Despite being clouded by controversy, 2019 session to bring major changes to Virginia

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RICHMOND, Va. — Your local lawmakers have headed home after a busy legislative session filled not only with controversies, but some major changes you’ll soon see around the Commonwealth. 

The legislative session was extended until Sunday so lawmakers could vote on the budget. 

Scandals dominated the past month of the General Assembly with three top Democrats in the spotlight, Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.

Lt. Gov. Fairfax addressed fellow lawmakers about the sexual assault allegations against him moments before the session came to a close, equating what he’s experienced to political lynchings.

“I’ve heard much about anti-lynching on the floor of this very Senate, where people were not given any due process whatsoever, and we rue that. And we talk about hundreds, at least 100 terror lynchings that have happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia under those very same auspices,” he said. “And yet we stand here in a rush to judgment with nothing but accusations and no facts and we decide that we are willing to do the same thing.”

This comes days after House Republicans invited Fairfax and his accusers, Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, to speak before lawmakers in a hearing held by the House Courts of Justice Committee. A date for this hearing has yet to be released. 

“This will give all parties a chance to be heard,” Del. Bell said Friday on the House floor. 

These tense moments didn’t get in the way of lawmakers getting down to business. 

The General Assembly passed a tougher “Move Over Law,” so now if a driver doesn’t switch lanes or slow down when they see an emergency vehicle’s flashing lights on the side of the road, they could be charged with reckless driving. Convicted drivers could face a punishment of up to a year in jail or up to a $2,500 fine. The bill was updated following the death of Firefighter Lt. Brad Clark, of Hanover County, but Del. Chris Peace (R-District 97). Clark was killed after a tractor-trailer hit a firetruck working an accident during Tropical Storm Michael. 

Pets are also receiving more protections too. Legislation passed that now makes it a felony if someone maims, mutilates or kills a cat or dog. Before, someone could only receive charges if the animal died as a result of the injuries. Some are calling this legislation “Tommie’s Law,” after a dog in Richmond was set on fire and severely injured. Tommie died a few days before the bill was voted on.

A historic change is also happening for smokers. Virginia will be joining six other states that have raised the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. This change also applies to vaping products. 

These laws — and many other laws — will officially go into effect on July 1, 2019. 

Campaign season starts now for lawmakers hoping to return to Richmond. When asked how she’ll talk to her constituents given the scandals surrounding her party, House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-District 41) said Friday that she’ll be focusing on the work they did to help Virginians. 

“It definitely been a tough session for Virginia,” Del. Filler-Corn said. “We want to make sure that we are able to communicate to our constituents what we do stand for.” 

The June Primary is June 11. You have until May 20 to update your voter registration. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5. 

Stay with WAVY.com for updates. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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