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Virginia passes legislation designating water as a basic human right

The Virginia House of Delegates on Friday passed legislation that declared “clean, potable, and affordable water” a basic human right. 

Democratic Del. Lashrecse Aird introduced the legislation that says “access to clean, potable, and affordable water is a necessary human right” and would decriminalize people not paying their water bill when they can’t afford it. 

The legislation was passed in a 61-33 vote. There were only six Republicans who joined all the Democrats in passing the bill, NBC12 reported

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If passed by the Senate Rules Committee, the legislation would spark a new program as it calls for a “statewide water affordability program.” The program “would ensure that every household can afford to pay its water, wastewater, and stormwater bills based on the household's income through percentage of income payment plans with arrears management.”

“We can begin to frame policies that really make it so that we’re humanizing hardship,” Aird told NBC12. “And we’re taking an approach that is trying to put the safety and wellness of people first.”

This legislation was developed after some residents in Aird’s district had their water shut off at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last year. Many across the country were struggling to pay bills as businesses were laying off jobs during the economic downturn spurred by the pandemic.

“Unless you’ve actually lived that life and you’ve experienced it, you don’t really fully recognize how much of a hardship this is,” Aird said. “And so for me, it’s personal. It’s deeply a matter and sense of urgency.”

The legislation calls for strategies to limit contamination of water and for other state agencies to recognize water as a human right when drafting policies. 

The legislation would have to pass the Senate Rules Committee. Once enacted, it would make Virginia the fourth state to recognize water as a human right.