In this moment when the federal government is in such turmoil, we turn back to the states to see where the work of local organizers and officials is making a difference. The beauty of American federalism is that chaos at the federal level does not preclude advancements within the states. In fact, state legislatures are usually the first places we can look for groundbreaking policy that may later grow to national prominence. That’s why Sister District focuses exclusively on state legislatures, and why we continue to see returns on our investments years down the line.
In 2019, Democrats won control of both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly for the first time in nearly 25 years, delivering a Democratic trifecta in the Southern state. This electoral result was the culmination of years of hard and strategic organizing work from local organizations and national organizations like Sister District. This historic shift led to a powerful 2020 legislative session that turned Virginia into a bastion of progressive values in the South. Some of the bills passed in the 2020 legislative session went into effect on January 1st 2021. Here are some highlights.
Until this January, a Virginia patient could go to an in-network healthcare provider for an emergency or non-emergency procedure, only to later receive a bill from an out-of-network provider. This was because an in-network provider could work with an out-of network doctor or send lab work to an out-of-network laboratory, and insurance companies would then require the patient to foot the bill. These bills often cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Virginia’s new surprise medical billing law, co-patroned by Sister District alumna, Delegate Wendy Gooditis, prevents this from taking place going forward. Starting January 1st, out-of-network providers in Virginia may not bill a patient for more than the patient’s health insurance co-pay. This monumental change to the state’s healthcare billing system means that patients won’t have to delay or refuse necessary treatment for fear of receiving a surprise medical bill.
Virginia’s new worker misclassification law, co-patroned by Sister District alumnae Delegates Karrie Delaney and Elizabeth Guzman, also took effect this January. This law further defines the distinction between an employee and an independent contractor and imposes fines on employers who misclassify their employees as contractors. This law protects Virginia workers by preventing employers from exploiting employees and denying them benefits and proper payment.
In most states, undocumented immigrants are not permitted to obtain driver’s licenses. This means that while they must still go to school and work, they often live in fear of being arrested and deported for driving without a license. As of January 1st, Virginia became one of 16 states to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver privilege cards. The new law, chief patroned by Sister District alumna Delegate Kathy Tran and co-patroned by alumni Delegates Hala Ayala, Karrie Delaney, Elizabeth Guzman, Chris Hurst, and Shelly Simonds, will make the roads safer while breaking down barriers for immigrant communities.
Flipping Virginia blue in 2019 made these new transformative policies possible. State legislatures matter. They are the engine that moves our democracy forward. They have the power to transform their states, and in doing so, lead the way for the entire country.
Background: Sister District helped to elect and re-elect 17 members of the Virginia House of Delegates and 2 members of the State Senate in 2017 and 2019 put us on a path to a Virginia that is becoming more fair, equitable, and forward-looking.