The General Assembly is now in its final week. The legislature is scheduled to end its session a week from today, March 1, 2021. Committees must conclude their work early this week in order for any remaining bills to make their way through the rest of the process. Significant bills expanding voting protections for people with disabilities are nearing final days of work.
Under the Virginia constitution, the Governor has seven days to review a bill, so long as the legislature is still in session for those seven days. If, however, the bill goes to the Governor when there are fewer than seven days remaining, the Governor then has 30 days to review. Although the bills below are nearing completion, they will not reach the Governor with seven days remaining in the session, so it may be several more weeks before we know the final result of these measures.
The bills that will improve the ability for Virginians with disabilities to have full access to the right to vote include:
Delegate Price’s HB 1921, has been approved without amendment in both the House and in the Senate. The bill assures that voters who wish to vote curbside may so without having to enter the building. Polling places will be required to post information about how to request a curbside ballot. The bill was offered at the request of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia and had wide support from the disability community and the voting access advocacy community. Although the legislature has completed its work on the bill, as of this morning, it has not yet been communicated to the Governor, so the Governor’s due date is likely to be in mid-March.
In SB 1097, from Senator Favola, the requirement for a signature to be witnessed on an absentee ballot will be removed. For people with disabilities who want to vote absentee during the current epidemic, removing this requirement provides better health protections. This bill has been approved by the Senate, but was amended in the House, limiting the exception for a witness only to times when there is a public health crisis. The bill is on its final vote in the House today, but it will need to return to the Senate to vote on the amendment.
HB 1888, from Delegate VanValkenberg and many others, makes various reforms to absentee voting processes and procedures. The most significant reform for voters with disabilities is a requirement that a ballot marking tool with screen reader assistive technology must be available for all absentee voters with a print disability. The bill was approved by the House and amended by the Senate, so the bill must still return to the House for a vote on the amendments.
SB 1331, from Senator Reeves, deals only with the requirement for a ballot marking tool for those who use screen readers. That bill has been approved by the Senate and was amended in a House committee. The amendment retains a requirement that the ballot must be witnessed. The bill is in the House today for its final vote, but will need to return to the Senate for acceptance of the amendments.
The disAbility Law Center of Virginia brought litigation against the state prior to the November 2021 election to require a ballot marking tool for people with visual and print disabilities. We are hopeful that the right obtained through court proceedings will now be enshrined in state code.
Please continue to check back here for regular updates on developments in the legislature and let us know of any legislative proposals or budget issues that you think we should be following. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-800-552-3962 or 804-225-2042.