RICHMOND, Va. (WSET) — A politically divisive General Assembly has been making its way through hundreds of bills during the 2023 Legislative Session.
From abortion to transgender student rights to psychedelic mushrooms, debates have sprung up on a variety of topics in both the House and Senate.
ABC 13 is breaking down some of the topics and hotly-contested issues ahead of Session Adjournment on Saturday, February 25.
Following adjournment, Gov. Youngkin will be able to take action on legislation until April 12, when lawmakers will reconvene once again.
One of the most controversial topics debated, the future of abortion is still on the table front and center.
The year following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, most democrats are working to protect the right to choose while the majority of Republicans seek to limit abortion access. In Virginia, lawmakers are split down the aisle on the issue--each side ultimately balancing the other so that the state's laws appear to remain mostly unchanged this year.
In the weeks leading up to the February 25 adjournment, lawmakers have voiced their strongly-worded opinions or counter-points on what should happen.
After SJ 255--a bill that would make abortion a fundamental right through a proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution--passed the Senate on February 7, it headed to the House of Delegates.
It states in part that it, "Provides that every individual has the fundamental right to reproductive freedom."
Senator Steve Newman (R-23rd District), who was one of the 18 who voted against the bill, strongly opposed it and said it was dangerous.
"What we exposed on the floor of the Senate is this is a dangerous proposal because it actually allows for abortions to take place even up to and past your due date," Newman said.
But what the constitutional amendment actually says is another story, according to Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25th District), who was one of the 21 who voted for the bill.
"I want to be clear that Virginia Republicans are attempting to distract and play politics by pushing disinformation on this amendment. This is not a political issue, this is a human rights issue, and we have a duty to protect reproductive freedom," Deeds told ABC13.
Here's what the proposed constitutional amendment reads, as it was first introduced:
Constitutional amendment (first reference); fundamental right to reproductive freedom. Provides that every individual has the fundamental right to reproductive freedom and that the right to make and effectuate one's own decisions about all matters related to one's pregnancy cannot be denied, burdened, or otherwise infringed upon by the Commonwealth, unless justified by a compelling state interest and achieved by the least restrictive means. The amendment prohibits the Commonwealth from penalizing, prosecuting, or otherwise taking adverse action against an individual for exercising the individual's right to reproductive freedom or for aiding another individual in the exercise of such right, unless justified by a compelling state interest.
The bill was assigned to a House subcommittee on Feb.16 as it moves ahead in the legal process.
On Feb. 17, the subcommittee recommended "passing by indefinitely" the proposed amendment.
Other bills related in some way to abortion are also on the table.
HB 1395: This legislation failed to pass but proposed to declare that life begins at conception, granting the full rights of a person at conception. The bill also would have repealed all provisions of the Code of Virginia allowing for the performance of abortions.
HB 1488: This bill was left in a subcommittee but aimed to overturn Virginia laws that grant the use of public funds to any entity or any affiliate of any entity that provides abortion services or operates a facility at which abortion services are provided.
HB 1795: This bill seeks to amend Virginia code with legislation that in part requires any healthcare provider, in the case of an infant being born alive, to treat it with the same degree of care as if the infant was born in an ordinary way. The bill passed the House and then passed 9-6 in a Senate Committee on February 16.
SB 1865: This bill failed to pass in the Committee for Courts of Justice but proposed an amendment to Virginia law to, in part, give a civil penalty for an abortion based on the unborn child's disability, sex or ethnicity.
SB 2270: This bill passed the House (52-47) but will be reconsidered by the Senate (10-5) to, in part, amend Virginia law by requiring informed written consent of the abortion with a civil penalty as consequence for violation.
HB 2278: Failing to pass in the Courts of Justice committee in the House, this bill sought in part to change rules for the consent for abortion for minors.
HJR 594: On February 9 the House agreed to commend the Blue Ridge Pregnancy Center in Lynchburg.
SB 1080: This legislation seeks to in part amend Virginia law that in part deals with abortions for minors. The Senate will reconsider this legislation.
SB 1284: The Senate will reconsider this legislation, which proposes amending Virginia law regarding abortions, including legislation that says life begins at conception and anyone who performs an unlawful abortion is guilty of a Class 4 felony.
SB 1385: To be reconsidered by a Senate committee, this legislation proposed a 15-week gestational period with exceptions and a penalty when it was introduced.
SB 1483: Proposing that any licensed physical could perform an abortion in the second trimester, this legislation will be reconsidered by the Senate. The bill also proposes details about pregnancy viability related to abortion.
Another hot-button issue in the Capitol this session is transgender rights.
There are various measures aimed at this issue that have since been voted down.
One would require that athletes' participation be based on a student’s biological sex as indicated on paperwork from a physical by a medical practitioner.
That bill is HB 1387. It would impact public school student-athletes, both K-12 and collegiate.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R-85th District) passed the House on party lines in early February.
ABC 13 spoke to area Senator Mark Peake (R-22nd District), a member of that committee about the bill.
Republican senator Mark Peake, a member of that committee, said this is becoming a growing issue and conversation across the country, following situations like the University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.
"I do think that biological males should play on male teams and biological females should play on women's teams," Peake said.
On Thursday, the bill was voted down in the Senate Education and Health Committee.
Another bill voted down by the committee is a bill introduced by Del. Dave LaRock (R- 33rd District), HB 2432.
The bill would require parental notification if a child sought to identify by a gender other than their biological sex.
According to the Associated Press, the bill was named after a Virginia teenager whose adoptive mother, Michele Blair, said the teen was bullied and assaulted at school after they asked to be called by a boy’s name.
U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) are among those urging lawmakers to act this year to repeal a now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution, according to the Associated Press.
Amendment SJ 242, "Proposes the repeal of the constitutional amendment dealing with marriage that was approved by referendum at the November 2006 election."
In a bipartisan vote, the Senate passed a resolution on February 6 that would start that process. AP reports that a similar GOP-sponsored resolution in the House never received a hearing.
On Feb. 17, a House Rules Subcommittee voted to table the discussion on the amendment, effectively killing the repeal amendment for the current session.
Gun laws further deepened the shadow of partisan divide in the Virginia General Assembly when legislation limiting the use or transfer of firearms was shot down in November, left by the Committee on Public Safety.
Other legislation was voted down by Republicans, such as bills that would have added new restrictions on firearms, including a ban on assault-style weapons, a college campus gun ban, and a gun-storage bill that were priorities for Democrats, AP reported.
A Democratic Delegate representing Charlottesville, Sally Hudson, had put forth a measure that made it unlawful to carry a firearm in any building owned or operated by a public institution of higher education.
After the shooting on the campus of the University of Virginia that left three football players dead, the police chief of UVA testified in support of the measure as well as another bill that would have expanded the definition of "assault firearm" and banned the import, sale, transfer, manufacture purchase or transport of any such firearm.
But the police chief's testimony was not enough to prevent the Republican-dominated Public Safety Committee from shooting down both measures.
Despite the number of mass shootings and deaths from gun violence in 2023 already, there will be little change, if any, this year to Virginia's gun laws from lawmakers.
FOREIGN LAND OWNERSHIP
According to the Associated Press, a Republican senator’s bill that would prohibit foreign adversaries, including China, from purchasing or otherwise acquiring agricultural land in the state cleared that chamber on a bipartisan basis.
Governor Glenn Youngkin, who has been increasingly outspoken against the threat China poses, asked for such a bill in his State of the Commonwealth speech last month, AP reported.
The measure passed on February 6 on a 23-16 vote.
Following the legalization of cannabis for personal use and cultivation in 2021, Virginia’s relationship with the plant has been confusing, to say the least. While Governor Glenn Youngkin has dragged his feet in calling for an outright repeal of the possession bill, he has not prioritized providing a path to full sale statewide. His Republican counterparts have also widely opposed legislation that would make a retail cannabis marketplace possible.
One bill introduced during the 2023 session aims to establish a framework for a retail marijuana market administered by the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority (VCCA).
Beginning on July 1 of this year, SB 1133 would allow certain pharmaceutical processors (pending an established retail market) to cultivate, manufacture, and sell cannabis products to people who are 21 years old or older. It would also allow the VCCA to begin issuing marijuana licenses on July 1, 2024. The bill would transfer authority from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the VCCA to regulate the testing, labeling, packaging and advertising of hemp products.
The bill would also create a process for those convicted of felony marijuana-related offenses committed prior to July 1, 2022, who are imprisoned or on community supervision on July 1 of this year. They may receive an automatic hearing to consider modification of their sentence.
However, in a party-line vote, Republican lawmakers passed the bill for the remainder of the Assembly year.
Several states across the US have legalized hallucinogenic plants for personal use, medical/therapeutic use, or use as part of religious practices. Other states have simply decriminalized the possession of these substances, or at the very least reduced the criminal punishment for possession. Virginia has had similar bills pushed forward but has been met with definitive resistance.
One of these psychoactive substances is psilocybin; the hallucinogenic compound found in “magic mushrooms”.
Del. Dawn M. Adams (D) introduced a bill that would allow the possession and/or distribution of psilocybin for certain medical use cases.
With a valid prescription or order by a health care provider, HB 1513 would allow psilocybin to be used to treat depression and PTSD or to mitigate end-of-life anxiety. The bill would prevent healthcare practices or pharmacies from facing prosecution for distributing psilocybin for those therapeutic uses.
The bill would also make possession of psilocybin without a prescription a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine. Second or subsequent offenses would be a Class 1 misdemeanor.
That bill was left in the Courts of Justice on February 2023.
A similar bill, SB 932, would establish the Virginia Psilocybin Advisory Board to develop strategic plans for therapeutic access to psilocybin and monitor/study federal laws, regulations, and policies involving psilocybin.
The bill requires the Board to report annually by December 1 to the Governor and the General Assembly regarding its activities and recommendations.
It would also reclassify psilocybin from a Schedule I to a Schedule III controlled substance under the Drug Control Act. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Schedule I substances are defined as drugs with no accepted medical use and/or a high potential for abuse (heroin and LSD). Schedule III substances are defined as drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence (like anabolic steroids and testosterone).
That bill, however, was tabled by Republicans in a party-line vote, 13-5.
Gambling has seen an expansion in Virginia due to recent legislative actions, including bringing the Caesar's Casino to Danville
One bill, HB 1373, aimed at adding Petersburg to the list of eligible cities to host the state's fifth casino, following a rejection by Richmond voters of a similar proposal.
This bill gained momentum through the house but was passed by indefinitely by the Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee, in a 10-6 vote.
Another proposal, HB 2295, to legalize and regulate skill games - electronic games resembling slot machines that have become prevalent in retail locations - has been defeated.
Senate Democrats have also used their majority to prevent various GOP-sponsored environmental legislation from getting very far.
The bills in question range from vehicle emissions, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, natural gas lines, and toxic algae bloom.
The first bill shot down by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee is HB 1378, introduced by Delegate Tony Wilt (R-26th District).
HB 1378 would have repealed the requirement that the State Air Pollution Control Board implement a low-emissions and zero-emissions vehicle program for motor vehicles with a model year of 2025 and later.
It would also prohibit the Board from adopting or enforcing any model year standards related to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines and stop Virginia from “requiring any new motor vehicle or new motor vehicle engine to be certified as compliant with model year standards related to the control of emissions adopted by California for which a waiver has been granted pursuant to the federal Clean Air Act.”
Another bill voted down by the same committee is SB 1001, introduced by Sen. Richard Stuart (R-28th District).
SB 1001 would have repealed the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act.
It also directs the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality to “take all steps necessary to suspend the Commonwealth's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative market-based trading program.”
The initiative is a “multi-state program that requires electricity producers to buy allowances for the carbon they emit.”
Another bill, HB 1783, introduced by Del. Israel O'Quinn (R-5th District), was voted down in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
HB 1783 aimed to “protect the availability of natural gas,” according to the Associated Press.
The bill would also prohibit public entities from denying building permits solely based on a proposed utility provider.
The final bill, one listed on the Legislative Information Systems’ “Most Frequently Accessed” tab is SB 171, introduced by area Senator Mark Peake. (R-22).
SB 171 is a budget amendment by Peake addressing the toxic algae bloom in Lake Anna.
“They have had a terrible algae bloom at some points it has made the water where they’ve issued can’t go swimming or can’t do recreational activities,” Peake told ABC 13. “It’s horrible for the fish. So, it’s cutting down on their tourism dollars. So we can’t have a lake that massive be unusable.”
Peake said SB 171 was introduced last year and they were able to get money to study the algae in the lake.
Now, they have used SB 171 as a vehicle to request one million dollars to start “solving the problem.”
“So we authorized some of the universities to study it and now we’re trying to get some money to implement the study plans,” Peake said.
Another set of bills under consideration included tax breaks across the Commonwealth.
Governor Youngkin spent a good chunk of the beginning of the year promoting tax breaks for Virginians, but it appears since then, the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations has decided to "pass by indefinitely" on two of the bills he previously praised when they passed the house.
“Virginians are still overtaxed, they deserve to keep more of their hard-earned paychecks and today’s significant move by the House of Delegates means Virginians are one step closer to additional relief,” said Youngkin.
HB 2319 would have lowered the top income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5% for taxable years beginning on and after January 1, 2024.
“The bill also raises the standard deduction to $9,000 for single individuals and $18,000 for married persons for taxable years beginning on and after January 1, 2024, but before January 1, 2026.”
HB 2138 “increases from 30% to 50% the Virginia individual and corporate income tax deduction for business interest disallowed as a deduction under the Internal Revenue Code beginning in taxable year 2024.”
The bill also would have allowed an individual income tax deduction in an “amount equal to 50% of certain federal qualified business income deductions, excluding qualified real estate investment trust dividends.”
The bill also would have reduced from 6% to 5% the corporate income tax rate beginning in the taxable year 2023.
House Democrats previously said the bills give the biggest tax cuts to corporations.
“I always say: don’t tell me your priorities. Show me your budget and I’ll tell you your priorities,” said Democratic Leader Don Scott. “The Republican tax bill is a giveaway to corporations – which will either mean tax hikes for families or deep cuts to services."
NURSING HOME CHANGES
One of the key issues Virginia lawmakers are looking at is nursing home changes. (Robert Locklear/WSET)
One of the key issues Virginia lawmakers are looking at is nursing home changes.
According to Virginia’s Legislative Information System, there are two nursing home bills to be discussed in their 2023 session.
The first bill is HB 330, which talks about nursing homes and certified nursing facilities, minimum staffing standards, and administrative sanctions.
HB 330 was introduced by Del. Vivian Watts (D-38th District) and is described as the following:
Minimum staffing standards for nursing homes and certified nursing facilities; administrative sanctions; Long-Term Care Services Fund. Requires nursing homes to meet a baseline staffing level based on resident acuity in alignment with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services staffing level recommendations. The bill requires nursing homes to collect and submit to the Department of Health certain data related to staffing. The bill gives the Commissioner of Health the power to impose administrative sanctions on nursing homes and directs the Board of Health to promulgate regulations related to the criteria and procedures for imposition of administrative sanctions or initiation of court proceedings for violations of the bill.
The second bill that discusses nursing home changes is HB 646, which talks about nursing homes, standards of care, and staff requirements and regulations.
HB 646 was introduced by Betsy Carr (D-69th District) and is described as the following:
Nursing home standards of care and staff requirements; regulations. Requires the State Board of Health to establish staffing and care standards in nursing homes to require a minimum of direct care services to each resident per 24-hour period as follows: (i) a minimum of 2.8 direct care hours provided by a nurse aide per resident, per day; (ii) a minimum of 1.3 direct care hours provided by a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse per resident, per day; and (iii) a minimum of 0.75 hours out of total 4.1 required direct hours provided by a registered nurse per resident, per day. The bill requires nursing homes to provide quarterly staff training on first aid, medication administration, and compliance with nursing home policies and procedures.
House Bill 105, introduced by Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-11th District), aims to study whether or not transforming Catawba Hospital to include substance abuse treatment and recovery to its services is a feasible action.
Rasoul says Virginia should understand the importance of investing in substance abuse and treatment because of the shortage of services available. The proposed plans for Catawba Hospital would include turning some hospital areas into residential treatment, which is vital for helping patients truly recover.
"Many times people end up in the hospital, but once they discharge they've got no place to go," Rasoul said. "These are the kinds of investments we definitely need as we know that a lot of families are hurting."
Substance abuse cases have only gone up in the three state hospitals in the western half of the state, Rasoul said. He added half of their patients have a substance abuse disorder.
"It's clear that it's filling our hospitals and that there really just not are enough resources," Rasoul said.
Rasoul said Catawba Hospital specifically was chosen for the bill because it was a state facility.
"We wanted to say 'Well, here's a campus with several hundred acres that really isn't being fully utilized.' We use about half of the current hospital building, so why not use more of it to benefit the community in treating substance abuse disorder?" Rasoul said. "So we're glad to keep the conversation going, and hopefully we can have some good news out of the legislature soon."
The bill was first introduced in January 2022 and it was Left in Rules by the Senate in November 2022.
(Source: ABC 13 NEWS)