Virginia Senate Democrats postpone work on constitutional amendments and kill GOP voting bills

Sarah Rankin/The Associated Press | 1/18/2024, 6 p.m.
A Democrat-led Virginia Senate panel on Tuesday defeated a handful of Republican-sponsored voting bills and moved to put on hold …
Sen. Surovell

A Democrat-led Virginia Senate panel on Tuesday defeated a handful of Republican-sponsored voting bills and moved to put on hold consideration of several proposed constitutional amendments until after this year’s session.

Without discussion, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted to carry over the proposed amendments, which had been unveiled with great fanfare after the November elections, when Democrats held their Senate majority and flipped control of the House of Delegates.

The measures included proposals to repeal a now-defunct ban in the state constitution on same-sex marriage, expand protections for abortion access and reform the state’s system of civil rights restoration for felons who have completed their sentences.

Senate Democratic Leader Scott Surovell said in a text message that the proposed amendments were being carried over until the 2025 session, something he characterized as a standard practice, given that amendments are typically introduced in odd-numbered years.

The move won’t slow down the timeline by which voters could potentially consider the measures. Proposed constitutional amendments must first pass both chambers of the General Assembly in two years, with an intervening election for the House of Delegates in between. Those elections happen every two years in odd-numbered years, meaning the soonest they could be up for a vote is 2026.

“I think what they wanted to do is put all these folks on record right before the (2025) election,” said Bob Holsworth, a veteran political analyst.

Mr. Holsworth

Mr. Holsworth

A spokesperson for the House Democratic caucus did not respond to inquiries about whether leadership planned to do the same with corresponding measures pending in that chamber.

The committee’s move also continued until 2025 a proposal from Lynchburg Republican Sen. Mark Peake to preclude anyone elected as lieutenant governor or attorney general in 2029 and onward from serving more than two terms.

It did not apply to a proposed constitutional amendment from Democratic Sen. Jeremy McPike that deals with an expansion of a tax exemption for the surviving spouses of soldiers who died in the line of duty, McPike confirmed. That proposal passed last year and could go to voters this fall if approved again this session.

The Senate committee later moved on to taking up and dispensing with several Republican-sponsored bills dealing with voting access, including a proposal to end same-day registration on Election Day and curtail the state’s lengthy early voting period.

“We vehemently oppose and will relentlessly combat all legislative attempts to undermine or restrict voting access in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the Senate Democratic caucus said in a joint statement after the hearing.

Peake, who sponsored the bill to limit same-day registration, argued that it was creating a burden for registrars. He cited reports of big crowds in Blacksburg and Williamsburg — localities that are both home to universities — in the last election cycle.

The committee voted down another bill from Peake that would have limited absentee voting from the current 45 days to 21 days. Peake argued that the lengthy absentee period was out of line with even liberal states elsewhere in the country and created a burden not only for registrars but for campaigns that may want to monitor or staff the polls.

The Virginia NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Virginia were among the groups that spoke against the measure.

The committee also defeated a bill that would have required a voter show a photo ID to cast a ballot. Virginia Democrats repealed a previous photo ID requirement in 2020.