General Assembly wraps up session ushering in changes

Free Press staff report | 3/4/2021, 6 p.m.
The death penalty was abolished, a new state Voting Rights Act was approved to ensure voter suppression does not happen ...
Ms. Filler-Corn

The death penalty was abolished, a new state Voting Rights Act was approved to ensure voter suppression does not happen and racial bigotry was a labeled a public health crisis.

Separately, teachers, state employees and state-supported local employees were awarded a 5 percent pay raise.

And for the first time, 30,000 home health care workers who serve Medicaid patients will have five paid sick days annually.

That is just a sampling of changes ushered in by the General Assembly in bills sent to Gov. Ralph S. Northam’s desk for his signature.

The legislature, which officially adjourned its 46-day session Monday, will be back Wednesday, April 7, to consider any vetoes or amendments by the governor.

House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said the legislative session was highly productive and will have a lasting impact on the Commonwealth and its families.

Racial equity was a highlight.

Among other legislation that passed, state agencies were directed to develop strategic plans to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their operations.

In addition, the legislature agreed to an initiative to help expand broadband service to areas where it does not currently exist.

The wave of bills included a push to expand vaccination for COVID-19, ensure public schools reopen in the fall and expand a child care voucher program.

The legislature also extended worker safety and discrimination protection to maids and other domestic workers and put the state on the road to legalizing marijuana.

Other approved bills to promote public safety would limit convicted domestic abusers from gun purchases and bar weapons on State Capitol grounds and in polling places.

The legislature also made abortion a covered medical procedure for health insurance purposes and passed a bill to increase transparency in pharmacy charges. Lawmakers also approved setting up a state-run health insurance marketplace in a bid to reduce policy costs.

As part of the budget action, the legislature included funding to enable public school systems to hire more counselors, psychologists and school nurses and restored funding for early childhood education.

Legislators for the first time also passed a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore the voting rights of felons after their release, although it must pass again next year before it goes before the voters in a referendum.

Also for the first time, the House and Senate agreed on a bill to provide for the automatic sealing of criminal records involving 170 misdemeanors and felonies for people who maintain clean records for at least seven years.