Senator Passed Landmark Bills on Equal Rights Amendment, Clean Energy, Health Care, Education, Affordable Housing, and Criminal Justice Reform
RICHMOND – With the Virginia legislature completing veto session Wednesday, Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) had a historically productive session: 36 of her bills and resolutions passed into law – including two amended bills that passed Wednesday. Additionally, 5 of McClellan’s bills were incorporated into other legislation that passed into law.
On Wednesday, the legislature amended Sen. McClellan’s redistricting criteria measure for technical changes, and her Fishback parole bill to make parole immediately available for Fishback inmates due to the COVID-19 crisis in prisons.
McClellan played a leading role in the most effective progressive legislative session in Virginia in a generation.
“Across the commonwealth, Virginia families are facing significant challenges today in dealing with the health and economic impact of the coronavirus crisis,” McClellan said. “We have seen the crisis widen the divide in Virginia: disproportionately impacting low-income communities and communities of color. As we revitalize our economy, the legislation we passed this session will help ensure that all Virginians have equal opportunity and access to quality health care and education. I’m proud to have worked with my colleagues in one of the most productive sessions in Virginia – leading the way on equal rights, clean energy, education, health care, and criminal justice reform.”
The following 36 McClellan bills and resolutions passed into law.
- Equal Rights Amendment (SJ 1) – Made Virginia the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
- Removing Segregation Laws (SB 722) – Repeals several laws passed from 1901 to 1960 that implemented and enforced racial segregation and discrimination.
- African American Legislators (SJ 78) – Commemorates the 150th anniversary of the swearing in of the first African American legislators in the Virginia General Assembly in 1870.
- Domestic Workers Rights (SB 804) – Makes Virginia the first state in the South to extend workplace protections to domestic service workers, removing Jim Crow-era exceptions that prevented domestic workers from receiving the same minimum wage as other Virginia workers. The bill also begins the process of expanding other worker protections to domestic service workers.
- The Pregnant Worker Fairness Act (SB 712) – Makes Virginia the 28th state to pass stronger protections for pregnant workers by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and mothers of infants.
- The Virginia Clean Economy Act (SB 851) – Comprehensive energy bill that transitions Virginia to a 100% clean energy grid by 2045, while saving customers money, creating thousands of jobs in the clean energy economy, and addressing the impacts of climate change.
- The Solar Freedom Act (SB 710) – Democratizes solar energy, removing barriers on local governments, residents and businesses to install solar for their own use. The bill will open up a major marketplace for distributed solar energy in Virginia, and support clean energy job creation.
- Utility Rates (SB 731) – Ends the artificial inflation of utilities’ profits. Returns Virginia to normal rate-making principles in which the State Corporation Commission will consider earnings from other peer utilities to set the range — not the floor — for electric utility profit margins.
- Public Notice on Plants (SB 1075) – Provides for more notice and opportunity for public comment in an affected community prior to the Department of Environmental Quality promulgating regulations or issuing permits regarding fossil fuel plants and compressor stations.
- State-Based Health Exchange (SB 732) – Creates The Virginia Health Benefit Exchange under the Affordable Care Act to improve access, lower premiums and improve efficiency of health care for Virginians. McClellan first introduced a state-based exchange as a delegate in 2012.
- The Reproductive Health Protection Act (SB 733) – Removes medically unnecessary restrictions for a patient seeking access to safe and legal abortion, including mandatory ultrasounds, 24-hour waiting periods, and targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws that require abortion providers to be regulated like hospitals. McClellan was a leading opponent of these restrictions when they passed the House, giving a speech on the House floor in 2012 using her personal copy of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”
- Food Deserts (SB 1073) – Creates the Virginia Food Access Investment Program and Fund to address food deserts, which affect 1 million Virginians. The fund will incentivize building and maintaining grocery and food retail stores in underserved communities.
- William’s Law (SB 718) – Requires health insurers to provide coverage without preauthorization for the birth mother of a newborn who is transferred to another hospital. This bill is known as “William’s Law” after the son of a constituent who was born premature by emergency C-section and transferred to the NICU of another hospital. The mother’s insurance carrier required pre-authorization for her to be transferred as well, and she was unable to receive such authorization before William died.
- Telephone CPR (SB 720) – Requires 911 dispatchers to be trained in delivering CPR instructions to a caller before emergency responders arrive to provide medical assistance.
- Limited License Pharmacy (SB 1074) – Authorizes the Board of Pharmacy to issue a limited license at a reduced fee to a prescriber in a nonprofit facility to dispense Schedule VI controlled substances and devices, such as contraception and antibiotics.
- Prematurity Day (SJ51) designates November as World Prematurity Month and November 17th as World Prematurity Day in Virginia to raise awareness of prematurity.
- Social Worker Resource Study (SJ49) – Requires the Department of Health Professions to study the recruitment, retention and need for additional social workers in the Commonwealth.
- Art Therapist Licensure (SB 713) Establishes licensure procedures for professional art therapists and a professional art therapist associates.
Criminal Justice Reform
- Marijuana Legalization Study (SJ 67) Requires the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to conduct a study on the legalization of the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana, with a focus on equity and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition.
- Raising Felony Larceny Threshold (SB 788) – Increases the grand larceny threshold from $500 to $1000. Virginia had one of the lowest felony grand larceny thresholds in the country, leading to more prison sentences for small thefts.
- Fishback Parole Reform (SB 793) – provides long-awaited parole eligibility to approximately hundreds of offenders stuck in a parole loophole. The bill makes eligible for parole defendants convicted between the abolition of parole in 1995 and the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Fishback decision in 2000 holding that jurors should have been told parole was abolished.
- Ending Mandatory Minimums for License Suspensions (SB 711) Eliminates the mandatory minimum 10-day jail term for a third or subsequent conviction of driving on a suspended license, returning discretion to judges on such cases. Nearly half of suspended license cases in Virginia are due to nonpayment of court fees, according to the Legal Aid Justice Center.
- Statute of Limitations for Sexual Offenses (SB 724) Increases the statute of limitations for prosecuting child misdemeanor sexual offenses from when the survivor turns 19 to when he or she turns 23.
- Bail Data (SB 723) – Creates more transparency in the pre-trial process by requiring the Department of Criminal Justice Services to collect data relating to bail determinations and to create a uniform mechanism for criminal justice agencies to submit such data. This bill did not pass, but the pilot program was incorporated into the final budget at Sen. McClellan’s request.
- Public Housing Demolition Notice (SB 708) – Requires public housing authorities to send notice of their plans to demolish, sell, or otherwise dispose of a housing project to every resident at least 12 months in advance.
- Tenants Bill of Rights (SB 707) – Requires all landlords to provide new tenants with a written explanation of their right to request repairs. The bill empowers tenants to take action when their landlord allows property to fall into disrepair or become unsafe – and it lays out clear responsibilities of tenants to report such conditions.
- Affordable Dwelling Units (SB 834) – Provides local governments with another tool to encourage affordable housing through “inclusionary zoning” or “affordable dwelling unit” ordinances. Prior to this bill passing, only a few jurisdictions – mostly in Northern Virginia – had the full legal ability to easily create affordable dwelling ordinances that incentivize developers to create a certain number of affordable units. McClellan proposed similar legislation in 2018.
- Richmond Housing Improvements (SB 725) – Authorizes the City of Richmond to impose a tax rate on improvements to real property that is different than the City’s tax rate on the land upon which the improvements are located. This is part of the City’s package to incentivize affordable housing and address gentrification.
- Real Estate Tax (SB 727) – Increases the maximum duration of a local real estate tax exemption for structures in conservation areas or rehabilitation districts from 15 years to 30 years. This is also part of the City of Richmond’s package to incentivize affordable housing and address gentrification.
- School Construction (SB 888) – Creates a School Construction and Modernization Commission to provide guidance and resources to local school divisions and to make funding recommendations on school construction needs to the General Assembly.
- Disorderly Conduct (SB 3) – Eliminates the vague Class 1 misdemeanor “disorderly conduct” charge for student behavior deemed disruptive at a school or school-sponsored event. The frequent use of “disorderly conduct” charges for school incidents led to an increase in the number of students in the school-to-prison pipeline, and increased racial disparities in Virginia’s education system. McClellan first introduced disorderly conduct legislation as a Delegate in 2016.
- Disciplinary Discretion (SB 729) Returns discretion to school administrators over whether to report behavior that constitutes a misdemeanor to law enforcement or handle through the disciplinary process. McClellan has worked on this legislation for more than 7 years, since she was in the House of Delegates.
- Commonwealth Corridor Passenger Rail (SJ 50) – Launches a Department of Rail and Public Transportation study about creating an east-west Commonwealth Corridor passenger rail service connecting Hampton Roads, Richmond, and the New River Valley. A 2019 Virginians for High Speed Rail report estimated that a corridor service between Hampton Roads and the New River Valley would improve transportation for nearly 3.7 million Virginians and would support economic development across Virginia.
- Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Board (SB 726) – Changes one member of the City Richmond’s representation on the board of the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Board from a mayoral appointee to a member of City Council.
- Redistricting Criteria (SB 717) – Establishes redistricting criteria to prevent racial and political gerrymandering and produce fair legislative districts. The bill also ends prison gerrymandering.
- Fifteenth Amendment Anniversary (SJ 55) Commemorates the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. This resolution was a recommendation of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, which Sen. McClellan chairs.
Several important measures McClellan introduced were incorporated into other Senate bills or passed in their final House form. McClellan played active role in getting the following measures passed that were identical to her bills.
- Stopping LGBTQ Housing Discrimination (SB 66) – Prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. McClellan’s bill was incorporated into Sen. Adam Ebbin’s Virginia Values Act (SB 868), which passed the legislature.
- Lost or Stolen Firearms (SB 67) – Requires the reporting of lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement. Sen. McClellan’s bill did not pass, but she helped the companion House bill by Del. Jeff Bourne (HB 9) passed the Senate. McClellan has patroned bills on lost or stolen firearms since 2017.
- Recording Interrogations (SB 730) – Requires law enforcement to record custodial interrogations where practicable. McClellan introduced similar legislation in 2015, 2016, and 2018 to address the growing concern over false confessions leading to the wrongful conviction of innocent defendants by codifying what is quickly becoming a best practice for law enforcement. Although McClellan’s bill did not pass. The parallel House version of this bill passed into law.
- Casino Gaming (SB 1083) – Authorizes casino gaming in the Commonwealth to be regulated by the Virginia Lottery Board. The bill creates the Virginia Indigenous People’s Trust Fund, from which a portion of the Commonwealth’s share of certain casino gaming tax revenues shall be disbursed to six Virginia Indian tribes. McClellan’s bill was incorporated into Sen. Louise Lucas’s gaming legislation (SB 36), which passed.
- Virginia Revolutionary 250 Commission (SB 714) – Establishes the Virginia Revolutionary 250 Commission to plan, develop, and perform programs and activities to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution. McClellan’s bill was incorporated into Sen. Ghazala Hashmi’s similar legislation (SB 407), which passed.