On Monday, Democratic leaders tabled bills and resolutions aimed at safeguarding abortion rights and prohibiting so-called assault weapons, thereby setting the legislative agenda for the 2024 session. Additional proposals include raising the state's minimum wage and automatically reinstating voting rights for convicted felons who have served their sentences.
Del. Don Scott, the newly appointed speaker of the House and the first Black man to occupy the position, expressed optimism about the upcoming legislative session's potential to advance Virginia's progress. "I am especially glad to see the resolution to start the process of codifying the automatic restoration of rights," Scott stated in a press release. "With this, we are sending a message that there is no room for the spirit of Jim Crow that has plagued our Commonwealth for far too long."
Should the resolutions concerning abortion access and the restoration of felons' rights be passed by the legislature, they would represent the initial phase in a protracted process to amend the state constitution. According to The Associated Press, these amendments would subsequently need to be approved by the legislature for a second year, before being subjected to a state referendum for final approval.
House of Delegates Majority Leader Charnlele Herring, who sponsored the abortion resolution, asserted that Democrats were fulfilling a pledge made during the 2023 campaign cycle. "It has become all too clear that without constitutional protection, access to reproductive healthcare is at risk for the Commonwealth," Herring declared.
Bills introduced in both the House and Senate propose to classify the purchase, sale, or transfer of an assault firearm as a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail. The bills employ an existing state definition of "assault firearm," encompassing semiautomatic, center-fire rifles and pistols that use magazines capable of holding more than 20 rounds of ammunition or are "designed by the manufacturer to accommodate a silencer or equipped with a folding stock."
Earlier this year, the state Senate passed a similar bill, which was subsequently defeated in the House, then under Republican control.
In the November 7 election, Democrats managed to retain control of the state Senate and wrest control of the state House of Delegates from Republicans. The election attracted national interest, as it was seen as a gauge of the political climate ahead of the 2024 elections and a test of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's political influence.
Despite their successful campaign to preserve abortion access, Democrats now face a challenge in dealing with a Republican governor who supports a 15-week abortion restriction. As they control the legislature, they are poised to thwart Youngkin's conservative agenda for the remainder of his term.