Va. governor signs bills to combat hate crimes, vetoes civil penalties for invasive plant sellers

English ivy, an invasive plant, seen at McLean Central Park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

In the latest round of action on bills, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed 100 bills passed by the Virginia General Assembly, including one to protect Virginians from unlawful discrimination, hate crimes and antisemitism. The governor vetoed four others, including one to create civil penalties for shop owners who fail to advertise they are selling invasive plants that could harm other species.

Among the 100 bills signed is a measure that will codify a recommendation by the Commission to Combat Antisemitism that Virginia revise its laws to better protect Jewish citizens from hate crimes, along with Muslims, Sikhs and other ethnic-religious groups.

Youngkin said the legislation aligns with one of his top priorities: combating antisemitism.

“As the first state to weave religious freedom into the fabric of our nation, Virginia is leading once again and sending a clear message that Virginians should not be the victim of a crime simply because of their religion, race, or ethnicity,” the governor said in an April 2 press release.

Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, and Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, carried the legislation, Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 18.

“I’m thankful for the governor’s signature and the bipartisan co-patrons of this important bill,” said Reeves in a statement. He added that legislation outlawing antisemitism isn’t just about protecting a particular group, but about “defending the fundamental values of equality, justice, and human dignity for all.”

Helmer, a descendant of Holocaust survivors and a Jewish man whose children “confronted antisemitism” in school, Helmer said the legislation is important to him.

“Hate has no place in our communities,” Helmer said in a statement, adding that he is grateful for the governor’s signature to “protect people of every ethnicity across the commonwealth.”

Other interesting pieces of legislation the governor signed into law include House Bill 143, which directs the Virginia Department of Transportation to create a publicly-accessible utility work database and map that details projects within state-maintained areas, excluding emergency maintenance and services to private properties. Another measure, House Bill 322, will create a Cosmetology Compact, which will allow people to be licensed to provide barbering, hair styling and other cosmetic services in Virginia and other states that join the compact initiative.

Vetoed legislation

The governor also vetoed four bills that would have required the state to adopt model public education policies on climate change and environmental literacy, permitted college instructors to request non confidential garnishment data for research purposes, and created penalties for shop owners who fail to identify invasive plants they sell.

In explaining why he rejected the bill on adopting model policies for climate change, the governor said the measure is already included in the Standards of Learning for students, and the proposal “imposes a significant and redundant task” on the Department of Education and the Board of Education.

He said the proposal also mandates separate and independent reviews of the science Standards of Learning and instructional material; school divisions would also need to integrate new resources into their curriculum outside the standard process, requiring additional funding for materials and reallocating instructional time.

The governor also vetoed legislation allowing college and university faculty members to request district court records for eviction research.

Youngkin said the legislation “infringes” upon the rights of Virginians who have faced an unlawful detainer, garnishment or warrant in debt action.

He also wrote that the proposal, carried by Sen. Ghazmi Hashmi, D-Richmond, “does not effectively address the issue of incomplete eviction data, as garnishments and warrants in debt actions can involve various transactions, such as credit card or business-to-business disputes.”

Last year, Youngkin signed legislation requiring the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia to report to the General Assembly the number of writs of eviction by Sept. 1. He said that report would provide information to address gaps in eviction-related data.

According to the report filed in January, 41 petitions were filed and 33 were disposed of in 2023.

As for the legislation regarding harmful plants, Youngkin said he opposed placing additional requirements and penalties on small businesses for selling plants with “low levels of invasiveness, such as periwinkle and winter honeysuckle.”

Youngkin said the Department of Conservation and Recreation already shares information with the public about invasive plant species and why planting native species is beneficial.

He also said the department’s list would essential act as a “legally binding authority” regarding invasive plants and override the Administrative Process Act, which mandates public notice and a period where the public can give feedback.

Sen. Saddam Azlan Salim, D-Fairfax, who carried the bill, along with Del. Holly Seibold, D-Fairfax, wrote on X the legislation was a “common-sense compromise” supported by the nursery industry, stores and anti-invasive plant advocates.

“Once again, the governor has chosen politics over common sense policies,” Salim wrote. “It’s incredibly disappointing to see the governor go back on his words from just a few weeks ago.”

The governor has until Monday to act on any remaining bills passed by the General Assembly, including legislation to lift Virginia’s ban on skill games, a hot button topic in this year’s session.

There’s also a possibility the governor could veto the legislature’s budget, which axed many of Youngkin’s key priorities, including a pro sports arena proposal and income tax cuts. Youngkin has said he hopes to avoid that step.

Lawmakers will return to Richmond on April 17 to take up the governor’s legislation and budget amendments.

This article was reported and written by the Virginia Mercury, and has been reprinted under a Creative Commons license. Mercury editor Samantha Willis contributed to this report.