A summary of legislative actions taken during the 2020 General Assembly session
Virginia lawmakers considered an array of bills impacting businesses and the state economy. Here’s a look at some key actions taken during the 2020 session:
Virginia lawmakers passed legislation opening the door for casinos but only in five localities: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond. A study by the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission found that casinos in those five places could generate $970 million in annual net gaming revenue and approximately $260 million in gaming tax revenue.
The bill allows each city to establish a casino but only if local voters approve it in a referendum this fall or next.
Bristol, Norfolk, Danville and Portsmouth each have contracted with partnering operators for casinos. Bristol has partnered with local businessmen Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy, who are working with Hard Rock International. Portsmouth is working with Rush Street Gaming of Chicago. Danville has tapped Caesars Entertainment.
Norfolk is partnering with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, the only one of Virginia’s seven federally recognized tribes that can establish a casino under federal guidelines. The tribe is also competing to build the casino in Richmond.
Family leave and sick leave
The General Assembly killed bills to establish a state-run, paid family leave program, as well as a bill that would have required businesses with 15 or more employees to provide up to five paid sick days per year.
The General Assembly passed laws to reform consumer lending, including closing loopholes that allow lenders to charge excessively high rates for payday and car title loans. During the veto session, lawmakers accelerated their implementation by moving the effective date up to January 2021.
The General Assembly passed a landmark bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in housing, employment, and public accommodation. Some Virginia lawyers have warned the law significantly transforms the judicial process for employment cases and could cost smaller businesses lacking large human resource departments. Todd Leeson of Gentry Locke advises these businesses to “devote some time and energy to strengthen their anti-discrimination practices and processes,” including providing manager training.
Henry Watkins, spokesman for Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, the bill’s sponsor, defends the Virginia Values Act, saying that businesses acting in good faith according to procedures laid out by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “won’t have a problem.”
Handheld mobile devices
Effective Jan. 1, 2021, Virginians will be prohibited from holding handheld devices like smartphones while driving.
Right to work
The General Assembly struck down a bill to repeal Virginia’s right-to-work law, which significantly weakens the power of unions.
The General Assembly passed the Clean Economy Act, which commits Virginia to eliminate the use of fossil fuels for generating electricity within 25 years. It sets goals to develop more solar and wind capacity, incentivizes development of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and loosens restrictions on rooftop solar and other distributed generation projects. Lawmakers also killed a bill to demonopolize the state’s electric energy market.
Legislators passed a bill to establish a state-run exchange for purchase of insurance plans. The General Assembly also passed bills to place restrictions on short-term health plans, also known as “junk plans.”
Northam vetoed bills that would have allowed small businesses to band together and buy insurance as associations.
The legislature passed a law to increase the minimum wage, but rather than increasing it to $15 an hour — a national goal for progressives — lawmakers opted to increase it gradually, from $7.25 now to $9.50 an hour beginning in May 2021, then to $11 in 2022 and $12 in 2023. The bill also includes a study to consider implementing different minimum wages for different regions.
The legislature ended recognition of a January holiday honoring Civil War generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee. It also made Election Day a state holiday.