The General Assembly will consider Governor Northam’s proposed amendments at the reconvened session on Wednesday, April 7. The Governor proposed amendments to 36 bills (including several pairs of House and Senate companion bills) and offered 18 amendments to the state budget.
An overview of the Governor’s amendments of interest to local governments may be found below.
HB 2207 (Jones)/SB 1375 (Saslaw) establish a presumption that COVID-19 causing the death or disability of firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, law-enforcement officers, correctional officers, and regional jail officers is an occupational disease compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act. As passed by the General Assembly, the bills provide that this presumption applies to any death or disability caused by infection from the COVID-19 virus occurring on or after September 1, 2020. The Governor’s amendments apply the presumption beginning July 1, 2020. VACo has requested that any retroactive application of this presumption be accompanied by state funding assistance.
HB 1890 (Price)/SB 1395 (McClellan) impose certain oversight requirements on local voting practices, in addition to other provisions creating causes of action at the state level. The Governor’s amendments clarify some ambiguous language about the applicability of the requirements to submit certain election-related practices for a public comment period or to the Attorney General for approval. The Governor’s proposal makes clear that all localities are subject to these requirements. VACo had encouraged the Governor to consider a delay in the bills’ provisions regarding review of local redistricting plans, given the unprecedented delay in receipt of 2020 Census data, as there will be limited time for localities to develop local redistricting plans and submit them for either a 75-day process of public notice and comment or a 60-day Attorney General review between Census data being made available to localities in late summer and the end of the calendar year. No changes to these provisions were made.
HB 2168 (Scott) establishes civil penalties for gambling devices being placed in an unregulated location, as defined in the bill, and authorizes the Attorney General, an attorney for the Commonwealth, or the attorney for any locality to initiate legal action to enjoin the operation of such devices. The Governor’s amendment deletes some language that had been interpreted by some observers as allowing “games of skill” to continue operating for an additional year beyond their scheduled expiration at the end of FY 2021. Games of skill, or “gray machines,” had been authorized to operate for one year via gubernatorial amendments to legislation passed in the 2020 session, subject to a per-machine tax that was dedicated to COVID-19 relief efforts.
SB 1221 (Favola), as passed by the General Assembly, allows Loudoun County to provide local health services under contract with the State Board of Health. The Governor’s substitute would extend this authority to Prince William County and the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.
The Governor’s most extensive amendments were offered to HB 2312 (Herring)/SB 1406 (Ebbin), which would establish a path for legalization of marijuana in Virginia. The Governor’s amendments largely center around five key policy areas:
- Expedited Legalization: The Governor’s amendments speed up the legalization of personal possession of marijuana. While the legislation as passed by the General Assembly delayed legalization until 2024, the Governor has proposed allowing adults 21 years of age or older to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis beginning July 1, 2021, though commercialization will still be delayed.
- Home Cultivation: In addition to the expedited legalization of possession date, the Governor also proposed that the effective date for home cultivation be sped up as well. Under his proposed amendments, households would be permitted to grow up to four cannabis plants beginning July 1, 2021. Such plants must be labeled with identification information, must remain out of sight from the public view, and must be out of range of individuals under the age of 21.
- Public Health Funding: The Governor has proposed two budget amendments relating to the marijuana legislation: the first funds public awareness campaigns on the health and safety risks of marijuana, and the second funds training to help law enforcement officers recognize and prevent drugged driving. These amendments also include explicit language directing ongoing support for public health education.
- Worker Protections: Under the Governor’s proposed amendments, pursuant to § 4.1-900 of the legislation, the new Cannabis Control Authority is authorized to revoke a company’s business license if it interferes with union organizing efforts, fails to pay a prevailing wage as defined by the United States Department of Labor, or classifies more than 10 percent of employees as independent contractors.
- Expedited Expungements and Sealing of Records: The Governor has proposed new language that seeks to speed up the process of expungements and sealing of criminal records on marijuana offenses. The language, found in § 19.2-392.1 and § 19.2-392.2, simplifies the criteria for the sealing of records and allows for expungements as soon as state agencies are logistically able to do so.
The Governor proposed 18 amendments to the state budget, many of which are technical changes. Notably, the Governor did not amend language passed by the General Assembly that would stipulate that additional federal pandemic relief funds approved by Congress after January 1, 2021, would be placed in a trust fund and appropriated through a general appropriation act, a provision that would require legislative involvement in decisions regarding use of these funds, rather than the relatively free hand afforded to the Governor in prioritizing use of the Coronavirus Relief Funds contained in the March 2020 CARES Act. With the retention of these provisions, a special session to appropriate the funds distributed to Virginia in the American Rescue Plan Act can be expected sometime later this year.
Budget amendments of interest to local governments are outlined below:
Amendment 3: Budget language as passed by the General Assembly extends certain election practices that were instituted for the November 2020 election (the ability to cure errors on absentee ballot envelopes, the requirement for ballots to be sent with prepaid postage, and authorization for use of drop-off locations) to special elections and primaries held during the period between enactment of the budget and June 30, 2021, after which time legislation passed during the 2021 General Assembly special session making these provisions permanent takes effect. The Governor’s amendment extends these provisions to cover general elections occurring until June 30.
Amendment 5: Budget language currently allows the Superintendent of Public Instruction to grant temporary flexibility or to issue waivers of certain deadlines and requirements, such as accreditation, testing, school calendars, and reports, in recognition of school closures or other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This flexibility currently applies to FY 2020 (school year 2019-2020) and FY 2021 (school year 2020-2021); the Governor’s amendment would extend the authority through FY 2022 (school year 2021-2022).
Amendment 7: The Governor’s amendment authorizes the appropriation of additional federal Medicaid revenue for current services as authorized in the American Rescue Plan Act, but does not allow any expansion of Medicaid programs unless authorized by the legislature, and requires any state funds freed up by the federal dollars to be retained until reappropriated by the General Assembly.
Amendment 8: The enrolled budget directs $33.2 million in federal funds for school age child care; the Governor’s amendment allows these funds to be used for broader child care purposes.
Amendment 11: Clarifies that a waiver from the Criminal Justice Services Board is only required for use of certain high-caliber rifles and ammunition for use in such rifles and not for other types of firearms or ammunition. The waiver requirement was established in legislation passed during the 2020 special session.
Amendment 12: Provides $1 million General Funds (GF) in FY 2022 for the Virginia State Police to provide training to state and local law enforcement agencies in detection of driving under the influence of drugs. As discussed above, this amendment is part of the Governor’s policy proposals related to marijuana legalization.
Amendment 14: Provides $1 million GF in FY 2022 for evidence-based marijuana prevention and education programs and public health campaigns. As discussed above, this amendment is also part of the Governor’s marijuana policy proposals.
VACo Contacts: VACo Legislative Team