RICHMOND, Va. -- Democratic legislators in Virginia have dramatically reshaped the state in two months, sweeping aside many of the state’s old business-friendly and socially conservative laws and replacing them with a broad, progressive policy agenda.
Lawmakers wrapped up this year's legislative session Sunday after advancing the South's strictest gun laws, broadest LGBTQ protections and some of its loosest abortion restrictions.
During the General Assembly’s overtime session Sunday, the legislature finalized several high-profile bills:
- a minimum wage increase to $12 per hour by 2023 and potentially $15 by 2026
- possession of less than an ounce of marijuana was decriminalized -- meaning someone would be ticketed $25 -- instead of taken to jail
- cities and counties could soon have control over removal of confederate war memorials
- casino gambling and sports betting laws were shaped then passed
Many Republicans said Democrats had advanced a liberal agenda beyond what the average Virginian supports while trampling on the state's pro-business reputation.
Republican Sen. Amanda Chase, who will seek the party's nomination for governor for the 2021 race, said the bills will mean cost-of-living increases she believes will hurt businesses in the Commonwealth.
"It's a very dark day in Virginia,” Chase said. "We need to return sanity. We are trying to balance Virginia's budget on alcohol, drugs, casino gambling. We're turning into Nevada.”
The new Democratic majority has already sent Gov. Ralph Northam several high-profile pieces of legislation that would refashion the Old Dominion as the South's most liberal state.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax called the 2020 General Assembly session historic and said voters put democrats in control for a reason: to make change.
"Really doing things that for years, if not decades, folks have really wanted us to do,” Fairfax said. “We're very proud of the work that we've done.... presiding over the Senate, I thought we had a very successful session."
The General Assembly will meet Thursday to vote on the two-year state budget and approve judges. Budget negotiators in the House and Senate said they had reached a compromise on the spending plan.
Gov. Northam will spend the coming days reviewing the bills passed during the 2020 session and decided whether to sign them into law or use his veto pen. Northam said in the past he backs several of these measures.