Politics & Policy

How Far Left Will Democrats Push Virginia?

Gun-rights advocates and militia members attend a rally in Richmond, Va., January 20, 2020. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)
Gun control is just the start.

Now that the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates are controlled by Democrats for the first time in a generation, the legislature has the votes to move the state to the left, and gun control is at the top of their agenda. One bill mandates background checks for private sales of firearms, another prohibits the purchase of more than one handgun per month, and a third allows municipalities to ban firearms from public spaces and events. On Tuesday, a day after a large, peaceful crowd gathered outside the capitol building in Richmond, Va. to protest the bills, the state Senate took up “red-flag” legislation that would allow any attorney or law-enforcement official to apply for an emergency judicial order to “prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm.”

Gun control, though, is only part of the Democratic legislature’s agenda.

To pull the state’s economic policy to the left, Virginia Democrats have proposed measures to weaken the state’s right-to-work law, curb greenhouse-gas emissions, and raise the minimum wage.

To do the same for its social policy, they’ve introduced a bill that would repeal conscience protections for Catholic and other religious adoption agencies, effectively shutting those agencies down, and a bill that would require all public elementary and secondary schools to allow students who identify as transgender to participate on the sports teams and use the locker-rooms and showers of their preference.

On abortion, one bill would remove parentalconsent requirements, 24-hour waiting periods, and ultrasound requirements. Another bill would declare that a “pregnant person has a fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or terminate a pregnancy.” Yet another proposes a constitutional amendment enshrining a right to abortion: “an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the enjoyment of life and liberty and shall not be denied or infringed upon unless justified by a compelling interest of the Commonwealth and achieved by the least restrictive means.” When the budget comes up for debate, Democrats will have the opportunity to provide taxpayer funding of elective abortions.

Opponents of the flurry of bills essentially have only two things to give them hope. The first is Virginia’s short legislative period: The Virginia constitution gives the General Assembly only 60 days (including weekends) to hold its legislative session in even-numbered years, and only 30 days in odd-numbered years. Virginia Democrats have already chewed up about a quarter of the current 60-day session with their gun-control bills and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Each house of the Virginia legislature has only three more weeks until the February 11 deadline to act on its own legislation. The clock is ticking.

The other potential break on the legislature’s progressive ambitions is the reluctance of Senate Democrats, who only control the upper chamber 21–19, to push the envelope too far. Senate Democratic fears of a backlash among voters outside of Northern Virginia could be detected last week when Virginia’s Senate Judiciary Committee killed an assault-weapons ban. But Virginia Republicans caution that a slightly watered-down version of the ban is still very much alive in the House of Delegates and might be able to win passage in the Senate. Three weeks isn’t much time for Democrats to pass their wish list of left-wing bills, but it could certainly be enough time. Conservatives must hope that the potential long-term political consequences deter them from doing so.

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