Now that Democrats have taken control of both chambers of the General Assembly, Gov. Ralph Northam and the new leadership are planning to work together on a similar agenda, which includes passing the Equal Rights Amendment, more education spending, criminal justice reform and gun control legislation, among other measures.
“This team will work together and this team will deliver,” newly appointed Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said in a news conference Tuesday.
Filler-Corn was joined by Northam, newly appointed Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, and other Democratic lawmakers.
Filler-Corn and Northam both said that the party will work on making sure Virginia is the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which would be enough for it to be brought into the U.S. Constitution. However, there are still some legal questions about whether the ratification would be valid, because the deadline has long passed. There are also questions about whether the states that voted to ratify the amendment, then rescinded their ratification, can validly rescind it. If they can, then the amendment would not yet have enough state ratifications.
The amendment would guarantee women equal rights under the law. It has received opposition from some who say that the wording could put affirmative action programs that benefit women at risk. Some pro-life groups also have warned that the wording could be used to defend a right to abortion.
Northam’s agenda has called for more education spending. The governor’s proposal to the General Assembly included spending an additional $1.2 billion for K-12 education, which includes a three percent pay raise for teachers, costing the state $145 million. His plan would increase early childhood education spending by $100 million. It would also create a $145 million fund that would fully cover the cost of community college for impoverished students who are preparing for a high-demand job.
The governor also said that Virginia cannot only be the best state for business, but it should also be the best state for workers. He said that the General Assembly should increase the minimum wage from its current $7.25 per hour because some people cannot afford to take care of themselves or a family on their current earnings.
In the news conference, Saslaw said that most of the state’s problems will go away if Virginia is a better state for children and for workers.
“And to me, that’s the biggest priority,” Saslaw said.
Northam’s agenda also calls for reforming the criminal justice system. This would include decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it only a civil offense, and permanently ending the practice of suspending drivers’ licenses for unpaid fines, fees and court costs.
The governor’s agenda includes changes in gun control policy. This includes a ban on the sale of assault weapons. It also includes red-flag laws, expanded background checks and other restrictions on gun purchases.
Additionally, Northam is prioritizing environmental policies and anti-discrimination policies.