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Workforce resiliency and abortion are top of mind for County Board members and state lawmakers this session

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond (via Wikimedia Commons)

The 2024 legislative session will start in two weeks and, in advance, the Arlington County Board and local delegates and senators have hammered out their shared priorities for the session.

A week and a half ago, Board members approved its package of legislative priorities for the 60-day session, including two new additions.

One wording change might signal the Board’s interest in tackling the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. “Landscaping equipment” was added to a county climate goal to encourage “private sector efforts to support and regulate energy efficiency incentive and climate programs.”

The Board also added a push for sustained funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. Legislators expressed their sympathy for this request but noted historical issues with adding dollars to the program, which has already seen an uptick in staffing expenses as a result of previous expansions.

Overall, the priorities of the County Board boil down to fully funded commitments to local governments, respect for local authority and workforce resiliency. This last priority could look like streamlining the process for hiring people in the public safety, mental health and childcare sectors through paid internships, student loan repayment programs or changes to clinical supervision hours.

“These are areas where we have acute shortages in the county,” Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in a meeting last month with legislators. “[We need to be] getting out of this idea we compete with all other jurisdictions for these personnel, we really need to have every boat lifted with everybody’s needs… met.”

Fully funding mandates, meanwhile, could look like more staffing support for jail diversion efforts and body-worn camera programs. Respect for local authority would look like ensuring zoning and land-use decisions remain at the local level.

Other county priorities include:

Delegates Alfonso Lopez and Patrick Hope, Delegate-Elect Adele McClure, and Senators Adam Ebbin and Barbara Favola told the Board they are working on legislation for some of these priorities. Their pre-filing deadline is Jan. 10, 2024, the same date the legislative session begins.

Favola and Lopez are in talks with Arlington Public Schools about a bill allowing the prohibition of vape shops near schools, while Ebbin and Hope aim to set up licensing requirements for vape shops. Favola has prefiled a bill that would allow childcare centers to operate in unused offices.

Top of mind for local legislators, meanwhile, is enshrining the possibly imperiled civil liberties of abortion, voting rights and same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled abortion should be a decision made by the state, a ruling that some advocates predict could jeopardize the court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. After the Dobbs abortion decision, Virginia’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin tried, unsuccessfully, to rally voters around a 15-week limit this election.

A recent lawsuit over redistricting in Arkansas, meanwhile, has possibly teed up voting rights for Supreme Court review.

In response, Favola filed a constitutional amendment on abortion that includes no gestational limits and makes exceptions only for a “compelling state interest.”

Provides that every individual has the fundamental right to reproductive freedom and that the right to make and effectuate one’s own decisions about all matters related to one’s pregnancy cannot be denied, burdened, or otherwise infringed upon by the Commonwealth, unless justified by a compelling state interest and achieved by the least restrictive means. The amendment prohibits the Commonwealth from penalizing, prosecuting, or otherwise taking adverse action against an individual for exercising the individual’s right to reproductive freedom or for aiding another individual in the exercise of such right, unless justified by a compelling state interest.

She also filed a bill that would prohibit Virginia from extraditing someone charged in another state for crimes involving the “receipt of or assistance with reproductive health care services,” unless the alleged violation is a crime in Virginia. Another bill she filed would prohibit the issuance of search warrants for menstrual health data.

McClure, who has yet to prefile, tells ARLnow she is currently finalizing draft legislation.

One bill she intends to file would expand renters rights and protections and is inspired by events in her jurisdiction earlier this year, when some apartment residents had to relocate quickly for renovations after fire damage.

“After what happened at Crystal Plaza this year, I met with tenant advocates, legal aid attorneys, and Dweck Properties to work together on a legislative proposal that will provide additional protections for renters,” she said.

She also intends to file bills that would require gun locks for the sale or transfer of all firearms and would close the “boyfriend loophole” to prevent domestic abusers from accessing guns.

“I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to pass bills that increase housing access, fund our public schools, prevent gun violence, protect our shared environment, support our workers, address the mental health and substance use crisis, protect reproductive health access, reform our justice system, and improve childcare affordability,” she said.

Her gun-related legislation would join similar bills Favola and Ebbin prefiled.

Favola’s bill governs gun transfers. When someone transfers their weapon because they are under a protective order or convicted of assault and battery of a family member, the recipient must be at least 21 years old and living separately from the transferer, who must inform the courts when a gun changes hands.

Ebbin proposed a bill that would hold adults accountable when minors misuse guns.

The law would make it a misdemeanor for gun owners to allow minors, especially those with a criminal history, to possess or access firearms if they use the firearms unlawfully, possess them close to a school zone or use them to injure themselves or others.

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