Newly passed Virginia bills deal with discrimination, ending Lee-Jackson Day

Virginia is set to adopt wide-ranging nondiscrimination measures protecting LGBTQ people, pregnant women and others, and lawmakers struck down a law that made sexual intercourse a crime for many Virginians.

The bills were among dozens passed Thursday by the House or Senate ahead of Tuesday’s crossover deadline, when bills must pass in at least one chamber to remain alive for the year.

The House voted to repeal the crime of fornication — sex between consenting adults — 91-5 with one person abstaining, which is called Rule 69 in the House.

Nondiscrimination

Both the House and Senate, now under Democratic control, have passed versions of many of the nondiscrimination measures.

The House voted 59-35 to provide protections against discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status.

Supporters of the measure cheered when Republican Del. Dave LaRock, who opposed it, complained it could be used to require people to use a transgender person’s pronouns.

The Senate also passed a bill 30-9 to create new protections in public accommodation. The House passed a similar bill Wednesday.

The House voted 55-44 on Thursday to require all state employees to get LGBTQ cultural competency training. The House backed a bill allowing local governments to add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to their nondiscrimination policies on a 75-24 vote.

The House also voted 66-31 to ban discrimination against women over pregnancy or related issues, such as breastfeeding.

The House also backed a new police alert for missing children with autism, and a change to allow doulas to become state-certified.

The House also voted Thursday to repeal a number of segregation laws that technically remain in the Virginia code on housing, transit, schools, hospitals and other areas.

Protections

Most public workers could get collective bargaining rights for the first time under a bill approved 54-45 in the House.

The Senate voted 21-19 to raise the penalty for brandishing a firearm to induce fear, if done as part of a gathering with other people, meant to intimidate a person or group.

The expansion of Virginia’s ban on paramilitary activity was proposed in response to the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally around Confederate monuments in Charlottesville.

The General Assembly is considering giving local governments the authority to move or change Confederate monuments, but could require supermajority votes and lengthy research or public comment periods.

The House voted 86-13 to let local governments allow increased development density in exchange for affordable housing guarantees, and 57-42 to ban police from asking about immigration status of crime victims or their guardians.

The Senate voted to expand computer spying crimes to include instances where someone deceptively and without authority gains access, and the House voted to increase the penalty for tracking someone by GPS without their consent.

The House also voted 97-1 to require a conviction before law enforcement can permanently take property through forfeiture.

Elections

The House also voted 60-38 to require absentee ballots come with prepaid postage so no one fails to vote because they have trouble finding a stamp.

In Arlington County, the House approved instant runoff or ranked-choice voting, where voters whose first choice comes in last have their vote counted for their second choice if there is no majority in the first count.

Others

The House voted 55-42 to eliminate Lee-Jackson Day, honoring Confederate generals the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and to instead make Election Day a state holiday. The Senate has already approved the change, so the bill is expected to become law.

The House voted 84-15 to let local governments cut back overgrown vegetation along a road that poses a safety hazard if the Virginia Department of Transportation is not doing it.

Among other bills passed in the House, a county Board of Supervisors chairman could be called chairwoman or chair-at-large for the first time. For years, female leaders were legally obligated to use chairman as the formal title.

The House also voted to make it a crime to intentionally put a dead animal on church property, to allow online lottery ticket sales and to ban tough collections practices by Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Virginia medical systems.

The Senate also voted to allow for the deferral of child pornography charges in cases where teenagers are sexting each other; to add $10 to monthly Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds for menstrual products; to expand Virtual Virginia online classes; and to let retirees be school bus drivers without impacting their state pensions to ease shortage.

The Senate also approved training standards for jail canines and handlers; a NASCAR and auto racing heritage trail; marketing grants for new airline services; an alcohol regulations overhaul to slim down the number of licenses and simplify fees; and studies of abolishing jury sentencing, overhauling barrier crimes and records check laws; and a study that could lead to legalizing marijuana next year.

This year, Virginia is expected to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot.

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