Sen. Jennifer McClellan: A Historic Legislative Session for Equality

By Senator Jennifer McClellan

In 1619, a group of 22 white men gathered in Jamestown with the charge of establishing “just laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people” of Virginia. 

On that day, they founded the oldest continuous legislative body in the New World. But the “just laws” they established only provided justice for white, land-owning males.

Today, 401 years later, the legislature looks much different: In 2020, we have the first woman speaker of the House, the first African-American woman Senate Pro-Tempore, and the most diverse legislature in Virginia history.

The 2020 legislature better reflects all of Virginia, and we’ve made it a priority to pursue equality for all Virginians. It has been a long path since 1619, but our legislature is ready to make major progress in truly forming “just laws” for the people of Virginia. 

We’re currently at the midpoint of the 2020 legislative session, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most productive sessions in years. I’m especially proud to have worked with my colleagues to pass several bills out of the Senate that will correct inequities and injustices, providing equal opportunity for all. 

Providing equal opportunity for everyone starts with removing long-standing inequities on our books. The Senate unanimously passed my SB722, a bill that removes dozens of racist and segregationist Acts of Assembly passed between 1901 and 1960, which have existed in our state laws for far too long. 

I’m also proud to have passed new redistricting criteria that protect voting rights by banning racial gerrymandering. And the Senate passed my bill to study marijuana legalization, with a specific focus on remedying years of discriminatory marijuana policy that disproportionately impacts communities of color. The Senate also passed a bill to prevent localities from discriminating against affordable housing development. 

With the most women ever serving in the General Assembly’s 401-year history, we’ve led on landmark legislation on women’s rights and women’s health. Virginia made national headlines last month when we became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to put women’s equal rights in the U.S. Constitution. I’m proud to have led this bill in the Senate, and especially proud that women of color led the way on the ERA in Virginia.

The Senate also protected women’s health by passing my Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, which strengthens Virginia's pregnancy discrimination laws by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and mothers of infants. 

And, we’re poised to take major steps to protect LGBTQ Virginians against discrimination. Sen. Adam Ebbin’s Virginia Values Act, which passed the Senate earlier this month, would make Virginia the first Southern state with expansive protections for LGBTQ equality. Sen. Ebbin’s bill includes my provisions to protect LGBTQ Virginians from housing discrimination.

The difficult history of Virginia shows that the government can be a force for change or can stand in the way. With these bills, Virginia’s legislature can be a force for change - and bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.