Senator, delegate share perspectives on new legislation

The 2021 Legislative Session of the Virginia General Assembly has adjourned after a 46-day session that left a number of dramatic law changes sitting on the Governor’s desk. The Democratic-controlled Assembly passed reforms to the criminal justice and electoral systems and expanded workers’ rights.

Governor Ralph Northam has already signed 80 of the bills sent to his desk from this session. Amongst those already signed into law is a bill that lifts the prohibition on abortion coverage in health insurance sold on the state marketplace, and a bill that prohibits schools from filing suit against parents of students who can’t pay school lunch debts.

Northam also signed a bill that was passed unanimously in both houses to expand the number of health care providers who can administer the COVID vaccine, widening the pool to include qualified nursing students and other medical professionals.

Still unsigned are several significant bills that have gotten national attention, including a law that would make Virginia the first state in the South to eliminate the death penalty. Criminal justice reform also included automatic expungement of eight misdemeanors with the option to petition the court for other charges to be expunged after seven years of good behavior and a prohibition on sending people on parole back to prison on a technical parole violation such as missing a meeting with a parole officer. Lawmakers also passed laws that would legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana beginning in 2024.

The Assembly eliminated the so-called “panic” defense, which allowed people charged with attacking LGBT individuals to claim that they acted out of fear after realizing the victim was same-gender attracted or transgender. The part of the Virginia Constitution that defined marriage as between a man and a woman was also revoked in this session. It still needs to be approved by the majority of the Assembly next year in order to become a voter referendum, which could occur in November 2022. 

Five universities and colleges built or maintained by slaves were ordered to pay reparations by way of scholarships or community programs. The universities include Longwood University, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Military Institute and the College of William & Mary. Another bill will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for financial aid for college. K-12 schools will be mandated to provide an in-person option for education beginning in the fall.

           The Chronicle spoke to Senator Jen Kiggans and Delegate Nancy Guy, who represent Virginia Wesleyan’s in the General Assembly, to discuss what has come out of the 2021 session. 

Senator Kiggans is a freshman senator who described her priorities as getting students back to in-person school, helping businesses stay open and advocating for people in long-term care facilities. Kiggans is a nurse practitioner who deals primarily with geriatric patients when the General Assembly is not in session.

           Kiggans was the co-patron of the bipartisan-passed bill that required schools to open with an in-person option in the fall—the GOP did not have the votes to pass the bill with an emergency clause to enact it immediately. The Republicans and Democrats negotiated to pass a bill making the first $100,000 of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans tax-free, protecting the interests of small businesses. Kiggans expressed disappointment that a bill to limit the governor’s executive order power failed, but was pleased by the successful bill that made business’ purchases of personal protective equipment tax free. Kiggans was also an advocate for a bill that expanded a Board of Health scholarship to previously-excluded types of nurses, which passed to the Governor’s desk as well.

Other bills that Kiggans was a patron of that passed include a requirement to discuss advance directives in high schools and a bill changing the date of the primary elections to take place when school is out of session.

Kiggans attempted to bring a bill that would improve staffing ratios at nursing homes, but the bill was converted into a study for the second year in a row, which the Senator characterized as disappointing. However, she said that she intends to bring the bill up again next year. Her SB 1422 bill, which would have required the Department of Vital Records to update the Department of Elections about deaths on a weekly basis so deceased voters can be purged from the rolls, was tabled in the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Given that the bill had passed with a large margin of support in the Senate (34-5) and was supported by both Departments, Kiggans was surprised that the bill didn’t make it to a vote in the House. She said that she will consider bringing it again in the next session, hopefully to greater success.

The bill that Kiggans is proudest of passing this session was SB 1150, which created the Military Liaison position in the Department of Veterans Services. “It’s so important in my district just because we do have so many bases in Virginia and so many married servicemen and women whose spouses have to move every two to three years.” The position will act as an aide to military spouses, helping them navigate through the bureaucratic paperwork of getting resettled in new places and advocating for their needs.

Going into the next session, Senator Kiggans said that she will be bringing back a bill that would mandate a school nurse in every school in Virginia. “I think that having a school nurse in each school building would be helpful, especially for a lot of our lower income communities, places where children are not properly receiving regular health care. If we put in a registered nurse–or any board certified nurse–in the schools, they could assist with those kinds of things, maybe some preventative screenings and routine health assessments.” Kiggans also highlighted that they would be particularly useful in helping track and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as children return to school.       

Delegate Guy is also in her first-term representing our House district. She described her priorities as “looking out for my locality, helping move the ball forward on environmental issues, looking out for public education and contributing to meaningful criminal justice reform.”

Guy was the chief patron of several bills that passed to the Governor’s desk this session. HJ 549 commissioned a study about the coronavirus’s impact on schools, HB 2159 prohibited the intentional release of non-biodegradable balloons and HB 2042 gave localities the ability to exceed guidelines about tree conservation under specific circumstances.

On the criminal justice front, Guy said that she was proud of the legislation passed by the Assembly this session. “We made such incredible progress this year on criminal justice reform—the headline being, of course, that we repealed the death penalty and we legalized marijuana in 2024. But we did a lot of other things that will significantly improve people’s lives. And I think we made our justice system fairer.”

Guy was particularly proud of the death penalty repeal. “I think our biggest accomplishment was to repeal the death penalty, mostly because of what that says about us as a society…. [The death penalty] is really a form of codified vengeance. And I think it says that we are not a very evolved society when we have a government sanctioned way to kill people, no matter how heinous they are. I happen to believe it’s just wrong.”

Asked what she would like Virginia Wesleyan students to know about her and her record leading up to the elections in November, Guy’s answer was simple. “I’m doing this for your generation…. I feel like my generation has failed your generation in addressing certain critical issues in our society…. Those include gun safety, include addressing what I call the existential crisis of climate change that is going to fall largely on [your generation], and addressing the systemic racism that has plagued us for so long.”

All 100 House of Delegates seats will be up for election this year. The Senate is elected to four-year terms, and will not face election again until 2023. For information on how to register to vote in the November elections, visit

By Brianna Sandy