The 2019 General Assembly session will be remembered chiefly for the scandals that rocked Capitol Square, but lawmakers passed notable measures on topics ranging from casinos and college tuition to taxes and tobacco. Here are 25 reasons the session mattered:
Legislators approved measures to let state liquor stores open at 10 a.m. on Sundays, rather than at noon. The change is projected to generate about $859,000 a year, compensating for a loss of $730,000 in higher commissions for craft distillers that operate ABC stores.
Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation to carry out Virginia’s promises to Amazon for up to $750 million in cash incentives for the company’s $2.5 billion headquarters in the Crystal City area of Arlington County. The incentives would not be paid until four years after the company creates 37,850 jobs.
Lawmakers directed the Board of Social Services to require that assisted living facility units that treat people with serious dementia meet minimum overnight staffing requirements. The minimum requirements range from two direct care staff members in facilities treating 22 or fewer residents, to four staff members for 40 residents and one additional staff member for every 10 residents above 40.
The House and Senate passed bills that would remove the age cap on required insurance coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism. Under current law such coverage must be provided for children ages 2 through 10.
The Senate backed revised legislation that could pave the way for eventual local-option votes on proposed casinos in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth. The measure now has a re-enactment clause, which means those localities could not hold votes on casinos unless the General Assembly passes the enabling legislation again in 2020.
In the interim, the legislature’s watchdog agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, would review casino laws in other states and report back to lawmakers.
The General Assembly backed legislation to clean up the state’s legacy coal ash as the result of a deal between Northam, environmental groups, lawmakers from both parties and Dominion Energy. The deal would require Dominion to excavate the ponds and recycle at least a quarter of the 27 million cubic yards of existing coal ash. The rest would be moved into new, modern landfills.
Students and their families could see some tuition relief as a result of the state budget deal, which includes $57.7 million for colleges and universities that agree to freeze their tuition rates next year. Bills to require schools to have public comment before a tuition increase vote passed both chambers. Proposals to give in-state tuition rates to Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, students died in both chambers.
Virginia did not become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The Senate passed a ratification measure, but it was defeated in a House committee. A procedural move aimed at bringing the ratification measure to the House floor was defeated late in the session.
An end-of-session bid to fund improvements to Interstate 81 fell short. Lawmakers discussed alternatives such as tolls, taxes and fees, but could not reach an agreement on the mechanism.
The Senate passed a bill to repeal a requirement to suspend the driver’s license of someone who hasn’t paid fines and court costs, but Republicans on a House subcommittee voted to kill the bill.
The House and Senate passed resolutions in which the General Assembly acknowledges “with profound regret the existence and acceptance of lynching within the commonwealth” and calls for reconciliation among all Virginians.
A measure aimed at ending “surprise billing” passed the House and Senate, but was referred back to the House Appropriations Committee and failed to make it to the governor’s desk. Such billing occurs when a person is unknowingly given treatment that is out of network for his or her insurance company during an emergency or elective procedure — often resulting in a significant out of pocket charge.
Employees of regional jails were added to the list of people who are authorized by law to possess and administer naloxone, the drug that reverses an opioid overdose. The law already allowed law enforcement officers, firefighters and corrections and parole officers to administer naloxone as long as they had completed a training program approved by the Board of Pharmacy.
Personal hygiene products
Lawmakers approved a reduction in the sales tax for personal hygiene products, both menstrual and for incontinence. The legislation would take effect Jan. 1.
Physician assistant supervision
The General Assembly removed the requirement that physician assistants work under the supervision of a licensed doctor of medicine, osteopathy or podiatry.
Prenatal substance exposure
Starting July 1, health care providers at any licensed hospital who suspect prenatal substance exposure must develop a written discharge plan for the mother and infant, including treatment referrals and a notice to the community services board that oversees addiction treatment.
Lawmakers struck a deal Saturday to create a 16-member redistricting commission that would redraw the state’s legislative and congressional district boundaries after the 2020 census.
The House and Senate voted to approve the plan, which requires an amendment to the state Constitution and calls for a bipartisan commission made up of eight citizen members and eight legislative members, four from the Senate and four from the House.
Efforts in the House to prohibit students from being charged with disorderly conduct if they act up in school died a quick death, failing to make it out of subcommittee. A similar bill cleared the Senate, but was left in the same committee that killed the House bill.
A special committee was convened last spring to look at school facilities across the state. Recommendations from that committee have seen mixed results.
A bill that would have put a referendum on the statewide ballot in November to give voters the chance to weigh in on how the state should pay for improvements to school facilities died in committee. Another bill to allow private companies to lease buildings to school districts with an eye toward more renewable energy passed the Senate and House.
Legislators went into the session in January with a list of recommendations from a special committee put together after last year’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Those recommendations, such as improving training in schools and improving Virginia’s student-to-counselor ratio, passed the legislature.
Bills that were not part of the school safety committee’s package, including one that would have given parents notice ahead of school lockdown drills, were killed.
State Supreme Court
Legislators elected Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Teresa Chafin to the state Supreme Court. She will succeed Justice Elizabeth McClanahan, who is retiring effective Sept. 1. State Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell, urged fellow Republicans to install his sister and former law partner on the high court. The senator did not vote when his sister was elected.
Northam signed emergency legislation in mid-February to conform Virginia’s tax code to changes in federal tax law. Virginians will get additional refunds of $110 per individual and $220 per couple, on top of what taxpayers would be owed anyway. The governor’s signature on the emergency bill enabled state tax officials to start processing a backlog of about 1 million filed returns.
The governor signed legislation to increase the age to buy or possess tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. Virginia, a state that traces its 400-year history to tobacco production, joins six other states that have made the change. The bill arose from lawmakers’ concerns about the rise in teenage vaping, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has described as an epidemic.
The House and Senate passed legislation to put in place a two-year waiting period before a member who is leaving a university’s governing board could take a job at the university.
Lawmakers are opening the door to no-excuse absentee voting, but the limited early voting window the General Assembly is advancing may not take effect until the 2020 election. Legislation that passed the House and Senate would create a seven-day window before an election in which voters could cast ballots in person without having to give an excuse.