Virginia Governor Pushes State Further Left by Signing Series of Progressive Bills
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed a series of bills on Friday that will bring to fruition several progressive policy ideals when they go into effect July 1.
While much of life has been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government of Virginia continues to enact new laws unrelated to the virus. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed a series of bills on Friday that will bring to fruition several progressive policy ideals when they go into effect July 1.
Protecting the Right to Choose
Northam enacted a new law that removes several regulations on abortions, Caroline Kelly reported for CNN. Currently, patients must have an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion in addition to counseling. The law will also empower nurse practitioners to perform the procedure in the first trimester of pregnancy, which was previously restricted to only physicians.
“No more will legislators in Richmond — most of whom are men — be telling women what they should and should not be doing with their bodies,” Northam said. The new law “will make women and families safer, and I’m proud to sign it into law,” he continued.
Although Democratic lawmakers praised the bill’s signing, anti-abortion activists were not as thrilled.
“What Gov. Northam did today was sign into law a measure that protections abortionists at the expense of women’s safety and the lives of more unborn children who will die because no information is given to their mothers,” said Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life.
Expanding Non-Discrimination to Include LGBTQ
The governor also signed the Virginia Values Act, the first law of its kind for a southern state, NBC 29 reported. The law prohibits employers, landlords, and credit institutions from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, ordered need service in public places because of who they are,” Northam said. “This legislation sends a strong, clear message — Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family.”
The Supreme Court is currently deliberating on three cases related to LGBTQ rights. The central argument in those cases is that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act includes gender identity and sexual orientation under the label of “sex.” Since the law in question is a federal one and not an issue of whether states can provide stronger protections, Virginia’s law would be unaffected by the eventual Supreme Court rulings.
Taking Care of the Environment
A pair of laws signed by Northam are aimed at protecting the environment. The Virginia Clean Economy Act mandates energy companies within the state, Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power, be 100-percent carbon-free by 2045 and 2050, respectively. Furthermore, the law mandates the closure of all coal plants before 2025.
The Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act introduces a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program. The Department of Environmental Quality will oversee the marketplace for exchanging allowances, WDBJ 7 reported.
Money raised with the cap-and-trade program will go toward the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund. The low-interest program will be offered to communities prone to flooding to implement preventative measures.
Election Day Holiday
As debate rages about mail-in-voting initiatives and funding for the US Postal Service ahead of the Nov. 3 election, Northam signed a law making the day a holiday. The law also removes a photo ID requirement and allows for early voting up to 45 days before the election, CNN reported.
“Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder,” the governor said. “No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard. I’m proud to sign these bills into law.”
Alongside creating an Election Day holiday, the law repeals the Lee-Jackson Day holiday. The event commemorated Confederate civil war leaders Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Northam said the holiday “commemorates a lost cause. It’s time to move on.”
Northam also signed a related bill that authorizes local governments to remove Confederate monuments, statues, and memorials. The previous state law had prohibited the action, NBC 29 reported. The governor also began the process of removing the statue of Lee at the US Capitol. Each state has two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection and Virginia donated one of Lee during early 1900s.
Gov. Northam instituted several gun control measures including enhanced background checks, a red flag law, and restrictions for handgun purchases. Last year, a shooter killed 12 people at Virginia Beach.
“We lose too many Virginians to gun violence, and it is past time we took bold, meaningful action to make our communities safer,” Northam said. “I was proud to work with legislators and advocates on these measures, and I am proud to sign them into law. These common-sense laws will save lives.”
The law requires background checks for all gun sales while limiting handgun purchases to one per month. A red flag law will permit law enforcement to temporarily confiscate weapons if a gun owner is considered a danger to themself or others, according to USA Today.
President Donald Trump previously weighed in on the discussion of enacting gun laws in Virginia.
“Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away,” Trump said.
The gun law did not include a ban on assault rifles, but Northam said it would come soon.
“We can’t stop here. We need to keep working on this issue. It will be year after year,” he said.