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Tumultuous Va. legislative session moves into final week

FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2017 file photo, from left, Lt. Governor-elect Justin Fairfax, Attorney General-elect Mark Herring and Governor-elect Ralph Northam listen as Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe addresses a joint meeting of the House and Senate money committees at the Pocahontas Building in Richmond, Va. With Virginia's top three elected officials engulfed in scandal, fellow Democrats were rendered practically speechless, uncertain of how to thread their way through the racial and sexual allegations and their tangled political implications. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

WASHINGTON — Virginia lawmakers plowed ahead Friday with final approvals for some bills and closed-door negotiations on big-ticket items like the budget, with only some allusions to the drama surrounding the state’s top elected leaders.

The state Senate gave final approval to a coal ash disposal bill; an overhaul to 2016 proffer limits on housing developers and counties that have stifled development in Northern Virginia; and a bill allowing Fairfax County to give residents of a neighborhood special permits or stickers that will allow them to be exempt from rush-hour turn restrictions intended to block cut-through traffic.

The Senate killed a bill that would have moved the June primaries back a week. Supporters of that bill said it would make things easier and safer since students would not be in schools used as polling places. Opponents worried it would drive down turnout even further if families are on vacation.

With the session due to end in a week, no later than Saturday night, Feb. 23, some of the big issues in the final days are expected to be: final negotiations over the budget; whether or how nonpartisan redistricting may be implemented in Virginia; and a push from House Democrats to change the rules to force a vote on the federal Equal Rights Amendment.

The General Assembly has already passed changes for Virginia’s Kings Dominion school-start law and a tax agreement; is moving to finalize a ban on handheld cellphone use while driving; and has put the sister of a Republican state Senator on the state’s supreme court.

Questions about the state’s top leaders hang over the final week of the session though.

Gov. Ralph Northam, though, is hoping to get things back to normal, and has no plans to resign.

He plans an apology or listening tour following what turned into a tumultuous legislative session.

Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted partway through the session that they once wore blackface; other lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment faced associations with similar behavior; and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax faces two sexual assault accusations he denies. Each plans to remain in office.

 

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