RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Lawmakers worked overtime Sunday to pass dozens of bills before the deadline to do so expired.
Now, they just need to vote on the two-year budget, then get Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature.
WAVY News has been covering these bills extensively — from gun control, decriminalizing marijuana, to casino gambling.
The end of the session means that Del. Steve Heretick’s, (D-79th District), long journey to decriminalize marijuana has almost reached the end. The legislation would mean those who get caught with small amounts of marijuana would get a $25 dollar fine.
For Del. Jason Miyares, (R-82nd District), it appears his request for the formation of a state commission to investigate the May 31 mass shooting in Virginia Beach will likely become reality.
Heretick calls this year’s session the most intensive General Assembly session ever.
For the first time since the early 1990s, Democrats ruled Richmond this year.
“Democrats in control means we’ve had a lot of Democratic agendas that have been pent up for a number of years including economic issues, minimum wage issues, social justice, criminal justice reform issues… and now we have control,” Heretick said.
Republicans are no longer in power after last November’s elections forced those once in charge into the minority.
“I think this session (with Democrats in charge) made us less safe because we voted for early release of violent offenders to go back into our communities. That made our neighborhoods less safe by removing the mandatory reporting requirement of sexual battery in our schools” Miyares said.
We asked both Heretick and Miyares to give us one minute of “headlines” of this year’s session.
First, from Heretick: “We raised the minimum wage. We enacted the Clean Economy Act. We are enacting casino gaming. We are decriminalizing and soon legalizing marijuana in Virginia. We are attempting to raise taxes on gas to help support our roadways, and at the same time lower transportation costs in other respects.”
From Miyares: “We (the Democrat-led General Assembly) made us less safe because we voted for early release of violent offenders back into our neighborhoods. We made us less safe by removing the mandatory reporting requirement of sexual battery in our schools. We voted to end the rebuttal presumption on bail for violent offenders, which means murderers and rapists are back on the street [when] they should be in jail awaiting trial.”
Democrats passed seven out of eight new gun laws, although some Democrats like Heretick voted against the assault weapons ban.
“The bill would make any weapon that had magazine capacity over 10 rounds would be automatically criminalized. That would criminalize most hand guns sold in any gun shop these days.”
Miyares also opposed the assault weapons ban.
“What you have here are measures that try to criminalize Virginians that have not tried to commit any type of crime,” Miyares said.
This session, the decision was made to vote in November on whether or not to allow casinos.
“Jobs — we’re looking for revenue, not losing as much money to Washington, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey. The way it has been keeps out revenue here at home, that we can use for things like education.”
Miyares is concerned how Democrats seemed, to him, to be anti-business.
“I feel like we made it harder for businesses now to hire people because, in this session alone, we added 46 causes of actions to sue employers,” he said.
Heretick voted to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 this year, and $12 the next year.
Miyares voted against the measure.
“I have always believed, you can not legislate people out of poverty by legislating businesses out of prosperity,” Miyares said.
Democrats and Republicans worked together on several key pieces of education such as capping college and university tuition.
“Our colleges have to learn to live within means and have given them the money and investment to freeze tuition. For me, that was how I could plan for college,” Miyares explained.
The two-year budget has been approved, but must be voted on by the full General Assembly Thursday. Then, the budget goes to the governor to make his changes.