I always love this time of year. The weather is still relatively mild, and I’ve usually managed to recover from the General Assembly session. Perhaps more importantly, as the Governor travels the state holding bill signing ceremonies, we get to pause and celebrate the hundreds of hours that advocates, lobbyists, and legislators spent drafting, negotiating, redrafting, and successfully fighting for their policy ideas. It’s the point at which many of these ideas finally feel tangible and real. At these ceremonies, the text of the bill is printed on thick paper, pressed with the seal of Virginia, signed by the Governor, and held and celebrated by those who came together to advance that proposal. It’s a powerful and symbolic moment that is often accompanied by tears of joy.
And perhaps even more so this year, it’s important for us to hold these spaces for reflection, (safe) connection, and celebration with each other. It’s important for us, collectively, to look ahead to the future and consider what our families, neighbors, and communities still need in order to fully thrive. To this end, the New 2021 Virginia Law resource provides a snapshot of the legislative accomplishments from the 2021 General Assembly session and the policy decisions that we are expecting sexual and domestic violence advocates to be able to count on in a (hopefully) post-pandemic Commonwealth.
This was the second year that Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature as well as the Executive branch, so there was no shortage of issues on their agenda to debate and advance. Legislators introduced 1,092 bills with 622 of these passing the House of Delegates and Senate and ultimately being signed into law by the Governor. Despite an entirely virtual General Assembly Session that included bill limits and new rules governing the legislative process, our field saw several big wins in 2021, including:
- Restoration of $750,000 to the Sexual & Domestic Violence Prevention fund and budget language directing the Virginia Department of Health to continue to award federal Rape Prevention and Education (RPE) funds to six sexual and domestic violence organizations.
- New firearms restrictions for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes.
- Abolition of the death penalty.
- Policies to allow victims of trafficking to vacate and expunge criminal records.
- Repeal of Virginia’s discriminatory constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.
- Removal of the requirement that sexual assault victims report to law enforcement in order to be eligible for criminal injuries compensation.
The work for this year isn’t over yet! Given the influx of federal relief dollars to Virginia (via the American Rescue Act), the General Assembly is expected to come back together for a Special Session on August 2nd to make important decisions regarding funding for our families and communities. The Action Alliance’s Public Policy Committee and staff have already been working to educate our policy leaders – at the state and federal levels – on the need for sustainable services and prevention funding for our work. Stay tuned for more on this special session and for information on how you can best plug into these advocacy efforts.
But for now, let’s pause and celebrate our collective accomplishments. Without the support of the Action Alliance membership, none of our work advocating for survivors in the legislature would be possible. Thank YOU for your steadfast advocacy at the General Assembly (and beyond)!
Note: Unless noted, legislation becomes effective July 1, 2021. For more information on bills of interest, the Action Alliance’s policy priorities, news from the 2021 General Assembly Session, and news on the upcoming special session, see the Public Policy section of the Action Alliance’s website. If you have any feedback, questions, or would like to get involved, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan Yglesias is the Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance where he works with a team of advocates, movement minds, attorneys, and passionate policy nerds to coordinate the Action Alliance’s public policy efforts on behalf of survivors, sexual and domestic violence agencies, and communities in Virginia seeking to improve the prevention of and response to sexual and domestic violence.Read more news