Following elections where Democrats gained control of both chambers of the legislature, the party will be able to pursue an agenda that is very different from what we have seen in the past few years under Republican legislative leadership.
To date, over 2,500 bills have been introduced for consideration in the 60-day session. The following outlines a few of the top issues for Virginia in 2020.
In December, Governor Ralph Northam introduced his biennial budget for 2020-2022. The budget includes investments in affordable housing, continued funds for mental health services under the STEP-Virginia program, and an increase in Virginia’s gas tax to fund transportation projects. Northam wants to establish a state-based health insurance exchange and a reinsurance program to lower health insurance premiums. Governor Northam also proposed his G3 initiative where students can receive education grants in select career pathways in exchange for community service.
The General Assembly will consider the Governor’s budget proposal during session and may make amendments to reflect their own priorities.
Minimum Wage and Right To Work
One of the main policy priorities of the Democratic Party is raising Virginia’s minimum wage. The legislature has several proposals to consider, many bills raise the minimum wage incrementally to $15 by 2025. While various labor groups are lobbying for an increase, some Republican legislators and business groups are concerned about the implications on Virginia’s businesses.
During the election cycle, some liberal candidates and interest groups called for the repeal of Virginia’s Right to Work law that bans compulsory union membership. Republicans are opposed to repealing the law. While there may be some debate during the General Assembly session, in November Governor Northam stated he does not see Virginia repealing its right to work law. Last year, Virginia was named the top state for business by CNBC. Some fear that repealing right to work could threaten Virginia’s business friendly environment.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam proposed a robust education agenda for the 2020 General Assembly. His proposal includes new investments to expand early childhood education, increase teacher pay, fund more school counselors, and increase funding for at-risk schools in Virginia. Additionally, Governor Northam proposed a tuition-free community college program for low- and middle-income student in high demand fields. With Democrats in control of both the House of Delegates and the Senate, these initiatives will also be a priority for the General Assembly.
Following a yearlong study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, lawmakers could legalize casino gambling in 2020. Several communities around the Commonwealth are interested in opening casinos including Bristol in Southwest Virginia, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Richmond.
Social Issues, Gun Control, Marijuana
With Democratic control of all three branches of Virginia’s government, Democrats have the opportunity to pass several key policies that were blocked by Republicans in the past.
Criminal justice reform, anti-discrimination policies, gun control, and discrimination of marijuana will all come before the legislature this year with a high probability of passage. Specifically, Democrats hope to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, reinstate parole, pass stricter gun laws, among other policies. Governor Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have both endorsed the decriminalization of marijuana and several bills have been filed to reform cannabis laws in the Commonwealth.
With a new party in power and a biennial budget on the table, we can expect robust discussion and widespread policy changes in Virginia in 2020.