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Lawmakers reach midpoint of 2017 legislative session

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia drivers going too slow in the left lane could get $250 fines, hunters could wear blaze pink instead of orange, and women could buy a year’s worth of birth control under legislation still alive at the General Assembly.

The 2017 legislative session entered its home stretch Tuesday, the deadline for both the House and Senate to pass its own legislation aside from budget bills. Hundreds of bills have already died, including perennial legislation on social issues like abortion that either had no chance of passing the GOP-led General Assembly or surviving a veto by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Here are updates on other bills:

— Limits on school suspensions and discipline have now been approved in the Senate, where Sen. Bill Stanley cited Virginia’s status as the top state for funneling students with school discipline issues into the criminal justice system. The House has approved similar changes.

— The Senate narrowly approved a bill patroned by GOP Sen. Mark Obenshain that would allow the state to set up charter school divisions in areas with 3,000 or more students and some failing schools. Several Democrats spoke strongly against the measure. The House passed a state charter school bill too.

— Other school-related bills include a Senate bill that would add instruction on sexual consent and the importance of family relationships to family life-education classes.

— The Senate approved a “religious freedom” bill tied to same-sex marriage that mirrors a similar bill already approved by the House. Democrats strongly opposed the bills as unnecessary, and McAuliffe could veto them.

— The Senate approved a bill that would allow local governments to regulate short-term rentals through sites like AirBnB. Fines for failing to register could be up to $500, and local governments would also be allowed to regulate all short-term rentals (up to 30 days) through zoning restrictions. The head of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association praised the bill.

— The Senate also approved a bill that would set rules and insurance requirements for what amounts to Uber or Lyft for deliveries. The app-based delivery services allow drivers to accept pickups and deliveries for packages or things like food as is done by UberEats, which got temporary permission to operate in Virginia last year.

— Following House approval of a similar bill, the Senate backed a change that would guarantee anyone who buys tickets to a concert, sports game or other event would be allowed to resell or give those tickets to someone else.

— The House Tuesday approved changes to trespass towing rules for Northern Virginia. The bill is substantially similar to one that nearly passed the Senate last week, but failed when a senator miscast his vote.

— The House and Senate passed bills that would allow alcohol sales at certain large retail developments such as town centers, with permission for patrons to walk around carrying alcoholic beverages bought there (as long as the patrons stay out of the parking lot).

— The House rejected a bill that could have put limits on the storage of surveillance data from license plate readers that track drivers across the state.

— The Senate passed a bill that would direct Dominion to look into recycling or other clean up methods before closing a coal ash disposal site.

— The Senate rejected a bill that would have given school districts, such as Loudoun County, permission to charge transportation fees in some cases to students who go to school outside the school system’s boundaries (i.e. at the magnet Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology).

— Both chambers took up bills that would change the Virginia Economic Development Partnership after revelations last year of a lack of oversight of funds given as incentives to companies for years.

— The House of Delegates, after working late into the night Monday, finished earlier than usual for a crossover day, and the Senate adjourned for the day a few hours later. With about two and a half weeks remaining in the session, more work is expected on competing budget plans over the next few days.

Legislation aimed at reforming the state’s mental health care and criminal justice system are advancing. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn the 2017 session on Feb. 25.

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