ERA foy

Richmond Times-Dispatch file

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, waves to the pro-Equal Rights Amendment crowd outside the Capitol on the first day of the 2019 General Assembly. She reintroduced a House joint resolution that ratifies the Equal Rights Amendment for the 2020 legislative session.

Monday marked the start of when state lawmakers can begin filing legislation ahead of January’s General Assembly session.

Legislators filed over 60 bills Monday, with newly empowered Democrats prioritizing offering absentee voting without requiring an excuse or justification. Newly elected House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, sponsored the bill.

Absentee voting by mail or in person begins 45 days before an election. The legislation goes further than what Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law earlier this year. Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg, patroned the legislation that would allow for no-excuse, in-person absentee voting for the week before an election. The law doesn’t go into effect until the 2020 general election.

Rush said recently he pitched the bill because, as a former FedEx driver, he understood the challenges of planning to vote and unexpected disruptions to someone’s schedule. He said he felt expanding early voting too far out primarily serves the interests of political parties rather than ensuring people are equipped with all the information they need before they cast a vote.

“What I wanted to do is allow voters to watch those 10 days to allow voters to get as much information about candidates as they can to make an informed decision,” Rush said.

The first bill filed on the Senate side comes from Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, who is making what he hopes is his final push to permanently repeal Virginia’s law to suspend the driver’s license of anyone who doesn’t promptly pay court fines or costs.

Stanley was able to work with Northam to temporarily halt the practice earlier this year. Stanley been championing the cause for years, but has repeatedly met resistance in a Republican-controlled subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice due to concern over how to incentivize people to pay their court fines and fees.

Democrats filed most of the bills Monday. Here is some other legislation filed:

» As promised, Democrats filed several gun control bills, including universal background checks, civil penalties for not reporting lost or stolen firearms to police, reinstating the state’s lapsed one-handgun-a-month law, and giving localities the ability to prohibit the carrying of firearms in a public space during an event that would require a permit.

» Stanley is coming back to push for modernizing public school buildings. He’s reintroducing a bill that would put a referendum on the November 2020 ballot asking Virginians whether the legislature should issue $3 billion in bonds to upgrade schools. A separate bill would require the Board of Education to establish minimum standards for school buildings. A third bill he’s reintroducing would set up a fund to provide grants to school boards to fix school roofs.

» Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, filed a bill that would remove the requirement that a pregnant minor seeking an abortion obtain either parental consent or judicial authorization. The bill also removes the requirement that a pregnant woman receive an ultrasound to obtain an abortion at least 24 hours prior to the procedure or at least two hours before the procedure if the woman lives 100 miles from the facility where the abortion will be performed.

» Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, put in a bill prohibiting candidates or campaign committees from accepting contributions from a public service corporation, which include gas, pipeline, electric, power and telephone companies. More and more legislators — mostly Democrats — are swearing off money from politically powerful Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power.

» The first House joint resolution would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Passage is almost assured with Democrats in control of the legislature. The ERA, an amendment that guarantees equal rights regardless of sex, passed Congress in 1972 and requires 38 states to ratify it in order to become part of the Constitution. Virginia would be the 38th state to ratify it. But it’s still unclear whether it can be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

» Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, introduced a bill to authorize casino gaming, which would be regulated by the Virginia Lottery Board. Bristol and Danville are two of only a handful of cities casinos would be limited to.

» Saslaw reintroduced a bill to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 next year, with an increase of an additional dollar each year until it’s $15 in 2025.

“Similar bills have been introduced by House Democrats in the past and were unfortunately blocked, despite receiving widespread support from the majority of Virginians,” Herring said in a statement. “Finally, these bills will get the consideration they deserve in the House of Delegates, and we can take our first steps toward improving voting rights, preventing gun violence, and recognizing all Virginians as equal regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

The General Assembly session starts Jan. 8.

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