RICHMOND, Va. — With Democrats winning majority in the Virginia House and Senate, advocates are confident there will be big policy changes during next year’s General Assembly session.

13News Now identified three topics that are among the top of voter priorities:

Gun Control

The issue hit close to home in Virginia Beach after the May 31 mass shooting that left 12 dead. Even though Governor Northam called a special session to pass what Democrats call commonsense gun reform, Republican opponents abruptly ended the session with no vote.

“We thought that maybe they would do something, and they shut it down after 93 minutes without taking a single vote,” said Courtney Champion of gun safety organization Moms Demand Action. “I’m still just appalled that they thought that was okay.”

Moms Demand Action is part of the larger organization Everytown for Gun Safety that spent $2.5 million endorsing 25 candidates across Virginia in the hopes of improving gun legislation.

“We’re making our children at five-years-old do more than the lawmakers are doing,” said Champion. “They send thoughts and prayers and that’s it, and meanwhile, we have a classroom of 18 five and six-year-olds hiding under their desk or hiding in a closet. Like we should be calling on our lawmakers to do more not asking our children.”

Marijuana Reform

Marijuana legislation made a splash in Virginia after lawmakers expanded patient access to medical marijuana. Now that Democrats won political control, Jenn Michelle Pedini, part of Virginia NORML, an organization supporting marijuana reform, said the first thing Virginia will see next year is the decriminalization of simple marijuana possession.

“Bills related to criminal justice reform, reducing penalties, for example, for posession of marijuana, expunging past convictions, those have historically died along party-line votes in the committees and sub-committees that hear that legislation,” said Pedini.

Current law carries a jail sentence of up to 30 days and a $500 maximum fine for a first offense.

Advocates are also looking towards expungement, like Attorney General Mark Herring, who said that those convicted of simple marijuana possession deserve to have it removed from their record.

“We can do better in Virginia and we should be giving a clean slate and a second chance to people who have shown they have earned it as well as make the process for record expungement easier for those who are eligible,” said Herring. “I think it would make our justice system fairer and more just.”

Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment gained national attention during this year’s general assembly session when it passed the Virginia Senate but House Republican opponents blocked a floor vote.

The constitutional amendment would ban discrimination on the basis of sex. So far 37 states ratified the ERA but 38 is needed to meet the congressional threshold for approval, making Virginia’s ratification critical.

Now that Democrats have swept the house and senate, lawmakers and advocates say passing the Equal Rights Amendment will be a top priority in the upcoming general assembly session.

“We’re on the right side and hopefully that’s showing as a state that we're moving into a more equality-oriented space and that’s a good place to be. It’s good for business, it’s good for moms, dads, kids, it’s good for everybody,” said VAratifyERA Campaign Coordinator Kati Hornung.

Opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment argue it could erode commonsense protections for women like workplace accommodations during pregnancies and limit abortion restrictions.

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