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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Top 20: A 2015 Legislative Summary

This is an overview of legislative highlights from the 2015 General Assembly session.  Last week, I discussed the budget and some of my bills. 

Generally speaking, this session was less contentious than the prior five regular sessions in which I have served mainly because the majority caucuses refused to hold hearings on many of the most controversial bills even though many were introduced.  Bills restricting birth control, limiting abortion, redefining fetuses as persons, limiting rights based on sexual orientation, marginalizing our newest residents and allowing guns in airports were denied hearings and votes.    

Here are some highlights.  Governor Terry McAuliffe could amend or veto these bills or parts of them.  He must  act by March 30.  My votes are in parentheses for the bills that I had an opportunity to vote on (Y/N).

#1 – Firearms Expanded
The General Assembly passed legislation to make it easier for convicted stalkers, mentally ill people and convicted felons to obtain concealed weapon permits (CWP’s) for use in Virginia (N);to require local sheriffs to process background checks for machine gun purchases (N), to ban local governments from prohibiting loaded shotguns in vehicles for CWP holders (N), and to prohibit law enforcement of most other states from electronically verifying the validity of Virginia CWP’s (N). 


Legislators rejected my legislation to prohibit people declared mentally incompetent from possessing ammunition (Y);  Governor McAuliffe’s legislation banning people subject to protective orders from possessing firearms; bills to require universal background checks for firearm purchases, restore Virginia’s “one-gun-a-month” law, and legislation suspending CWP’s when holders accumulate child support arrearages.  CWP holders currently owe at least $15 million in back child support.


#2 – Execution Secrecy Rejected
The Senate passed and the House killed legislation to authorize compounded drugs in executions and exempt the entire execution process from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (N). 

 
#3 - Constitutional Amendments
The legislature passed a constitutional amendment exempting the spouses of slain first responders from real estate taxes (Y), to put Virginia’s “right to work” law into the Constitution (N), and to move charter school approval from local school boards to the state (N).  The legislature must pass constitutional amendments again next year to be placed on the 2016 ballot for voter approval.
 
Legislators killed constitutional amendments to allow automatic restoration of voting rights for convicted felons, require nonpartisan redistricting, allow two-term Governors and repeal Virginia’s gay marriage ban.   The legislature again did not ratification the Equal Rights Amendment.
 
#4 –Education Reforms
The General Assembly rejected legislation allowing a pre-Labor Day school start (Y); but we passed legislation making it easier to get a waiver from the post-Labor Day school start requirement which could help Fairfax County if the snow persists (Y).

 
The legislature approved legislation to provide more flexibility to school systems meeting Standards of Learning (SOL) tests (Y), to allow more bake sales (N) and to restrict seclusion and restraint of students (Y). 
 
The legislature repealed the A thru F school grading system (Y) and Governor Bob McDonnell’s state takeover of local school system initiative (Y). 
 
The legislature passed bills to allow local school systems to allow home-schooled students to play in public school sports (N) and a bill limiting fees that Virginia colleges can charge to support athletics (Y).
 
#5 – Transit Funded
We passed legislation to head off the so-called “transit cliff” approaching in three years, thus protecting state funding for transit projects like those on U.S. 1 (Y). 
 
#6 – Utilities Deregulated (Again)
We passed legislation giving investor-owned utilities (e.g., Dominion Power) a five-year waiver on adjustments – up or down -- to their rates by regulators (N) and requiring some solar investments.  Stock analysts immediately upgraded Dominion to a “buy.”

 
#7 – Hannah Graham and Sexual Assault Legislation
We passed legislation liberalizing proof-of-venue requirements for criminal prosecutions and requiring DNA testing for certain misdemeanors (Y/N).  We passed a bill requiring school transcript to indicate if students withdraw from school during rape investigations (Y) and we clarified sexual assault investigation rules (Y).

 
#8 - Uber Legalized
The legislature authorized ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.  See my prior columns about problems with these services (N).
 
#9 – Child Care Regulations Strengthened
We lowered the threshold for state regulation of childcare facilities from six to five children excluding the proprietor’s kids and required criminal background checks for all employees and volunteers (Y).   

 
#10 - Veterans
We passed bills to establish two new veterans care centers in the state (Y) and to allow veterans to receive certain academic credits at community colleges for training and educational programs they completed during their military service (Y).  Another bill would require the Department of Education to determine how to track students with a parent in the military to help children of military families can get federal aid (Y).
 
#11 - Limiting "Big Brother"
We passed legislation limiting warrantless collection of personal information by law enforcement unrelated to pending criminal investigations (Y).  This includes license plate readers and other types of passive data collection.  We passed legislation prohibiting the use of drones for law enforcement without warrants except in emergencies and for training exercises (Y).
 
#12 - Justice for Sterlizations
We appropriated $400,000 to compensate survivors of the state’s eugenics program which sterilized more than 8,000 people between 1924 to 1979 at $25,000 per person.   (Y).
 
In 2002, then-Gov. Mark R. Warner offered “the commonwealth’s sincere apology for Virginia’s participation in eugenics.” He called it “a shameful effort in which state government never should have been involved.”  Virginia would be the second state, after North Carolina, to compensate victims.
 
#13 – Voting Restricted
We passed legislation requiring mail-in absentee voters to provide copies of photo identification unless they are active duty military (N).

 
#14 - Autism Insurance
We passed legislation that will help about 5,000 Virginia children ages one thru 10 receive health insurance coverage for autism treatments (Y).

 
#15 - Medical Marijuana & Legal Hemp
We approved a bill legalizing the possession of oil derived from marijuana for people diagnosed with severe epilepsy (Y).  We also legalized industrial hemp so we can go back to exporting ropes and sails or something (Y). 
 
#16 – Heroin Crisis
Heroin use and overdoses are on the rise.  We passed legislation creating immunity from prosecution for certain persons reporting overdoses in progress (Y).  We also expanded a pilot to encourage the use of opioid overdose counteractant drugs by law enforcement (Y) and granted probation officers access to Virginia’s Prescription Monitoring Program to ensure probationers are not abusing prescription drugs (Y). 

 
#17 - Off-Label Prescription Drugs
We passed legislation to expand terminally-ill patients’ access to investigational drugs, under a physician’s supervision if an experimental drug has cleared the first phase of clinical trials but has not yet received final approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Y).
 
#18 – Ethics “Reforms”
We passed legislation creating a $100 gift limit, but lifting the $250 overall cap on donations from a single donor (Y).    We also prohibited gifts and contributions to the Governor while negotiating grants.

 
#19 - Tax Refunds
We abolished the unsound policy requiring that tax refunds  be issued on debit cards (Y).
 
#20 - State Song
Virginia might finally have not just one, but two state songs – “Our Great Virginia” and “Sweet Virginia Breeze” (N).  
 
Please email your feedback and suggestions at scott@scottsurovell.org.  It is an honor to serve as your state delegate. 

2 comments:

  1. Here's "the rest of the story".on #1.
    Virginia doesn't issue "concealed weapons permits" (CWP); it issues concealed HANDGUN permits, and does not allow individuals to carry less-lethal methods of self-defense.
    Ammunition, absent a firearm, is harmless.
    The governor's proposals would have taken away an enumerated right for commission of a misdemeanor--defined as a MINOR crime.
    There is no demonstrated connection between failure to pay bills and violence. (I would be willing to listen if you could cite a credible source for your $15M assertion.)
    There was no demonstrable difference in violence after the repeal of the "one gun a month" (which, by the way, was one HANDGUN a month but which a minority caucus sought subtly to expand).

    ReplyDelete

  2. Right-to-work laws allow a person to work without being REQUIRED to join and pay dues to a political organization. This seems a no-brainer.

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