By: Jonathan Walter
On January 8th, the Virginia General Assembly convened for its 2020 session. This year’s session marked the first time Democrats have had a majority in both the House of Delegates and the State Senate since 1996. The new majority has wasted no time, with the House passing over 800 bills and the Senate passing over 600. Many of these pieces of legislation aim to bring the Commonwealth into the 21st century with regard to the technology used by state government, payment systems and revenue sources, and regulation of emerging technologies.
Although no legislation has been approved by both chambers, and major pieces of legislation will certainly require some negotiation, there is a presumption that many of these bills will pass. Further, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is a Democrat and it is likely he will approve almost all of the bills that come across his desk.
Below are just a few of the major pieces of legislation that are currently moving through the General Assembly:
Although most of the discussion has been around a bill that would allow five cities to seek a public vote on building casinos, both the House of Delegates and the State Senate have passed bills allowing sports betting and the online purchase of lottery tickets. After negotiations, it is anticipated that Virginia will award between six and ten online licenses for sports betting.
HB1414 and SB 890 are both large transportation bills aimed at modernizing the Commonwealth’s transportation laws. Measures in these bills include an increase in the gas tax, a ban on the use of handheld phones while driving, an increase in passenger rail service and expanded use of speed cameras, among other things.
The Virginia Clean Economy Act, which passed in the House of Delegates on a 52-47 vote, a massive energy bill that would require Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company to get 100% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2050. To do this, the legislation encourages these companies to invest in wind and solar power.
There are also a number of small, but important bills moving through the General Assembly:
HB172E would allow Virginia state troopers to use an electronic ticketing system. The new electronic ticketing system would reduce the length of time it takes a state trooper to write a ticket and help improve the efficiency of the state court system.
HB957, also known as the Virginia Cyber Initiative Act, directs the Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA) to “develop a cyber alliance” to encourage economic development in the cybersecurity field. Additionally, the bill creates a fund “for the purpose of improving cybersecurity and the economy of the Commonwealth.”
HB742 allows Virginia localities to develop their own regulations for the takeoff and landing of unmanned aerial systems. This bill builds on legislation passed during previous General Assembly sessions to develop the Commonwealth’s drone infrastructure and regulatory environment.
While many of these bills may only seem like they make small changes, they represent a positive step forward and will help the Commonwealth adapt to a rapidly changing world.
 Lowkell, At Halfway Point of 2020 Virginia General Assembly Session, Half of Bills Still Alive; Surges in Dem Legislative Success and Also Close Votes, Blue Virginia (Feb. 14, 2020), https://bluevirginia.us/2020/02/graphics-at-halfway-point-of-2020-virginia-general-assembly-session-half-of-bills-still-alive-surges-in-dem-legislative-success-and-also-close-votes.
 Gregory S. Schneider, Laura Vozzella and Patricia Sullivan, Virginia Democrats Push Liberal Agenda – With a Dose of Caution, Wash. Post (Feb. 11, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/virginia-democrats-push-progressive-agenda–with-a-dose-of-caution/2020/02/11/3c4e7388-4c37-11ea-b721-9f4cdc90bc1c_story.html.
 Ryan Butler, Virginia Sports Betting, Casinos Are Close After Key Votes, Gambling.com (Feb. 12, 2020), https://www.gambling.com/news/virginia-sports-betting-casinos-are-closer-after-key-votes-2207800.
 Ashley Curtis, Virginia House Passes Bill That Bans Phones While Driving, Open Containers of Alcohol in Cars and More, WSLS News (February 10, 2020), https://www.wsls.com/news/local/2020/02/10/virginia-house-passes-bill-that-bans-phones-while-driving-open-containers-of-alcohol-in-cars-and-more/; Keith Goble, Virginia Lawmakers Advance Plans to Boost Transportation Revenue, Landline (Feb. 13, 2020), https://landline.media/virginia-lawmakers-advance-plans-to-boost-transportation-revenue/.
 Luz Lazo, Va. Gov. Northam Proposes Gas Tax Increase as Part of Major Transportation Bill, Wash. Post (Jan. 27, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/va-gov-northam-proposes-gas-tax-increase-as-part-of-major-transportation-bill/2020/01/26/7562d39a-3ee9-11ea-8872-5df698785a4e_story.html.
 Laurence Hammock and Amy Friedenberger, Clean Economy Act Would Bring Changes to Virginia’s Electric Utilities, The Roanoke Times (Feb. 15, 2020), https://www.roanoke.com/news/local/clean-economy-act-would-bring-changes-to-virginia-s-electric/article_5822f02f-cc10-51c0-832e-079f197aa34b.html.
 Frank Green, Virginia State Policy Say Electronic Ticketing System Will Save Time and Lives, Richmond Times-Dispatch (February 17, 2020), https://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/virginia-state-police-say-electronic-ticketing-system-will-save-time/article_58d43704-d978-5f2d-b349-2232852e20b8.html.
 HB957 (available at http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?201+sum+HB957).
 HB742 (available at http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?201+sum+HB742).
image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_State_Capitol#/media/File:Va_State_Capitol.JPG