Va. lawmakers set for hectic final week

WASHINGTON– From hospital reforms and a Supreme Court vacancy to ethics and turf fields, the Virginia General Assembly is moving into a breakneck final week of its annual session that must also include a budget agreement between the House and Senate.

The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn Saturday, Mar. 12, although some lawmakers hope business can be wrapped up a day or two early as it was last year.

The two-year budget bill is the largest overarching issue remaining to be worked out. Gov. Terry McAuliffe sent a letter to lawmakers last week asking them to reinstate funding he proposed for economic development or incentives, and to remove transportation earmarks that were put into the Senate’s budget proposal. He is also asking for more money to offer background checks at gun shows as agreed to in a deal reached earlier this session.

In addition to other issues, McAuliffe also opposes language in both the House and Senate budget proposals that ban any spending on abortion services unless required by specific state or federal law.

Health care

The General Assembly is working on changes to Virginia’s hospital approval system, which requires a certificate of public need to be issued before a new facility is built or expanded.

While the House of Delegates moved toward a larger overhaul this year, the Senate wants major changes delayed until next year so more studies can be done.

“A compromise appears likely that will offer modest reforms this year while still offering some protections to our hospitals that must provide indigent care,” Sen. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat, wrote to constituents Friday.

House Bill 350, which could have a final vote in the Senate any day this week, would take some types of facilities out of the certificate process while providing expedited review for others.

The bill passed the House 94-4-1 on Feb. 15.

The Senate version has been amended, so even approval by the Senate would still require further action.

Bail, Death penalty

With a scheduled execution nearing and questions about whether Virginia has the drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection, a bill now on the Senate floor would direct the Department of Corrections to use the electric chair if a lethal injection is not available or vice versa. Virginia death row inmates are currently given the option, but lethal injection is the default if no choice is indicated.

The House of Delegates passed the bill 62-33 Feb. 10, and it was reported to the Senate floor by the Courts of Justice Committee Wednesday on a 9-5 vote.

A separate bill would keep some people accused of crimes behind bars after a District Court judge grants bail.

It would apply in a case where someone is charged with a crime that carries a presumption against bail, in cases where prosecutors indicate that they want to appeal the bail decision.

As long as the person granted bail has not been released, the defendant would be held for up to five business days.

Crimes with a presumption against bail include certain drug or gun crimes, some felonies, any crime that could carry a life sentence, and some drunk-driving cases.

The Senate approved the bill 33-7 on Feb. 2, and House will likely approve the bill this week since it was reported to the floor unanimously on Wednesday by the Courts of Justice Committee.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Virginia, like the U.S. Supreme Court, is currently operating one justice short, and the General Assembly must act this week to fill the position if the Republican-controlled body wants to prevent Gov. McAuliffe from making another recess appointment to the court.

McAuliffe appointed Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush to the seat this summer, and reappointed her in September after the General Assembly did not fill the seat during a special session that was nominally about redistricting.

In Virginia, the legislature has the exclusive authority to nominate and elect judges to full terms. The governor is only permitted to make temporary recess appointments that expire a few weeks after the General Assembly reconvenes.

Republican leaders have backed former Prince William County judge Rossie Alston for a full term. He sits on Virginia’s second-highest court.

Last week, after resolutions to elect both judges had sat dormant for weeks, the Senate voted to back Roush for a full term, and the House voted to reject her. That all-but closes the door on her selection this session, but does not indicate whether the General Assembly will elect Alston or anyone else.


Bills to water-down ethics reforms passed last year in the wake of the corruption convictions of former Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen have also moved forward.

A House bill that focuses on changing reporting rules and deadlines passed 98-1, but has been amended in the Senate.

A Senate bill that would make further changes to allow more free travel and allow the chairs of the House and Senate rules committees to approve certain travel has now been amended in the House.

Some other changes that would have tightened ethics rules were tabled.

AirBnB, marijuana oils

Bills that would have allowed short-term rental businesses like AirBnB to operate across Virginia and to pay taxes through the state government have been effectively delayed for a year.

Many local governments opposed the bill.

The bills have been sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, but include a limit on actually implementing the regulations proposed unless the General Assembly passes the law again next session. The Senate budget proposal also includes language that would prevent the laws from taking effect.

A similar enactment clause has been included in a bill that would set up a permit system to manufacture and sell marijuana oils through pharmacies. The bill passed the Senate 37-2 last month, and an amended version year has been unanimously reported to the House floor by the Courts of Justice Committee.


While several bills that would have expanded absentee voting in Virginia or allowed early voting with no reason required were tabled in the House, but there could be other changes to ballots across the state.

A bill that would put party affiliations next to the names of candidates for local office passed the Senate 24-16 last month, and was reported to the House floor Friday on a 13-8 vote from the Privileges and Elections Committee.

Current law only identifies candidates for federal, statewide or General Assembly positions by party on Virginia ballots.

The new law would expand that to include any candidate nominated by a political party or through a primary election.

It would not apply to school board races since they are nominally nonpartisan even though parties often do offer endorsements.


A proposal to overhaul high school graduation requirements in Virginia could pass this year.

Del. Tag Greason’s bill would end the current standard and advanced studies diplomas and units of credit in favor of a new system to be set up by the Board of Education by fall 2017.

The requirements would apply beginning with freshmen who start high school in the fall of 2018.

The House approved the original bill 86-13, but last week rejected the version sent back to them by Senate.

Another bill passed by both the House and Senate that requires some work on slight differences aims to save school systems and local governments money by allowing them to join together to buy new artificial turf fields.

The bill passed the Senate 40-0, and the version amended in the House passed 92-4.


In addition to bills clarifying or permitting certain alcohol sales or production permits, a bill that has been passed in slightly different forms by each house would put new limits on underage or intoxicated people transporting liquor.

The bill would make it a misdemeanor for underage, interdicted or intoxicated people to knowingly transport alcoholic beverages. Right now, the law only penalizes those people for the purchase, possession or consumption of alcohol.


The General Assembly can also act on Gov. McAuliffe’s vetoes this week. Last week, lawmakers sustained vetoes of the so-called ‘Tebow Bill’ aimed at letting more home-schooled students play public school sports, and of a bill that aimed to restrict how Virginia follows new federal pollution rules.

Loudoun County and several other jurisdictions across the state are urging McAuliffe to veto a bill that would overhaul the proffers developers pay as part of housing construction.

The counties say the proffers are integral to building the resources people who live in new developments use. Supporters of the bills say some proffers in Virginia have been unreasonable, and the unreasonable costs have been passed on to homebuyers.

McAuliffe has until midnight Tues. Mar. 8 to act on the bill.

Any vetoes or amendments to bills McAuliffe offers after the General Assembly adjourns will be taken up in April at what is usually a one-day reconvened session.

Dude, where’s my car?

Fairfax Sen. Chap Petersen says he’s back behind the wheel of his Ford Fusion after it was stolen earlier in the session.

Petersen says Richmond Police found the car not far from the Capitol last week. The car, with Senate of Virginia license plates, had been taken around the area before being dumped (and the EZPass had been used to pay tolls).

In a message to constituents, Petersen jokes that he is keeping the car’s whereabouts secret now that it is back on the street with a new set of tires. In the meantime, he’d been driving his wife’s minivan.

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