As your representative in the House of Delegates, I am writing to provide you with my annual summary of new laws and actions taken by the Virginia General Assembly during the 2020 legislative session.
This year, as I write, we are in the midst of an extraordinary global emergency for our Commonwealth and our country. This crisis has touched the lives of each and every person in our community. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced much of the nation indoors and many families are now struggling with reduced wages, lost jobs, closed schools, and/or very sick loved ones.
Rest assured, our State and Local governments have worked tirelessly to properly contain the pandemic and restore our economy back to normal activity. However, according to projections from some of the nation’s top public health experts, it is unclear the number of weeks it will take before life gets back to normal. With this in mind, I strongly encourage you to continue following Virginia’s COVID-19 guidelines (Virginia.gov/Coronavirus) and take every precaution to reduce exposure.
In the following pages, I have summarized a number of actions that the General Assembly has taken to address this crisis and many other issues affecting Virginia residents. Overall, the 2020 legislative session was a great success for the issues that matter in our community and I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish. For a full list of every piece of legislation introduced this session, you can visit LIS.Virginia.gov and select Bills and Resolutions from the menu on the homepage.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this letter and if you should have any questions, concerns, or issues before our State government, please don’t hesitate to contact my office at (571) 336-2147 or by e-mail at DelALopez@house.virginia.gov. You may also always visit my website for more information at AlfonsoLopez.org. I look forward to hearing from you!
(NOTE: An arrow (➤) indicates that Delegate Lopez introduced and served as the Chief Patron of the legislation. A star (✴) indicates that Delegate Lopez served as a Chief Co-Patron or Co-Patron of the legislation.)
For more information on Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including links to resources for individuals, families, and businesses, please visit Virginia.gov/Coronavirus.
Freeze on New State Spending. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor recommended that the General Assembly freeze much of its ambitious two-year spending plan passed during the 2020 legislative session. The plan included a significant amount of new spending in public education, affordable housing, and environmental conservation. No budgetary items have yet been canceled, but the Governor has indicated that he will call lawmakers back to Richmond over the summer to reconsider new spending after a more complete assessment can be conducted of the Commonwealth’s budgetary outlook.=
Emergency Relief for Renters & Homeowners. The General Assembly has modified a law passed this year to provide emergency relief from evictions and foreclosures to families affected by federal government shutdowns and expanded the relief available to cover all families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Respectively, the bill creates a 60-day waiting period for renters and 30-day waiting period for homeowners before eviction or foreclosure proceedings can begin. (HB 340)
Emergency Assistance for Small Businesses. During the Reconvened Session, the General Assembly enabled the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority to implement a grant program for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during the Governor’s declared state of emergency. (HB 1505)
Diverting Revenue from Skill Games to COVID-19 Response. The legislature voted to create the COVID-19 Relief Fund, to be used by the Governor for Virginia’s coronavirus response and delayed the prohibition of skill games until July 2021 in order to divert 84% of the revenue earned from taxes on skill games to the newly created Fund. (HB 881/SB 971)
PUBLIC HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES
✴ Protecting and Expanding Access to Reproductive Healthcare. I am very proud to have co-patroned and worked to help pass the Reproductive Health Protection Act, which eliminates barriers to reproductive health access across the Commonwealth by repealing Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law and 24-hour waiting period prior to receiving an abortion. The legislation also rolls back politically motivated “TRAP” restrictions on women’s health centers, which were designed to force their closure and make it more difficult for Virginians to access these critical services. (HB 980/SB 733)
✴ State-Based Health Insurance Marketplace. The General Assembly authorized the creation of the Virginia Health Benefit Exchange, which will facilitate the purchase and sale of qualified health insurance and dental insurance plans to Virginia residents and employers. This bill repeals a 2013 law—passed in response to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010—which prohibited the Commonwealth from creating a state-based health benefit exchange. Currently, Virginia residents use the federal health insurance marketplace (HealthCare.gov). (HB 1428/SB 732)
Eliminating Surprise Balance Billing. After years of work, the legislature finally worked out a plan to end surprise balance billing in Virginia—a practice where residents with health insurance who received emergency care from an out-of-network provider received surprise and often exorbitant medical bills to cover the costs of their care. Under the new law, patients who have insurance through a state-regulated healthcare plan and receive out-of-network emergency care will only be charged the in-network rate required by their plan. (HB 1251/SB 172)
Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy. Virginia has now become the first state in the South and the 20th state in the U.S. to ban conversion therapy, a debunked practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation. The law prohibits any health care providers or counselors from performing conversion therapy against Virginians under 18 years of age. (HB 386/SB 245)
➤ Asthma Medications in Schools. I’m proud to report that my bill finally authorizing school employees to administer potentially life-saving asthma medications to any student experiencing an attack has passed. (HB 1174)
JOBS & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Raising the Minimum Wage. The General Assembly acted this year to finally raise the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $15/hour by 2026. To get to the $15/hour minimum wage, the new law gradually increases the minimum wage each year: to $9.50/hour in May 2021, $11/hour in January 2022, $12/hour in January 2023, $13.50 in January 2025, and $15/hour in January 2026. Beginning in 2027, the minimum wage will be adjusted annually to reflect increases in the consumer price index. (HB 395/SB 7)
➤ Bonder & Amanda Johnson Community Development Corporation. I am very proud to report that, working closely with the House budget negotiators, I was able to secure $100,000 for the Bonder & Amanda Johnson Community Development Corporation to fund community programming serving low-income and immigrant families in the Green Valley neighborhood of South Arlington.
➤ In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students. After almost a decade of work, I am incredibly proud to have passed the Virginia Dream Act, a bill which grants access to in-state tuition at Virginia colleges and universities to undocumented students who graduate from Virginia high schools. Many of these children know no other home but Virginia. This legislation will help these amazing students continue their education, stay in the Commonwealth, and help build a new Virginia economy! (HB 1547/SB 935)
Increased Funding for Public Education. In the 2020 session, the General Assembly approved large increases in funding for public education, including $600 million in higher pay and bonuses for public school teachers and employees, $80 million to freeze in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, and $90 million to expand the state’s public preschool offerings.
PUBLIC SAFETY & GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION
✴ Universal Background Checks for Firearms Purchases. The General Assembly passed new legislation requiring that a background check be conducted for all firearms sales in Virginia, ending the gun show loophole. Any sale conducted person-to-person without a background check is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor. (HB 2)
✴ Extreme Risk Protective Orders. The legislature approved the creation of an important legal mechanism for law enforcement to temporarily separate an individual from their firearms when they become a danger to themselves or others. Virginia joins 19 other states in enacting this important law. (HB 674/SB 240)
➤ In-Person Concealed Carry Certification. I introduced legislation this session to mandate that any applicant for a concealed handgun permit must demonstrate actual competence with a handgun by completing an in-person course with a certified instructor. Previously, it was legal in Virginia to demonstrate your handgun competency with a certificate printed from an online or video training course. (HB 264/SB 263)
✴Lost Firearms Reporting Requirement. This new law requires that individuals report any lost or stolen firearms to a local law enforcement agency or the Department of State Police within 48 hours. (HB 9)
✴Child Access to Firearms. The General Assembly has made it a Class 1 misdemeanor to recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any person under the age of 14. This legislation is closely related to a bill I introduced for several years prohibiting firearm access for children under 5 and I’m proud to have helped it get passed and signed into law. (HB 1083)
Monthly Firearm Purchase Limit. The General Assembly passed legislation restoring Virginia’s one-handgun-per-month purchase limit. The law will significantly help curtail gun trafficking. (HB 812/SB 69)
No Cell Phones while Driving. Effective January 1, 2021, drivers in Virginia will be prohibited from holding a cellphone or other personal communications device while operating a motor vehicle. Current law only applies to the reading/sending of text messages while driving, or holding a cellphone while driving through a work zone. (HB 874/ SB 160)
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM & IMMIGRANT RIGHTS
➤ Driver’s License Suspensions for Inability to Pay. After working on this issue for several years, I am very proud that the General Assembly passed my bill to end the suspension of driver’s licenses for individuals who have served their time, but who are unable to pay court fines and/or fees. Many Virginia residents rely upon their vehicles to complete necessary tasks—like school, work, or childcare—and those who lose their licenses then face the difficult dilemma of obeying the suspension and finding themselves unable to provide for their families, or driving anyway and potentially facing a stiffer punishment. Rather than trapping these individuals in a modern day debtor’s prison, we should be offering them lifelines to grow their own ability to support their own families. No one should be penalized for being poor. (HB 1196/SB 1)
✴ Driver Privilege Cards for Undocumented Virginians. After many years of dedicated advocacy from residents across Virginia, the General Assembly has finally passed a law granting driving privileges to undocumented residents. Starting January 1, 2021, undocumented Virginians who work in Virginia and can provide a year’s worth of Virginia tax returns—or who are dependents of someone who filed a Virginia state tax return—will be eligible to apply for driver privilege cards from the Department of Motor Vehicles. (HB 1211/SB 34)
Marijuana Decriminalization. The General Assembly voted to eliminate the criminal penalty for simple marijuana possession and in its place established a civil fine of $25. This measure is a critical step forward for our criminal justice reform efforts. Far too many Virginians have faced prosecution from laws that treat cannabis like substances as dangerous as ecstasy or heroin. Decriminalization of marijuana allows our law enforcement agencies to refocus their efforts on stopping violent crimes and keeping our communities safe. (HB 972/SB 2)
Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility. This important criminal justice reform increases the minimum age from 14 to 16 years at which a juvenile must be tried as an adult for certain violent crimes. (HB 477/SB 546)
➤ Undocumented Victims & Witnesses of Crimes. For several years, I have introduced legislation that would prohibit the police from inquiring about the immigration status of cooperating victims or witnesses of a crime. This law is critical in order to encourage crime victims and witnesses to come forward, report crimes, and assist in prosecutions without fearing that their immigration status will be questioned. I am proud to say that the bill finally passed this year and that it strikes the right balance between giving police the latitude they need to effectively investigate violations of state and local law and giving immigrant victims and witnesses the assurances they need to feel safe about contacting the authorities. Moreover, by reinforcing community policing efforts it will improve overall public safety. (HB 262)
➤ Reporting of Immigration Status. I passed legislation this session repealing several sections of the Virginia Code that mandated the reporting of undocumented immigrants to federal authorities by various law enforcement officials. (HB 1150/SB 491)
✴ Predatory Payday Lending Practices. State legislators passed a significant bill that cracks down on payday lenders by capping interest rates and banning predatory lending practices. (HB 789/SB 421)
✴ Raising the Felony Threshold. The General Assembly has raised the threshold for the crime of grand larceny—a felony—from $500 to $1,000. Our larceny threshold is one of the lowest in the nation and has not kept up with inflation—resulting in the threshold for a felony larceny charge being lower than the average cost of a new cell phone. No one should be placed in a state prison and lose the right to vote for stealing an iPhone or a bicycle. This bill brings our criminal code into the 21st century by matching the criminal charge with the severity of the crime. (HB 995/SB 788)
✴ TANF & SNAP for Virginians with Drug Convictions. After working on this issue for several years, I am proud to report the passage of legislation overturning the lifetime ban on Virginians who have previously been convicted of a drug-related felony from obtaining benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This ban unduly punished recovering drug addicts and their families, increased recidivism, and deprived them of vital funds that could be used to feed children, pay rent, or purchase warm clothes in the winter. (HB 566/SB 124)
Office of New Americans. This new law establishes the office within the Department of Social Services to assist with immigrant integration within Virginia on an economic, social, and cultural level. (HB 1209/SB 991)
ENVIRONMENT & ENERGY
✴ Virginia Clean Economy Act. Arguably the most important piece of environmental and renewable energy legislation in Virginia history, the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) is a comprehensive clean energy plan that requires the state to obtain 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045. It establishes renewable portfolio standards—requiring Dominion Energy to be 100% carbon-free by 2045 and Appalachian Power to be 100% carbon-free by 2050—in addition to establishing energy efficiency standards and creating a new program to reduce the energy burden for low-income customers. The bill also advances offshore wind and solar power generation and requires that Dominion Energy prioritize hiring workers from historically disadvantaged communities. (HB 1526/SB 851)
✴ Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The General Assembly passed legislation directing the state government to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and establish a carbon dioxide cap and trade program for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative interstate (Northeast/Mid-Atlantic) effort to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector in order to slow the progress of climate change. (HB 981/SB 1027)
➤ Distributed Solar Energy Generation. I worked to introduce and pass a bill that institutes a series of reforms intended to promote the establishment of distributed (“rooftop”) solar and other renewable energy options in the Commonwealth. The measure also amends the Commonwealth Energy Policy to include provisions supporting distributed generation of solar energy and states that the distributed generation of solar electricity is in the public interest. (HB 1184/SB 710)
➤ Updating State Policy on Climate Change. I introduced and passed a bill which incorporates provisions for addressing climate change and the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the administration of environmental laws, regulations, and policies into the Department of Environmental Quality's mission statement. It also adds the promotion of the health/well-being of the Virginia's residents to the Department's policy goals. (HB 1164)
➤ Incorporating Environmental Justice into State Policy. I also passed legislation entering the definition of “environmental justice” into the state code and modifying the mission of the Department of Environmental Quality to include furthering environmental justice, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration. (HB 1162)
✴ Plastic Bag Tax. After working hard on this issue, the General Assembly passed legislation authorizing any locality to impose a five-cent per bag tax on disposable plastic bags and directed revenue from the local tax to be used for cleanup or education programs designed to reduce waste. (HB 534/SB 11)
➤ Historic Battlefield Preservation. Working with advocates, I was able to increase funding for Virginia Battlefield Land Preservation to $1,250,000 and study the creation of two new state parks.
➤ Updating the Litter Tax. My bill increases the annual litter tax paid by manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers of commonly-littered products-like cigarettes-from $10-15 annually to $20-30 annually. The first adjustment since the 1970’s, it will help support recycling programs across Virginia. (HB 1154)
➤ Hazardous Waste Site Inventory. Virginia currently does not have a one-stop list of all the sites in the Commonwealth that pose a hazard to human health or the environment from toxic substances. The public has a right to know if one of these sites is in their community and poses a hazard to public health. This bill consolidates existing lists of hazardous waste sites maintained by the state and federal government and requires that information be displayed in a format that the public can easily access. (HB 1136)
➤ Statewide Drinking Water Study. This measure requires the Department of Health to study Virginia’s drinking water infrastructure and oversight of the drinking water program. The study must (i) identify problems or issues that may result in contamination of drinking water with lead, copper, or other substances and (ii) develop recommendations for addressing such problems/issues. (HJ 92)
➤ Pollution Control Equipment Tax Exemption. This bill re-establishes a state tax exemption for certain pollution control equipment and facilities intended for use by a political subdivision in conjunction with the operation of its water, wastewater, stormwater, or solid waste management facilities or systems. (HB 1173)
➤ Bulk Energy Storage Task Force. This measure requires the State Corporation Commission to establish a task force to evaluate and analyze the potential for bulk energy storage resources to help integrate renewable energy into the electrical grid. (HB 1183)
➤ Increased Funding for Affordable Housing.The General Assembly increased funding to $60 million for the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund—a significant increase from recent years. This fund, which my legislation created in 2013, is the state’s greatest tool for creating and protecting affordable housing.
✴ Income Discrimination in Housing. This bill adds income-source discrimination to the Virginia Fair Housing Law, protecting holders of housing vouchers from being discriminated against when seeking housing. Currently, voucher holders face significant discrimination when searching for rental options and, with soaring rental costs in the DC-area, many low-income residents are being forced to move farther and farther away from their work, schools, and communities. Virginia should be doing all it can to improve the state of affordable housing and this bill will provide critical protection for some of our most disadvantaged neighbors. (HB 6)
✴ Statewide Affordable Housing Study. This measure (the first of its kind in over twenty years) directs the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Housing and Development Authority to conduct a study to determine the quantity and quality of affordable housing across the Commonwealth, determine the effectiveness of current housing policy efforts, develop an informed projection of future housing needs in the Commonwealth and determine the order of priority of those needs, and make recommendations for the improvement of housing policy in the Commonwealth. (HB 854)
WORKER PROTECTIONS & LABOR REFORMS
Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace. The General Assembly has passed a law protecting workers from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions and requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for these employees. The law also creates a private cause of action for workplace pregnancy discrimination. (HB 827/SB 712)
✴ Collective Bargaining for Public Employees. This bill finally permits localities to enter into collective bargaining agreements with public employees, including teachers and firefighters. (HB 582/SB 939)
➤ Project Labor Agreements for Public Works Projects. This bill repeals the section of the state code that prohibits the state government and localities from entering into project labor agreements (PLAs) for the construction, manufacturing, maintenance, or operation of public works projects. PLAs are agreements between building trade unions and contractors that govern the terms and conditions of employment for all workers—union and nonunion—on a construction project. This is an important pro-labor bill that will protect taxpayers by improving overall quality and eliminating costly delays. (HB 358)
➤ Project Labor Agreements for WMATA. This bill repeals sections of the 2018 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) funding bills that prevented WMATA and its contractors from participating in project labor agreements. (HB 1635/SB 995)
Increased Worker Protections. Several laws were passed to combat worker misclassification and wage theft by empowering state agencies to conduct investigations into worker complaints and protecting employees from employer retaliation. (HB 1407/SB 744, HB 1199/SB 662, HB 336/SB 49, HB 337/SB 48)
ELECTION REFORMS & CIVIL RIGHTS
✴ Equal Rights Amendment. This session, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution, which would permanently enshrine gender equality into our founding document. Though the amendment still has many steps ahead before it can become law, I am incredibly proud to have cast my vote in favor of this momentous leap forward for our country. (HJ 1)
✴ Voter ID Requirements. The General Assembly has voted to eliminate the requirement that voters must show a photo ID prior to casting a ballot. Voter ID laws disenfranchise individuals who may not have access to photo identification and disproportionately impact low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities. (HB 19/SB 65)
Automatic Voter Registration. This bill provides for the automatic voter registration for individuals accessing services at a Department of Motor Vehicles office or website. This bill will encourage more participation in our elections and ensure the protection of voting rights for all Virginians. (HB 235)
✴ No-Excuse Absentee Voting. This bill removes the current list of statutory reasons under which a person may be entitled to vote by absentee ballot in favor of allowing all Virginia voters to vote by absentee in any election. (HB 1/SB 111)
✴ Discrimination against LGBTQ Virginians in Public Accomodations. With the passage of the Virginia Values Act, Virginia has now become the first state in the South to enact comprehensive protections for the LGBTQ community against discrimination in housing, employment, public spaces, and credit applications. (SB 868)
New Birth Certificates for Transgender Virginians. This bill creates a process allowing transgender Virginians to receive a new birth cerficate with the name and sex that match the individual’s gender identity. (HB 1041/SB 657)
✴ Classifying Anti-LGBTQ Violence as Hate Crimes. This measure adds gender, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation to the protected categories in Virginia’s hate crime law—expanding critical protections to Virginia’s LGBTQ community. (HB 276)
➤ Affirming Virginia’s Commitment to Diversity & Civil Rights. For the first time in many years, the General Assembly has passed a joint resolution affirming the Commonwealth's commitment to diversity and safeguarding the civil rights and dignity of all Virginians. (HJ 91)
✴ Making Election Day a State Holiday. The General Assembly has passed a law turning Election Day into a state holiday. In order to maintain the same number of state holidays, the legislature also eliminated the observance of Lee-Jackson Day in honor of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. (HB 108/SB 601)
✴ Race Identification on Marriage Licenses. This bill eliminates the requirement that the race of married parties be included in marriage records, divorce reports, and annulment reports filed with the State Registrar. The bill also removes the requirement that the State Registrar include race data in the compilation and posting of marriage, divorce, and annulment data. (HB 180/SB 62)
TRANSPARENCY & GOOD GOVERNMENT
✴ Removing Confederate Memorials. After years of requests from advocates and localities, the General Assembly has finally passed a law granting localities the ability to remove and relocate Confederate memorials in public areas. (HB 1537/SB 183)
✴ Animal Tethering in Extreme Conditions. This bill prohibits the outdoor tethering of an animal during extreme weather conditions or when the outdoor temperature is sustained above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. (HB 1552/SB 272)
➤ Lead Pipe Warnings for Homebuyers. This bill requires that lead pipe warnings be added to the ‘buyer beware’ disclosures provided to new and prospective homebuyers. (HB 1161)
➤ Record-Keeping on TANF Hardship Exceptions. The General Assembly passed my bill requiring that the Department of Social Services keep and publish records of the number of Virginia Initiative for Education and Work (VIEW) participants that receive an exception to the time limitations on TANF benefits due to hardship and the specific circumstances relied upon to grant such exceptions. This bill will increase transparency within the TANF program and allow researchers to better study the impacts of the program on low-income recipients. It will also improve administration of the program for recipients in Virginia. (HB 1137)
For up-to-date information about what’s going on with the Virginia General Assembly and the 49th District, you can follow me and my team on Facebook at facebook.com/Lopez4VA and on Twitter at @Lopez4VA. For additional constituent resources and news updates, please visit my website at AlfonsoLopez.org.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to read this update and stay informed about our state legislature. If you ever need assistance with a state agency, would like to express your support or opposition to a piece of legislation, or are interested in arranging a meeting with me down in Richmond or at home in the 49th District, please don’t hesitate to contact me at DelALopez@house.virginia.gov or by phone at (571) 336-2147.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Alfonso H. LopezMajority Whip Member, 49th DistrictVirginia House of Delegates