Unlike Congress, where Federal legislation can include a broad range of legislative topic areas, the Virginia Constitution mandates a 1-for-1 relationship between a piece of legislation and its topic. As defined in Article IV, Section 12 of the Virginia Constitution, “No law shall embrace more than one object...” With this in mind, it was always going to be difficult to take the seven broad topic areas of the Virginia Green New Deal (GND-VA), that range from voting rights to job security to agriculture to renewable energy, and constitutionally squeeze them into a single piece of legislation that does more than just sets goals, but actually achieves them. However, that Constitutional limitation has not prevented Virginia from making significant progress on these goals in just two legislative sessions.
In what is probably not an all-inclusive list, the Virginia General Assembly has passed almost 50 unique pieces of legislation or budget amendments, patroned by almost 20 different legislators that have made significant progress on all seven goal areas of the Virginia Green New Deal.
Here’s how the bills and budget amendments break down by goal areas:
• De-fossilization Energy Efficiency & Renewables (16 bills and/or budget amendments)
• Democratic Governance (3)
• Financing GND-VA (1)
• Food & Agriculture (6)
• Social Justice (8)
• Sustainable Cities & Transportation (7)
• Sustainable Jobs (8)
Because it’s impossible to point to a single piece of legislation, sponsored by a single Delegate who can say, “I passed the Green New Deal!,” this approach may not play well from a press or marketing perspective. However, the great benefit of this approach is that if there is a change in the majority, and these policies are no longer a priority, trying to unravel 50 pieces of unique legislation would be significantly more difficult than just undoing one omnibus piece of legislation.
Additionally, this approach has allowed each goal, priority, or objective to be thoroughly vetted and debated with the best possible legislation moving forward. For example, in the area of “Democratic Governance,” Virginia went from the 49th most difficult state to vote to the 12th easiest; in “Sustainable Jobs,” Virginia is increasing the minimum wage, provided for public sector collective bargaining, and provided for paid sick leave for home health care workers; and in the area of “Advancing Public Transit,” we are investing $3.7 billion over 10-years for rail along the I-95 corridor, establishing rail service to the New River Valley has been passed, and a Transit Equity Study has been approved. When you put all 50 pieces of legislation together, you can say, with about 90% confidence, “Virginia is the first state in the nation to pass the Green New Deal.” ...and, as a side note, some of those 50 bills passed with broad bipartisan support.
However, now is not the time to become complacent — there is still much work to do. Some of this legislation is so new that it only took effect on July 1st, 2020, barely 10-months ago, and some will not take effect until July 1st, 2021, which means the actual implementation is just getting started. The General Assembly will now need to provide oversight and ensure implementation proceeds as intended. We also need to have the right expectations about the timeframe for implementing some of these large-scale infrastructure projects, like the 10-year rail project and the development of offshore wind. While it would’ve been nice to have the offshore wind bill take effect on July 1st, 2020 and then have hundreds of new wind turbines sprout from the ocean floor on July 2nd, we know that’s not reality. These types of projects will take time to implement and now our job shifts from policy creation to oversight.
With Earth Day 2021 just behind us, we should all take pride in the fact that in just two regular legislative sessions we have passed at least 50 bills tied directly to the goals of the Virginia Green New Deal and we’ve laid the foundation for a much more sustainable future for the Commonwealth.