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Seven of eight gun bills will become law

The 2020 session of the General Assembly should have been over by now, but as I write this, we’re still in session, waiting to cast our final vote on the state budget.

To call this past week eventful would be an understatement. House Democrats spent a great deal of time behind closed doors, apparently working to influence their members to vote against nonpartisan redistricting. When they finally emerged to the floor for a vote, two more hours of speeches were made before an effort to kill the amendment was turned back and it finally passed with bipartisan support.

Friday wasn’t the end of the drama, though. Democrats refused to send the Amendment on to the Senate, in hopes of finding a moment to reverse the vote and kill nonpartisan redistricting for the next decade. In the end, our caucus reached a deal with Democrats — they would stop obstructing and we would give them one more day to finish their work on their legislation.

Legislation I have been against from the beginning would have increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Late Saturday evening, the House and Senate Democrats, who have been at odds over this legislation the entire session, struck a deal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 over the next three years. The compromise that they agreed to will increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour on January 1, 2021, $11 an hour in 2022 and $12 in 2023. They did leave exemptions in place for agricultural workers and student workers.

Even though the compromise is better than the original proposal, I voted against raising the minimum wage because of the harm this bill has on small businesses, especially those in the rural areas I represent.

Governor Northam had eight gun proposals on his agenda this session, and the legislature passed seven of them. The only bill that didn’t pass that Northam endorsed was a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Some of the main provisions of the bills that passed are as follows:

• Background checks will be expanded to all gun sales.

• Handgun purchases will be capped to one a month. People with concealed carry permits will be excluded from this law.

• Virginia will now have a ‘red flag’ law that will allow courts to temporarily ban people from possessing firearms if there are signs that they pose a danger to themselves or others.

• Local governments will be able to ban weapons from certain buildings and events.

• The penalty for ‘recklessly’ allowing a firearm to fall into the hands of a child under 14 will now be a Class 1 misdemeanor.

• A person subject to a permanent protective order is prohibited from possessing a firearm while the order is in effect.

• Individuals can no longer take online courses to obtain concealed carry permits.

• Gun owners will have to report their lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours of discovering they are missing.

Meanwhile, the budget conferees working on the state budget agreement announced they have found common ground and will be submitting their agreed version of the $135 billion, two-year spending plan to our offices on Monday. Members will then have two days to read the budget. We will then return to the Capitol on Thursday to debate and vote on the final report.

Once our work here is complete on Thursday, we will await the Governor’s actions on our legislation. He may either veto or amend all bills. We will meet one more time on April 22 to consider his actions and decide if the General Assembly accepts or rejects his changes.

Over the next two weeks I will be providing more information on the final actions of this year’s session.

On our final week in our Richmond office, we were pleased to have several visitors. Allen Getz, Jr. from Mecklenburg County has come by several times this session, including on our final week. Supervisor Edward Pennington came by with Trudy Berry, Barbara Harper, Ruby Ingram, Patricia Harper-Tunley, James Ferland and Kenneth Ferland, all from Lunenburg County.

Del. Tommy Wright can be reached via email at DelTWright@house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.