RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) -Democrats in the General Assembly say it was a historic session, but there is still more work to be done.
Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st) says she’s proud that Virginia will be the first state in the south to both abolish the death penalty and legalize marijuana. That, while acknowledging some work, particularly around racial injustice, is unfinished.
”We were able to help those most vulnerable and those most impacted by COVID-19. Whether we’re talking about individuals, families, we’re talking about providing relief to small businesses that are suffering from the economic effects of COVID-19,” Filler-Corn said.
Lawmakers passed legislation that would fine landlords for carrying out illegal evictions and expanded healthcare coverage across the commonwealth.
“Lifting up working Virginians and recognizing that being good for business and helping workers and being better for workers are not mutually exclusive,” Filler-Corn said.
While the House passed a more expansive paid sick leave bill, the Senate dwindled protections down to just healthcare workers. That leaves out many of the grocery store, postal and other frontline workers hit hard by the pandemic.
“Do we want to go further? Absolutely. Can we? Absolutely, and I commit to you we will, but it was a strong first step that will benefit the healthcare workers that are on the frontlines every single day,” the speaker said.
One measure Filler-Corn says will positively impact minority communities is the legalization of marijuana. It’s set to start January 1, 2024.
“Virginia has to establish the health and safety measures to ensure that the public has access to the product that’s safe and regulated. We also have to make sure that there are health programs implemented to ensure that children and young people understand the potential dangers of misuse,” she said.
The delay disappointed some lawmakers, including Delegate Sally Hudson (D-57th).
“It would not repeal the penalty on simple possession anytime soon either,” Hudson said.
She says this disproportionately harms Black Virginians.
“Black Virginians are currently facing something like four times the risk of citation as white Virginians. Not here in Charlottesville. Charlottesville has not been issuing those citations, but we are rare,” Hudson said.
Hudson said there’s no reason why Virginia can’t end the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana while officials set up the regulatory framework. The speaker said Democrats plan to work with Governor Ralph Northam over the next several weeks to finalize details.