The 2023 legislative session in Virginia will begin tomorrow, Wednesday, January 11th at noon. This year, the legislature will give first consideration of possible amendments to the state constitution, at least one of which will be of special importance to the disability community.
The process to amend the state constitution is complicated and slow. In order to amend the state constitution, the legislature must pass a resolution to amend, during its second year of the session. The resolution must then be referred to the next General Assembly after there has been a general election of members of the House of Delegates.
In other words, since this is the second year of this specific legislature, resolutions to amend the constitution must first be passed this year, then passed again next year, after there has been an election. If the resolution is passed in two different legislatures, it is then placed on a ballot for a vote by the people of Virginia. Any resolution to amend that is approved this year, and next year will be on the ballot in the fall of 2024.
One resolution of special interest to the disability community is SJ 223, offered by Senator Locke, concerning the right to vote. (We expect to see a similar proposal in the House of Delegates.) Currently, our constitution prohibits voting by any person adjudicated to be mentally incompetent. That means that any person with full guardianship loses their right to vote. The proposed amendment provides that a person will lose their right to vote only if specifically adjudicated to be lacking the capacity to understand the act of voting. In other words, someone will not lose their right to vote if they have a guardian unless a court specifically finds they do not understand the act of voting. This change would significantly benefit people with disabilities.
The disAbility Law Center of Virginia will follow the debate about this and other proposed amendments during the session. Our mission is to advance independence, choice and self-determination; protect legal, human and civil rights; and eliminate abuse, neglect and discrimination of people with disabilities through zealous and uncompromising legal advocacy and representation. We are available to educate policymakers about the potential impact of legislative proposals. Please let us know of any proposed constitutional amendments, legislative proposals or budget issues that you think we should be following. Contact us at email@example.com or by calling 1-800-552-3962 or 804-225-2042.