Virginia lawmakers have been busy in Richmond as of late. Several bills of importance are headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk within the next few weeks, and the changes they mean to implement are no light affair.
From teen driving safety to abortion coverage to the abolishment of the death penalty, here’s how these potential laws will change the future for Virginians.
Student Driver Safety Bill, HB1918
This bill’s origin is in York County, where Tammy Williams Guido lost her 16-year-old son, Conner, in a car crash after a homecoming dance at Tabb High School in 2019. The crash claimed the lives of three teenage boys, including Connor.
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The result is HB1918, a teen driver safety bill that would compel each public high school to require “any student who applies to obtain a pass to park a vehicle on school property to provide evidence that the student possesses a valid driver’s license or driver privilege card.”
A standardized form would be developed for this process.
The bill also includes a requirement for the 10th-grade health education curriculum in each public high school to include instruction on the dangers of distracted driving and speeding.
The bill was introduced by Del. Martha Mugler (D-Hampton), who represents York County, Poquoson and Hampton for Virginia’s 91st House of Delegates District.
On Feb. 22, the bill passed unanimously through both the House and Senate.
Death Penalty Abolishment, SB1165
Virginia is on its way to becoming the first southern state to ban the death penalty thanks to SB1165, sponsored by Senator Scott Surovell.
Recent votes in the Virginia General Assembly saw the Senate vote in favor of abolishing capital punishment (21-17) and the House of Delegates voting in favor of repealing the death penalty and replacing it with a sentence of life without parole (57-41).
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“The practice is fundamentally inequitable,” Gov. Northam said in a prepared statement on Feb. 3. “It is inhumane. It is ineffective. And we know that in some cases, people on death row have been found innocent.”
Since 1976, 113 Virginians have been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, with a clear disparity between white and Black men.
Abortion Bill, SB1276
On Feb. 16, the Virginia House passed Senator Jennifer McClellan’s (D-Richmond) SB1276, a bill that removes the ban on abortion coverage for health insurance plans offered through the health exchange. This makes Virginia the first state in the South to end these restrictions on abortion access.
Currently, abortion is the only legal medical procedure that is prohibited by Virginia law from being offered by private companies that sell plans under the exchange in Virginia. SB1276 ends that ban.
“This bill will remove yet another medically unnecessary barrier preventing access to reproductive health care,” said Sen. McClellan in a news release. “The current ban was put in place for political reasons. Access to coverage should not depend on the type of insurance you have.”
Last April, Gov. Northam signed the Reproductive Health Protection Act, which repeals medically-unnecessary restrictions on women’s healthcare.
Senate Bill 733 and House Bill 980, sponsored by Senator Jennifer McClellan and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, respectively, repeal Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law and 24-hour waiting period prior to an abortion.
The legislation also rolled back “TRAP” restrictions — Targeted Restrictions of Abortion Providers — on women’s health centers. The restrictions have been criticized as politically-motivated, designed to force closures and make it more difficult for Virginians to get access to necessary healthcare services.
“Abortion is an essential part of comprehensive, reproductive health care, and one of the most common and safest medical procedures performed in this country. In fact, one in four women will have an abortion in her lifetime,” said Tarina D. Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, in a statement from a news release.
“No person ever plans on having an abortion, but when an unplanned pregnancy or a tragic turn of events for a wanted pregnancy occurs, they should have access to safe, affordable, and accessible reproductive healthcare,” Keene added.
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