Here’s what the incoming and outgoing Va. governors want to see passed this session

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Lawmakers return to Richmond Wednesday for the first day of the General Assembly session.

This year, they will meet for 60 days.

On Tuesday, the incoming and outgoing governors laid out their joint package of priorities before the gavel strikes.

“It is nonpartisan. It is common sense,” Gov.-elect Ralph Northam said at a news conference at the Capitol. “I think it is something we will have support from both sides of the aisle.”

Northam highlighted two legislative priorities — expanding Medicaid, a topic that he focused heavily on during his campaign, and universal background checks.

“We lost over 1,000 Virginians last year to gun-related deaths and that’s something that we should all find is unacceptable. That’s more individuals than will die on our highways in Virginia and we can’t allow that,” he said.

The proposed legislation would call for background checks for all gun purchases in the Commonwealth.

Image courtesy of VCU CNS/Lia Tabackman

Right now, only federally-licensed firearms dealers are required to obtain the results of a background check when selling or transferring a firearm. Last year, Virginia State Police reported more than 3,500 such firearms purchases were denied.

During his time at the podium, McAuliffe talked about their proposal to expand absentee voting.

If passed, any registered voter would be allowed to cast an absentee ballot in-person within 21 days of Election Day, no excuse needed. The bill would also keep current requirements for absentee voting by mail or absentee voting more than 21 days before Election Day.

McAuliffe also emphasized upping the felony threshold in Virginia to $1,000. It’s been sitting at $200 since 1980.

“It means if you are an 18-year-old who steals an iPhone today, you will be branded as a felon in Virginia for the rest of your life,” he said.

McAuliffe said 15 states have thresholds ranging from $500 to $950 and 30 states have thresholds of at least $1,000.

Currently, Virginia and New Jersey are tied for having the lowest rate in the country. It is something Northam and McAuliffe want to see change.

“It does not mean that we condone crime and theft, but I do believe that even though people make mistakes they should be given a second chance in life,” said McAuliffe.

Northam and McAuliffe also proposed legislation to make Virginia the first Southern State to cap carbon and formally join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

They are also calling for a ban on the personal use of campaign funds and the implementation of a Borrower’s Bill of Rights, which would create a state ombudsman for student debt.

McAuliffe said more than one million Virginians owe over $30 billion in student loan, which can threaten financial security and hold back the economy because people delay their decisions to buy homes and cars, save for retirement and start their own businesses.

The Borrower’s Bill of Rights would require student loan servicers in Virginia to follow common sense rules and obtain a license from the Bureau of Financial Institutions.

Republican leaders said they, too, will take a common sense approach this session. They are focusing on what they call “practical solutions to everyday issues.”

The first three bills Republicans filed had to do with education.

“Over the coming weeks we will continue to roll out a robust agenda to help better the lives of the people we serve,” said spokesperson Parker Slaybaugh.

With big wins in November, Democrats chipped away at the Republicans’ strong majority, leaving a more evenly-divided legislature.

“As you know, we have a very tight makeup in both the House and the Senate, so I believe in Virginia we have a unique opportunity to work in a bipartisan way and do some great things,” said Northam.

The legislative session begins Wednesday at noon.

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