Virginia reshaped as Democrats put historic stamp on laws

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House Speaker Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, center, speaks to Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City County, left, as Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, second from left, House minority leader Del Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, and House majority leader, Del. Charniele Herring, D- Alexandria, look on in the entrance to the Senate at the Capitol Saturday March 7, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Both chambers agreed to extending the session to accommodate the budget and conference committee reports. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. – Democratic legislators in Virginia have dramatically reshaped the state in two months, sweeping aside many of the state’s old business-friendly and socially conservative laws and replacing them with a broad, progressive policy agenda.

Lawmakers wrapped up this year's session Sunday — apart from passing the state budget — after advancing the South's strictest gun laws, broadest LGBTQ protections and some of its loosest abortion restrictions. Democrats had not had full control of the legislature for more than two decades, and their years of pent-up frustrations yielded one of the most consequential sessions in Virginia's history.

“In November, voters called for swift, impactful action to make their communities safer and more prosperous. We have delivered,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said.

But many Republicans said Democrats had advanced a liberal agenda beyond what the average voter supports while trampling on Virginia's pro-business reputation.

“I think it’s been a fairly devastating year for people that are in rural Virginia,” said Sen. Steve Newman, a Republican who has served in the legislature since the early 1990's. “It’s not just the high-profile items, but it’s just how deep the far left has reached into the code of Virginia.”

An astonishingly large list of topics were covered, with high-profile legislation advancing to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's desk almost daily. Marijuana was decriminalized, insulin prices capped, and voter ID requirements repealed.

One immediate priority of Democrats, making Virginia the critical 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was quickly dispatched in January to the delight of women's rights advocates, some of whom had worked on the issue for decades.

Virginia briefly became the epicenter of the nation's gun debate, as tens of thousands of gun owners from around the country took over Capitol Square in January to protest Democrats' aggressive gun-control push.