VA House Democrats file voting rights, gun safety, equality legislation ahead of session

RICHMOND, Va. -- Monday marks the opening of pre-filing for the 2020 General Assembly session in Virginia.

Ahead of the session, Virginia Democrats are filing several bills that establish their legislative agenda for their first session as a majority in more than two decades.

The first bills filed include:

• HB1: No-excuse in-person and mail absentee voting; Patron: Del. Charniele Herring
• HB2: Universal background checks; Patron: Del. Ken Plum
• HB3: LGBTQ+ Housing Nondiscrimination; Patron: Del. Delores McQuinn
• HJ1: Equal Rights Amendment; Patron: Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy

HB1 will permit any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot in any election in which he is qualified to vote. Currently, Virginians who wish to vote absentee can only do so for specific reasons outlined in a statutory list.

HB2 will require universal background checks for any firearm sales or transfers.  A transferor who sells a firearm to another person without obtaining the required background check would be guilty of a Class 6 felony.

HB3 adds discrimination on the basis of an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity as an unlawful housing practice. The bill also defines "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."

HJ1 ratifies the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution of the United States that was proposed by Congress in 1972.  The ERA is a constitutional amendment that will guarantee legal gender equality for women and men.

In the 2019 GA session, the ERA was passed by the Senate but failed to come out of committee in the House of Delegates.

“Similar bills have been introduced by House Democrats in the past and were unfortunately blocked, despite receiving widespread support from the majority of Virginians,” said Majority Leader-elect Charniele Herring. “Finally, these bills will get the consideration they deserve in the House of Delegates, and we can take our first steps toward improving voting rights, preventing gun violence, and recognizing all Virginians as equal regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Conservative advocacy groups called the agenda "radical" and expressed concern that some of the bills would create a government intrusion into the daily lives of Virginians.

"I love of them, especially the gun background check ups," said Alexa Landsheft, a Democratic voter. "I think they're more for the people, working class people."

"If Democrats do a great job, go for it.  I hope they do.  But I don't see it based on history," said Robert Ward, who supports Republicans.  "I don't think they've come up with, except for these radical ideas, fresh ideas."

The 2020 Virginia General Assembly will convene in January.

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