Nov 22, 2023 - News

Virginia Dems propose amending state constitution to guarantee abortion rights

Illustration of the Virginia State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Virginia Democrats took the first step this week toward amending the state's constitution to guarantee abortion rights and end the state's policy of disenfranchising felons.

What's happening: The resolutions are the first pieces of legislation to drop ahead of the 2024 General Assembly session, which begins in January.

Why it matters: Amending the constitution is one of the few things Democrats can use their new General Assembly majorities to pursue without worrying about Gov. Youngkin's veto pen.

  • That's because there's no role for the governor in the multi-year process, which would ultimately require direct approval by voters.

How it works: To amend the constitution, both the House and Senate have to pass resolutions, wait for the House of Delegates to hold elections again, then pass the same resolutions again.

  • At that point, the amendment goes on the ballot for a statewide referendum.

What they're saying: "It has become all too clear that without constitutional protection, access to reproductive healthcare is at risk for the commonwealth," House Democratic majority leader Charniele Herring said in a statement.

Details: The abortion rights amendment would establish a "fundamental right to reproductive freedom" in the state constitution.

  • The felon disenfranchisement amendment would end the state's unusual practice of requiring governors to individually restore prisoners' voting rights after they are released.

Zoom out: Democrats also filed legislation to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 and ban the sale of new assault-style weapons — proposals that would have to go through Youngkin.

The other side: The state GOP blasted Democrats, calling it "a slate of radical bills that would turn our Commonwealth into a failed left-wing state like California or New York."

  • So far the party's members have filed a single piece of legislation that would head off a ban on new gas-powered cars set to go into effect in 2035.
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