By Hannah Eason
Capital News Service
RICHMOND, Va. -- A record number of bills passed in the House of Delegates ahead of the “crossover” deadline, considered the halfway point in the session when a bill has to pass its chamber or it dies.
Democrat-led efforts like marijuana decriminalization, removal of war memorials, and an assault weapons ban squeezed past in the homestretch. Republican bills, like one that gave the Virginia Lottery Board the ability to regulate casino gambling, also continued to advance.
Delegates filed more than 1,700 bills this session, and 828 bills passed. A Virginia House Democrats release said the House has passed 37% more bills than it did during the 2019 General Assembly session. The release stated the House passed around 600 bills each year from 2016 to 2019.
“We listened to Virginia and are moving together, forward,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, said in a press release. “Voters called for major change in the Commonwealth and we are delivering by passing practical, necessary legislation aimed at substantially improving the lives of Virginia residents.”
In the House, Democrats passed 642 bills, more than half of the 1,193 bills they introduced. Republicans filed fewer bills this session — 541 bills were filed and 34% of them passed. These numbers reflect bills, and do not include resolutions or joint resolutions. Bills incorporated into other bills are classified as failing.
Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, filed and passed more legislation than any other delegate. Out of 50 filed bills, 32 have passed in the House. His bills eliminated the co-payment program for nonemergency healthcare services for prisoners, created provisions on conversion therapy, and granted excused absences to students who miss school because of mental and behavioral health.
Other delegates weren’t as fortunate, like Del. John Avoli, R-Staunton, who filed two bills which didn’t pass. He passed one House resolution, which does not have the full force of law and does not require the governor’s signature. Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, didn’t file any bills other than a House joint resolution.
Four Republican lawmakers each only passed one bill: Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford; Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin; Del. Jeffrey Campbell, R-Smyth; and former House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.
While Democrats have applauded their party’s success, Republicans have mostly focused on the possible impact of the new majority. Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, said recently passed legislation attacked the Second Amendment, tore down the economy, and made it easier to “take the lives of our unborn.”
“I offered legislation that would have greatly benefited the 23rd House District, specifically allowing people of faith to defend themselves in a place of worship, assisting new hunters be educated in the ways of the craft, and supporting our farmers,” Walker said in an email. “Unfortunately, these items did not fall within the majority’s agenda.”
In the Senate, 60% of the 1,095 bills filed succeeded. Democrats passed 440 bills, 64% of what they filed. Republicans passed 223 bills, 54% of the legislation they filed.
In total, more Democrat bills failed than Republican bills, 243 and 189 respectively.
Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, filed and passed more bills than any other senator. He filed 60 bills, and was successful in passing 42.
Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, passed 32 bills in the Senate, and his chief of staff said they are expected to be successful in the House.
“Senator Edwards has been in the Virginia Senate since 1996, and with the Democratic Party in the minority for the bulk of that time, he had a lot of ideas for good legislation that didn't pass in prior years,” said Luke Priddy, Edward’s chief of staff.
Out of 412 bills filed by Senate Republicans, 223, roughly half of them, passed.
Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, did not pass any of her sponsored bills. Her 21 filed bills included the creation of a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have prohibited abortion after 20 weeks unless under extreme medical circumstances. Chase did not respond to a request for comment.
“If you don’t pay thousands (pay-to-play) to join one of their caucuses, they will deny you of committee assignments and suspend your bills, not giving each bill a fair hearing,” Chase wrote.
Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, said “it’s very clear there’s a new party in charge” and that Democrats are focusing on legislation that wouldn’t have been considered during a Republican majority.
“Issues that would have been dispensed by a Republican majority in two minutes are now not only getting full hearings, but discussion on the floor of at least one chamber of the legislature,” Farnsworth said. “The people in the previous Republican majority who are used to calling the shots, are now subjected to the same treatment that they themselves dealt out in the past.”
Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said bills that include increasing the gas tax, energy requirements, the ability of localities to increase taxes, and $15 minimum wage would make living in Virginia more expensive.
“These policies are not free market, they’re not good for Virginia businesses, but they’re not good for Virginia workers either,” McDougle said Wednesday on WRVA’s Richmond Morning News program. “We want there to be competition. When the economy’s moving up, we want to be able to get jobs.”
House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, called the legislation passed “long overdue,” in a statement released Tuesday.
“We have kept our promise to truly be the ‘People’s House’ by passing long overdue legislation to protect Virginians from exploitation, discrimination and senseless violence,” Filler-Corn said.
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.