code of Virginia does not stop along racial lines, as workers with disabilities are also subject to these discriminatory subminimum wage standards. I am introducing a bill this year to eliminate the minimum wage exemption for disabled workers. This will include a 4-year phase-in period that will allow employers to adjust accordingly, which is similar to the timeframe other states have used when passing similar legislation.
It is my hope this year that we will eliminate many of the barriers to voting in Virginia in this next General Assembly session, including instituting automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and no-excuse in-person absentee voting.
I strongly believe that voting should be made easier across the board, and that includes ensuring that it is free of charge to cast your ballot, however you decide to vote. Obtaining postage to return a mail-in ballot can be a barrier to voting for the homebound, elderly, those with limited access to transportation, and even to college students. I am introducing a bill this year to require that all absentee mail-in ballots include prepaid postage on the return envelopes. Sixteen other states currently provide voters prepaid return postage for mailed-in ballots.
As we head into session, I welcome your questions and feedback. Stay tuned, as over the next few weeks, I will publish more information about legislation that I plan to introduce. Please stay in touch by sending me an email at DelPKrizek@House.Virginia.Gov. Also, please come visit me during session in Richmond. It is an honor to serve as your Delegate.