Saturday, February 26, 2011

2011 Session Legislative Highlights

My second session has been an interesting experience. In some ways, it has been less contentions than last year, but there have been some interesting moments on the floor.

We still do not have a budget yet, but here is a quick summary of some important legislation from this session.

You can also read an official summary prepared by the Division of Legislative Services here.

Care of Disabled Adults (Surovell - Yes)
We were hit by a bombshell this year when the Department of Justice issued a report that cited Virginia's Central Virginia Training Center with civil rights violations. Virginia's "Training Centers" are institutional facilities where adults with profound disabilities live. The Northern Virginia Training Center is located on Braddock Road between the City of Fairfax and the Beltway.

The DOJ Report alleged that residents were not provided adequate care, properly informed of treatment decision, improperly restrained, improperly refused discharge, and was generally inappropriately treated. The report also criticized Virginia's entire system and said that we were only one of five states that still maintains treatment centers instead of using community based care via Medicaid "waivers."

We passed legislation authorizing additional waiver funding and providing the Governor with flexibility needed to begin address the concerns in the report. This issue isn't over.

Anti-Choice Legislation (Surovell - No)
Last year, we saw a steady stream of anti-choice bills that were killed in the Virginia Senate. This year, the Senate unanimously passed legislation regarding hospital regulations regarding infections. When it got to the House, an amendment was added that required clinics providing first trimester abortions to be regulated like hospitals. Because it was a House amendment, the bill went straight to the Senate floor where a 20-20 tie was broken by Governor Bolling. Given the constructions standards that hospital regulations create, this will jeopardize 17 of the state's 21 clinics providing these services. Litigation will certainly ensue. This was a rare breakdown in the Senate which has historically been a bulwark against anti-choice legislation.

Autism Insurance Coverage (Surovell - Yes)
After a decade-long fight, we passed legislation mandating limited coverage for some services for autistic children. It was not as robust as it should be but it is a good first step which will help thousands of Virginia families to cope with a very painful and expensive problem.

Expansion of Sexual Abuse Victim Remedies (Surovell - Yes)
We adopted legislation extending the statute of limitations for personal injury actions for sexual abuse against persons to twenty years.

Criminal Law (Surovell - Yes)
We banned "synthetic marijuana" also know "spice" or "K-2" and passed my legislation to fix an typo in the Reckless Driving statutes regarding passing a stopped school bus, created authority to create sentencing diversion programs for war veterans, and allowed a judge to order restitution to a child pornography victim.

Education Requirements (Surovell - No)
The legislature passed legislation requiring elementary and middle schools to have students engage in at least 150 minutes per week of physical education.

Deregulation of Home Telephone Service (Surovell - No)
We passed legislation that removes the requirement that Verizon provide telephone coverage to a home if there is alternate coverage available such as wireless service or broadband service.

Car Title Lending (Surovell - No)
The legislature passed legislation allowing car title lenders to lend money to individuals who live outside of Virginia.

Civil Justice Changes (Surovell - Yes)
We passed legislation putting in place a system for raising the medical malpractice award cap for the next 20 years, raised the jurisdictional limits of General Districts Courts to $25,000, and required the disclosure of Chineese drywall in homes.

E-Verify (Immigration) (Surovell - Yes)
The one immigration related bill that was passed required state contractors that have more than 50 employees to use the federal E-Verify system.

HPV Vaccinations for Children (Surovell - No)
Legislation that would have repealed a requirement that girls receive vaccinations against the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer was killed in the Senate. There is an opt-out provision under current laws.

Privatization of Alcoholic Beverage Control (No Vote)
The Governor's proposal to privatize the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control was never given a committee hearing in either chamber.

Immigration (Surovell - No)
There were approximately 12-15 different bills addressing immigration that were introduced this year. These ranged from requiring police to check the immigration status of any person taken into custody, to banning immigrants from public colleges and universities in Virginia, to requiring employers to use an system called E-Verify to check employee's immigration status. A limited E-Verify bill passed. All other bills were killed in the Senate.

Texting While Driving (No Vote)
Legislation to make texting while driving a primary offense (one you can be stopped for) was killed in the Senate.

Cigarette & Plastic Bag Taxes (No Vote)
A proposal to increase the cigarette tax from 30 cents to $1.45 per pack to help pay for health care through Medicaid and smoking prevention programs was rejected along with a $0.05 and $0.20 tax on plastic bags.

Employment Non-Discrimination (No Vote)
Legislation to prohibit discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, in state employment was rejected.

Constitutional Amendments (No Vote)
Constitutional Amendments to ratify the Equal Rights Amendments, create a VRS Lockbox, repeal Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage, automatically restore the voting rights of convicted felons who have served their sentence, and allow states to repeal federal law (Surovell - No) were all killed.

Criminal Policy (No Vote)
Legislation to raise Virginia's lowest-in-country misdemeanor-felony threshold on property crimes from $250 to $500 was killed (Surovell Bill). An effort to require ignition interlock devices for all first offense DWI convictions was killed in the Senate (Surovell - No).

Civil Justice Policy (No Votes)
The legislature refused to extend the mandatory retirement age for judges.

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