Thursday, February 11, 2021
The Fifth Week of the General Assembly Session brought Crossover and the conclusion of some of our most contentious bills.
First, Virginia rocketed up to the top ten in vaccine distribution in America. While the system is still adjusting to vaccine supply, many constituents have reported to me that they have been able to get vaccinated. The coming single shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine and Astra Zeneca will allow Virginia to ramp up from the current rate of 128,000 shots per week.
Although infection rates are dropping, the English and South African variants have arrived in Virginia and we must remain vigilant – even after people are vaccinated. No state is doing better than Virginia that has a larger population, and we have the 8th lowest per capita death rate. Group 1a should be done by the end of this week.
Ten of my twelve bills “crossed over” to the House of Delegates.
Capital Punishment Abolished
My legislation to abolish capital punishment in Virginia passed the Senate after a two-hour floor debate. Virginia has executed 1,389 people since 1608 and the second largest number of people since capital punishment was reauthorized by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. Studies estimate that one-in-ten given the death penalty are innocent; over 174 have been exonerated including Earl Washington Jr. here in Virginia. The inequities of those sentenced to death are indisputable and Virginia spends over $50 million per decade to preserve a sentencing option that no Virginia jury has imposed since 2012. The House also passed an identical bill and Governor Northam has indicated that he will sign it.
We passed Senator Adam Ebbin’s legislation to remove Virginia ban on same sex marriage from the Constitution of Virginia and a separate bill to remove Virginia’s Jim Crow Era language prohibiting felons from voting until their voting rights are restored by the Governor. The language is set to be replaced with a right to vote once released from prison.
My legislation to comprehensively reform Virginia’s punitive restrictions of criminal record expungement passed the Senate as well. Longstanding criminal histories create barriers to housing and employment for hundreds of thousands of Virginians and limit available workforce. Forty-one other states allow the sealing of misdemeanor convictions and thirty-six allow the same for felonies. My legislation will create a petition-based process for expunging crimes with some automatic sealing for minor crimes. The House of Delegates has passed similar legislation which will need to be reconciled.
I also carried legislation requested by the Fairfax County School Board that would allow a locality to ask about a bidder’s arbitration practices during procurement. Many businesses use mandatory pre-dispute arbitration contract clauses that prohibit employees with sexual harassment, civil rights or wage theft claims from using the courts to resolve their disputes which keeps these problems from being seen by the media or the public.
My legislation to allow class action lawsuits in Virginia also passed the Senate. Virginia is one of only two states that prohibit consumers from aggregating their claims and allow individuals to aggregate their bargaining leverage to obtain relief from businesses.
My legislation to provide Fairfax County greater flexibility in raising funds to pay for underground utilities on U.S. 1 passed the Senate 33-6. I am hopeful that this will give the County the additional resources it needs so it can commit to underground utilities in the $900 million bus rapid transit and road widening from Huntington to Fort Belvoir similar to what Prince William County has committed to complete along its 14-mile stretch of U.S. 1.
I passed two bills to help our immigrant community. My bill harmonizing state and federal laws on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status passed along with legislation creating a framework for immigrant human trafficking and crime victims to obtain U or T Visas from the Federal Government.
Each chamber’s competing budget proposals will be announced this week and we will start work on legislation from each other’s chamber. Keep responding to my constituent survey at https://scottsurovell.org/constituent-service/survey/ and please email me at email@example.com if you have any questions or problems getting your vaccine.