In history-making year, General Assembly maintains annual safety inspections, passes other significant legislation.
Session 2020, Issue 9
March 9, 2020
In many ways, this was a year of firsts for the Virginia General Assembly. For the first time since 1993, Democrats were in control of the House of Delegates, Senate, and Governor’s Office. For the first time ever, the Speaker of the House was a woman or a member of the Jewish faith. The House also saw its first African American Majority Leader. The Senate featured its first African American Senate Pro Tempore.
In a year of such new, significant accomplishments, which VADA is thrilled to see, we spent much of session lobbying that the General Assembly keep one thing the same – the current requirement that vehicle owners obtain annual safety inspections.
We are pleased the legislature did so. In a 60-day – sort of – stretch, the Commonwealth’s Senators and Delegates also passed other major items of legislation. As you may have read, the General Assembly needed to extend the legislative calendar to complete its business, giving added meaning to the terms “March Madness” and “overtime.”
Read about the inspections and what happened with some other newsworthy legislation below. Keep in mind the Governor can approve, veto, or amend anything and send it back to the General Assembly. He must do so by April 2, 2020.
After much discussion in committee and subcommittee hearings, in private legislator offices, via phone calls and text messages, and on the House and Senate floors, the General Assembly will maintain Virginia’s annual vehicle safety inspection program.
We are thrilled with the result. This required hard work from the time Gov. Northam announced his initial plan to eliminate the program until the last days of session. And it was accomplished with the help of dealers throughout Virginia and other organizations with a similar stance on this issue.
While the statewide gas tax is set to increase a combined 10 cents over the next two years, with increases tied to inflation thereafter, the annual requirement for safety inspections will remain the same.
Equal Rights Amendment
One of the very first items addressed by the Democrat-controlled legislature was ratifying the federal Equal Rights Amendment. In the first days of session, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the U.S. Constitutional measure. It is unclear what effect, if any, this will have on Virginians, as the federal deadline for ratification expired in 1982. Many in Washington are advocating to eliminate that deadline.
A major focus for Democratic majorities in both chambers, gun control garnered contentious debate this session and inspired two different days of public protest and counter-protest on Capitol Square.
While the Senate stopped a bill that would have banned future assault weapon sales and limited lawful magazines to those that hold 12 rounds or less, Democrats successfully passed other progressive measures. Such bills address the reporting or lost or stolen firearms, increased background checks, a red flag law, in-person testing for concealed carry permits, enhanced local government authority over gun control, and more.
Casinos and Gambling
The General Assembly passed legislation that would permit casinos in the Commonwealth in any of five stipulated localities: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Richmond, and Portsmouth. Having been passed by the legislature, the bill will go to the Governor for approval, veto, or amendment. Should he sign it, all the cities minus Richmond will need voter approval in a referendum this November for the casinos to come to fruition. Virginia is also poised to become the 11th state nationwide to allow sports betting; however, betting will not be allowed for events involving Virginia colleges and universities.
Virginia is going to see an increase in the minimum wage. In the waning hours of session, it was still unclear what that increase would be, with the House wanting a gradual increase over the next six years — $10 in 2020 and eventually $15 in 2025 — and the Senate opting for increases that would vary from region to region based on median incomes in respective areas. Under the Senate plan, Northern Virginia was to serve as a sort of measuring stick for other parts of the state — only Northern Virginia would have seen an increase to $15 over the next six years, and other regions would have had incremental increases of lesser amounts based on how their median incomes compare to that of Northern Virginia.
In the end, a conference committee of legislators agreed to $9.50 per hour in 2021, $11 in 2022, and $12 in 2023. Should the Governor approve the deal, there will be a study to what the Senate passed, the concept of tying minimum wage to regions. In 2024, legislators would then vote to accept or reject an increase to $13.50 in 2025 and $15 in 2026. Without such a vote, the rate would annually rise relative to inflation.
Elections and Redistricting
Legislators denied the opportunity to permit Virginia governors to serve successive terms or to join the Commonwealth with other states wanting U.S. presidents elected by the national popular vote. They did away with Virginia’s voter ID requirement and passed legislation to allow no-excuse early voting.
But in the final days of session, perhaps the most contentious and lingering piece of electoral legislation dealt with a constitutional amendment that would drastically change the process of drawing House and Senate districts. After rigorous debate in the House of Delegates, both chambers passed a bipartisan Virginia constitutional amendment that, upon voter approval, will permit a panel of legislators and citizens to draw General Assembly district lines in 2021 and onward. This is a drastic change from the legislator-controlled process to date.
State legislators rejected the idea for a Virginia Green New Deal, progressive environmental legislation that draws its name from measures in the U.S. Congress and New York State Assembly. But House and Senate Democrats here in the Commonwealth did pass the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which changes the way major utilities do business and encourages wind and solar energy in pursuit of carbon neutrality by 2045.
Weekly Legislative Update
See where we are on the issues and bills that affect Virginia dealerships the most.
The prominent issue for VADA this session, safety inspections were a major topic of discussion throughout the 60-day legislative calendar, culminating in two high profile conference committees that opted to keep annual inspections in place.
Maintaining Virginia’s annual safety inspection program took hard work, various forms of communication, help from dealer members, advocates in the House and Senate, and collaboration with like-minded groups. We thank all for helping us reach this point.
HB 1414 – Speaker Filler-Corn
- Bill would, among furthering other administration-backed transportation initiatives, alter the safety inspection program to require inspections once every 24 months. This was part of a conference committee that agreed to maintain annual inspections.
HB 1439 – Del. Jones
- As amended, HB 1439 would alter Virginia’s safety inspection program to require inspections once every 24 months. Bill also includes other transportation safety measures. This was part of a conference committee that agreed to maintain annual inspections.
SB 890 – Sen. Saslaw
- Bill contains the same transportation measures as HB 1414 but maintains the annual inspection system. This was part of a conference committee that agreed to maintain annual inspections.
SB 907 – Sen. Lucas
- Bill contains some of the same measures as HB 1439 but maintains the annual inspection system. This was part of a conference committee that agreed to maintain annual inspections.
HB 577 – Del. Keam
- Bill would put in place California emissions standards, potentially both low emissions (LEV) and zero emissions (ZEV) standards. This bill died in House Appropriations.
HB 595 – Del. Bourne
- Bill would authorize the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue, upon request of a licensed dealer, a license plate that is a combination of a special license plate and a dealer tag. VADA asked Del. Bourne to carry this legislation. Passed by the House and Senate and approved by the Governor, this bill will become law effective July 1, 2020.
Peer-to-Peer Vehicle Sharing
Marketed by some as Airbnb for cars, peer-to-peer vehicle sharing is an emerging technology that would allow one to rent—or share, depending on whom you ask—their vehicle to another through an online platform. The sharing platforms asked patrons to carry their preferred legislation. A rental car company asked patrons to carry theirs. Taxation was the main point of contention, with the platforms wanting less than the 10% rental tax applied to their transactions.
Why are we involved? We want everyone —including the car-sharing platforms and/or their users — to pay their fair share to the Commonwealth so as to prevent Virginia from needing to increase the sales and use tax as a way of accounting for any deficits.
Additionally, we want to prevent a platform company — whether owned or funded by a large auto manufacturer — from titling a fleet of vehicles in another state, never paying Virginia’s sales and use tax, and bringing cars into Virginia to operate just as a traditional rental company but with a tax break.
With VADA’s help, the two sides reached agreement. Whenever a single owner has 11 or more vehicles on a shared platform, the tax on transactions shall be 10%, same as the rental tax. A single owner who has 10 or less vehicles on a shared platform will be taxed at 6.5% for the first year of this law and 7% thereafter. This is a win for VADA. It preserves transportation revenue, and it prevents large manufacturer owned fleets from circumventing the rental rules.
Lastly, just last week, one of the peer-to-peer sharing platforms — not the one primarily backing the bill, with whom we’ve worked most closely — expressed new reservations about the compromise language. This happened despite such company having participated in discussions about the bill throughout session. Thankfully, their efforts did not thwart the bill’s progress. Still, this was a reminder that nothing is done until it reaches the finish line.
SB 735 – Sen. Newman
- SB 735 reflects the consensus language and will be the vehicle for the agreed upon language moving forward. There is no need for HB 891, HB 892, HB 1539, SB 749, or SB 750 and, as such, all died before crossover. Passed by the Senate and House, this bill is before the Governor for signature, veto, or amendment.
As always, we are monitoring various employer-employee legislation. This year, such bills include those addressing employee purchases of necessary tools and equipment, non-compete agreements, an increase in the minimum wage, and paid sick leave.
Consumer Data Security
Various bills dealing with consumer data will be studied over the coming year in preparation for legislation in 2021.