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Like a school of fish in a sea of predators, many of the hundreds of bills filed during every General Assembly session fail to advance to even a floor vote, never mind the governor’s desk.

Every week, we’ll bring you a sampling of the legislation left on the cutting room floor, either failing to report or done in by those other genteel euphemisms of the legislature: “gently laid on the table” or “passed by indefinitely.”

“Airbnb for jail beds?”

A tied vote in the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee on Friday meant the death of a bill aimed at improving oversight of youth detained in Virginia under federal contracts — particularly at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said his proposed legislation would have required the Department of Juvenile Justice to set forth regulations aimed at implementing “best practices,” to care for the kids brought to Virginia by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. A representative with the department noted that it is currently in the process of expanding its oversight.

Some lawmakers on the committee expressed dismay when Ebbin said the youth in question haven’t been convicted of a crime, but are housed in a detention facility.

“Is this like Airbnb for jail beds?” asked Sen. William DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach.

Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, tried to clarify that the localities are contracting with the federal government, a practice the state has not prohibited, and that Ebbin’s bill is simply trying to improve the situation within the current framework.

But lawmakers still had concerns that the bill wouldn’t rectify the root of the problem, and the legislation went down on a tied vote.

YEAS — Reeves, Locke, Favola, Surovell, McPike, Spruill, Mason — 7.

NAYS —Hanger, Wagner, McDougle, Black, Chafin, Cosgrove, DeSteph— 7.

No legal marijuana this year

Three proposals that would have decriminalized marijuana and two that would have explicitly legalized its recreational use never made it out of subcommittee in the House of Delegates. It was not an unexpected outcome.

Groups including the ACLU of Virginia and NORML argued marijuana convictions ruin lives for no good reason. Groups representing law enforcement and state prosecutors said no good could come from reducing penalties and, in any case, no one is actually being jailed for simple possession charges, even though the punishment is an option under state code.

Republicans on the committee were unanimous in their opposition to both bills. Two of the Democrats on the committee, Charniele L. Herring and Michael P. Mullin, supported both the legalization and decriminalization bills. A third, Vivian Watts, voted against legalization but in favor of decriminalization.

The final tally on legalization (a yes vote was a vote against the bill):

YEAS— Gilbert, Bell, Robert B., Adams, L.R., Collins, Ransone, Watts— 6.

NAYS —Herring, Mullin—2.


YEAS—Gilbert, Bell, Robert B., Adams, L.R., Collins, Ransone—5.

NAYS—Watts, Herring, Mullin—3.

Eliminating Lee-Jackson Day

Every year, Virginia gives state employees the day off to celebrate two Confederate generals, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Established by a relative of Lee in 1889, it’s become increasingly controversial, with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, the only black state-wide elected official, opting to sit out annual tributes in the state Senate.

Bills to nix that holiday going forward and instead make Election Day a state holiday failed on party line votes in committees in both the House and Senate. Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, said it amounted to “erasing history.” Proponents note we manage to remember all kinds of things we don’t celebrate with a holiday.

Senate: YEAS — Locke, Barker, Ebbin, Surovell, McPike —5. NAYS —Ruff, Vogel, Black, Reeves, DeSteph, Suetterlein, Dunnavant —7.

House: YEAS —Lindsey, Turpin —2. NAYS —Leftwich, Landes, Adams, L.R., McGuire —4.

Unsuccessful abortion bills

In news of the not-especially-surprising, three abortion-related bills died on party-line votes in the Senate Education and Health Committee Thursday morning:

  • Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, had a bill that would have eliminated several rules surrounding abortions, including the requirement that third trimester abortions take place in hospitals and that women must first get ultrasounds. (In this case a “yea” vote was a vote to “pass by indefinitely” or kill the bill)  YEAS —Newman, Black, Carrico, Cosgrove, Dunnavant, Chase, Suetterlein, Peake—8. NAYS — Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Locke, Barker, Petersen, Lewis— 7.
  • Another bill sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, would simply have removed the requirement that women first get an ultrasound before the requirement. (This bill was incorporated into McClellan’s and dispatched on the same vote)
  • And Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, proposed the Virginia Human Rights Act, which would have codified reproductive rights into Virginia state law. (Again, a yes vote here was a vote against the bill)             YEAS — Newman, Black, Carrico, Cosgrove, Dunnavant, Chase, Suetterlein, Peake —8.  NAYS — Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Locke, Barker, Petersen, Lewis —7.

More expansive voting deemed too expensive

Several measures that would have expanded voting options failed to escape a House subcommittee, mostly due to concerns about the cost of implementing them.

Gov. Ralph Northam made an announcement before the General Assembly convened that he wanted to make voting accessibility a priority. His to-do list included no-excuse absentee voting and getting rid of Virginia’s photo ID requirement at the polls.

Bills addressing those topics are still waiting to be considered by lawmakers, but other attempts to change the voting registration process have failed.

Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, wanted to implement an automatic voter registration bill that would require people opt out of personal information being sent from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the Department of Elections. Currently, it’s an opt-in process which requires people to say “yes” to sending their information.

Clara Belle Wheeler, vice-chair of the state Board of Election, told a House subcommittee this week there are still too many problems with the current process of applying to register to vote through the DMV.

The subcommittee laid it on the table, a vote split down party lines.

Another measure from Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, would have allowed same-day registration in the state. But finances again dominated the discussion, since registrars told the subcommittee it would be difficult to properly vet potential voters without certain technology, like linked electronic pollbooks.

The bill was also left in the subcommittee on a party-line vote. For both bills, the vote was: 

YEAS— Ransone, Ingram, Fowler, McGuire— 4.

NAYS— Sickles, VanValkenburg— 2.

Teachers, strippers and guns:

Other bills that went by the wayside.

  • Requiring teachers to learn mental health first aid.
  • Requiring strippers be at least 21. The measure’s patron, Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, said it was born out of his concern that decisions dancers make at a young age might haunt them down the road given the ubiquity of social media and photographs.

And don’t forget those we’ve already covered, related to guns, social services, plastic bag taxes and the amendment to let governors serve two terms.

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Katie O'Connor
Katie, a Manassas native, has covered health care, commercial real estate, law, agriculture and tourism for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond BizSense and the Northern Virginia Daily. Last year, she was named an Association of Health Care Journalists Regional Health Journalism Fellow, a program to aid journalists in making national health stories local and using data in their reporting. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she was executive editor of The Flat Hat, the college paper, and editor-in-chief of The Gallery, the college’s literary magazine.
Ned Oliver
Ned, a Lexington native, has more than a decade’s worth of experience in journalism, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. Contact him at [email protected]
Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach. Mechelle was with the Virginia Mercury until January 3rd, 2019.