RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Lawmakers are reflecting on successes and setting new priorities halfway through this year’s General Assembly.
As Virginia’s Democratic majority works to cross the finish line on several progressive policies, Republicans are looking for ways to pump the breaks.
“We started this year with an agenda that is more bold and forward-looking than ever before,” said Gov. Ralph Northam in a statement. “I’m encouraged by the progress we’ve made.”
On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-15), struggled to find the silver lining in a legislative session so far dominated by Democratic victories.
“It’s been very difficult to watch the eroding of things we’ve tried to protect,” Gilbert said. “Our big takeaway is just how much more expensive its going to be to live, work and raise a family in Virginia if all of the legislation currently being pushed by Democrats ultimately becomes law.”
Among Gilbert’s greatest concerns is the impact of raising the minimum wage on small businesses, especially in low-income areas of the state.
Republican Caucus Chair Kathy Byron (R-22) warned of potential increases in costs for everyday citizens. She said a bill to legalize collective bargaining for public employees, a policy being pushed by teachers across the state, could result in an increase in property taxes. She also raised concerns about rising transportation costs, referencing one proposal in the House to increase gasoline prices by 12 cents per gallon.
Plus, Byron argues the cost of Democratic policies meant to improve energy efficiency standards and expand renewable energy sources will be passed on to consumers.
“One area that you’re going to feel it more than anything else is in your electric bill,” Byron said. “Some of the initial estimates are at least $25 dollars more a month and that doesn’t include a lot of the initiatives that haven’t been calculated yet.”
House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-46) called Byron’s comments on collective bargaining “speculative” and her critiques of energy policies “short sighted.”
“We are in a climate crisis and I think voters saw and believed that we can create new technologies but at the same time creating jobs and going to different forms of energy,” she said.
Herring said she’s most proud of the progress Democrats have made on raising the minimum wage, gun control and criminal justice reform.
“Like writ of actual innocence, making sure innocent people sitting in our prisons have a fair shot to petition the court,” Herring said. “Marijuana decriminalization and a study for legalization. This is significant movement here in Virginia.”
As attention turns to the budget in the second half of session, Gov. Northam touted what he called “landmark funding proposals to improve education at every level across the state
Gov. Northam’s statement continued:
“Together, we’re expanding and strengthening our world class education system. I’ve proposed landmark funding to increase access to early childhood education, support K-12 students and teachers, and help low-income community college students get the job training skills they need. I’m pleased that the General Assembly has also advanced our proposals to protect student loan borrowers and expand in-state tuition to undocumented students.
We are building a more equitable and inclusive Virginia. I applaud the General Assembly for taking steps to remove barriers to women’s healthcare, protect LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination, and give localities authority over the monuments in their communities.
We are making healthcare more affordable for families across Virginia. And after countless lives have been lost to gun violence, we are finally advancing constitutional, commonsense gun safety legislation to keep Virginians safe.
While I’m encouraged by our progress, we still have important work ahead. We must take steps to keep our economy strong, including raising the minimum wage, supporting Virginia’s workers and businesses, and boosting our reliance on clean energy. We must continue to work together to invest in our transportation infrastructure and save lives on our roadways. And we must advance a budget that prioritizes all students, expands access to affordable housing, and protects our precious natural resources.
Virginians sent us here to do this work. Let’s get it done.”Gov. Ralph Northam