Virginians could see new movement on gun background checks and voting rights if Democrats win big on Tuesday.
From gun safety to raising the minimum wage, Democrats in Virginia are eyeing up big changes if the party takes control of the legislature following Tuesday's election.
Republicans hold a narrow majority in each chamber currently and have used that power to defeat legislation introduced by the Democratic minority. Largely on a party-line vote, Republicans over the past few years have defeated legislation on background checks, red flag laws, LQBTQ equality, voting rights, the minimum wage, reproductive health, and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Taking up new legislation on those six topics has "broad support among Democrats in the Senate," Hailey Barringer, deputy executive director of the Virginia Senate Democrats, said in a phone interview Thursday.
"They will be priorities" if Democrats pick up enough seats to become the majority, she added.
Barringer's counterpart for the Virginia House Democrats, communications director Kathryn Gilley, largely agreed, saying bills like the ones blocked in the past year would be priorities with a potential Democratic majority. Gilley cautioned that the 2020 agenda would not be set until after the election, so that all members can give their input.
Nevertheless, she said that Democrats were supportive on legislation dealing with the following key issues.
"Commonsense gun laws are definitely on the agenda" if Democrats are in charge, Gilley said in a Thursday phone interview. She added that Virginia residents "can definitely expect background checks as well as red flag laws."
In January, Republicans voted down more than a dozen gun safety bills authored by Democrats. Over the summer, Virginia Republicans ended a special session on gun safety after just 90 minutes without voting on a single bill.
The special session was called after 12 people died in a Virginia Beach mass shooting.
On the issue of LGBTQ equality, Gilley expects to see anti-discrimination laws passed, adding that Democrats will likely introduce hate-crimes legislation recommended by the attorney general that would add gender identity and sexual orientation to the current hate crimes statute.
At the moment, Republicans hold a 20-19 majority in the state Senate and just a 51-48 majority in the House of Delegates, with each chamber facing one vacancy. All 40 seats in the Senate and 100 seats in the House are on the ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Equal Rights Amendment
Democrats won every statewide race in 2017 and flipped 15 House seats from Republican control, coming close to gaining control. If the party takes control of the general assembly on Tuesday, legislation focusing on women's health and equality could also play a much more prominent role.
When asked about the Equal Rights Amendment, Gilley said she "definitely expects to see it again and pass with a Democratic majority."
In addition, a Democratic majority "will treat access to abortion like the health care issue it is," Gilley said.
"Virginians can expect legislation to be backed up by doctors and medical science," she said.
Neither Gilley nor Barringer would comment on specific legislation to address the minimum wage, but both agreed that raising it was a priority. Each said that if Democrats take the majority, they would like for Democrats in each chamber to work together to come up with a minimum wage bill that would pass both chambers and be signed into law.
With an election around the corner, Gilley noted that Virginia "is one of the most restrictive states" when it comes to voting. Looking ahead, she suggested "a good place to start is no-excuse absentee voting, which Republicans killed in the past."
Under current law, Virginia residents can only get an absentee ballot if they have a valid, state-approved reason for being unable to vote on Election Day. Starting in 2020, Virginians will be able to vote early with no excuse, but only for a limited period of time.
Virginia is also one of only a few states with a lifetime ban on those with felony convictions voting, but Democrats may pick up a bill on that issue that Republicans defeated earlier in January.
The Virginia elections will have a direct impact on residents, but political observers are also eager to use the election results as something of a crystal ball to predict what 2020 may bring.
"Virginia's legislative elections are viewed as an early test case, both as a measure of Democratic momentum against Republican control and for what they may reveal about voters' attitudes on policy issues and campaign messages," the New York Times reported in August.
The 2018 midterms saw voters across the country flip a historic number of seats in the House of Representatives and give control back to the Democrats.
On Tuesday, Virginia voters will once again head to the polls and determine whether to do it again at the state level. Less than a week before the election, Barringer is optimistic.
"We feel good about Tuesday's election," she said.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.