With just one week left in Virginia’s General Assembly session, lawmakers sent several gun-related bills to the governor’s desk Friday.
The bills, which Gov. Ralph Northam supports, include a “red flag” law that sets up a legal process to temporarily remove guns from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others, and a bill letting local governments ban guns in their parks, buildings and from certain streets around large events.
In other actions in the second half of the week, the General Assembly also backed changes to eliminate the threat of prison time for drivers going 81 mph in a 70 mph zone, to allow speed cameras in Virginia, and several election-related bills.
In the final week of the session, lawmakers are expected to finalize deals on the two-year budget and major transportation funding and fee changes, consider plans for next year’s redistricting process and finalize plans for casinos and online sports betting.
The General Assembly is also still considering how to raise Virginia’s minimum wage, whether to give county governments authority to implement more taxes, and the exact plans for a study over the next year that could lead to legalizing marijuana under state law.
A conference committee is working to finalize an interim bill this year that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults.
Similar small groups are responsible for working out agreements on dozens of bills over the next week, including the big budget bills.
Northam sent the budget leaders a letter Friday, praising the House and Senate budget plans, since they largely track his introduced proposal.
The House and Senate are both controlled by Democrats this year for the first time in decades. Northam is also a Democrat.
“For the first time in recent memory, both chambers have produced budgets that are philosophically and programmatically consistent with the introduced budget,” Northam wrote.
There are differences in approaches in each plan though, including on pay raises for teachers and state workers. His letter broadly asks for more funding for education, health care and affordable housing.
Northam has the authority to sign bills sent to him, veto them or offer amendments to be considered by lawmakers at the one-day reconvened session in April.
Gun bills passed Friday
Gun-related bills headed to Northam’s desk include the “red flag” extreme risk protection order bill that would allow a judge to order someone to temporarily turn over guns to someone else if a prosecutor or law enforcement officer can show probable cause that the person is a substantial risk to themselves or others.
A hearing on the order would be scheduled within 14 days.
The bill passed the House 53-47 and the Senate 21-17.
Another bill just approved would ban anyone under a permanent protective order from having a gun. Those orders can last up to two years.
Under a separate bill, local governments would be allowed to ban guns and ammunition in their government buildings and offices, in local parks, and on streets where events or rallies requiring a permit are going on.
The rules would require clear signage and exempt college programs, such as VMI’s cadets or other college’s ROTC programs.
The General Assembly has also approved tougher penalties for recklessly leaving a loaded, unsecured gun in a way that endangers the life or limb of a child under 14, and an end to online courses for concealed carry permits.
The bill requiring concealed carry permit gun safety training be done in person passed the Senate 21-19 and the House 52-45.
On Friday, the House also gave final approval, 55-45, to a bill requiring gun owners to report the loss or theft of a gun within 48 hours of learning about it. The Senate had killed a similar bill earlier in the session, but changing the period from 24 hours to 48 hours got the bill through.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke a tie to support the revised bill in the Senate on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the General Assembly approved a bill that would allow concealed carry permit holders to keep a stun gun in their car on school property, which would effectively ensure the person is not punished for simply picking up or dropping off a child.
Another bill would allow gun buyback programs that destroy guns rather than the current requirement that the guns be resold.
Several other gun bills remain to be finalized next week, including the return of Virginia’s one handgun per month purchase law.
Virginia would have stationary speed cameras in work zones and school crossing zones for the first time under a bill approved earlier this week.
The Senate voted 23-17 and the House voted 49-43 to allow the speed cameras that could be placed by state or local law enforcement.
Similar to Maryland and D.C., signs would be posted about the cameras.
Another road safety measure headed to the governor’s desk on 63-37 and 26-14 votes, respectively, toughens penalties for drivers who run over people walking, biking, in a horse and buggy, or otherwise not in a car.
The bill makes it a misdemeanor to drive in a careless or distracted way that causes serious injury.
The bill also bans drivers from swerving into bike lanes to get around another car.
The General Assembly also voted to allow an extra $15 fine for speeding on parts of Route 15 and Route 17 in Fauquier County, where there have been a number of serious crashes.
Still, the General Assembly also passed a bill lessening penalties for certain speeding elsewhere.
Rather than the current threat of a year in jail for reckless driving, the change would make speeding between 81 and 85 mph in a 70 mph zone a simple traffic ticket. It would come with an extra $100 fine, though.
The bill passed 85-14 in the House and 30-10 in the Senate.
Other transportation safety measures remain in negotiations heading into the final week of session.
The House and Senate have approved no-excuse absentee voting, criteria for next year’s redistricting process and additional campaign advertising disclosure requirements.
Lawmakers also approved same-day voter registration starting as soon as fall 2022 and a bill that would let local governments use ranked-choice voting in their local races.
In ranked choice elections, voters rank their preferences from top to bottom. If no candidate has a majority of first choices, the last place candidate is eliminated, and people who voted for that candidate instead have their second choices counted.
Another bill inspired by problems in the Stafford and Fredericksburg areas in 2017 would allow voters who believe they are handed the wrong ballot to cast a provisional ballot in both the race they believe they should be voting in and the race the poll book indicates they should be voting in.
Local elections officials could then sort out the answer over the following days and only count the correct ballot.
The General Assembly blocked a bill that would extend Virginia’s voting hours to close polls at 8 p.m. rather than 7 p.m., sending it to the governor with a provision that requires the General Assembly to pass the bill again next year in order for it to take effect.
Adults 18 years old and older working for or volunteering with a public sports organization or team (coaches, directors, others) would become mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect under a bill approved Friday.
Other bills would ban the use of tanning salons by people under 18, except for spray tanning, and would expand kindergarten hours.
The General Assembly also voted to ban conversion therapy use by professional counselors on someone under 18.
Earlier in the week, lawmakers repealed 2012 abortion restrictions that included forced ultrasound and counseling requirements, and also voted to expand the definition of hate crimes to cover attacks on people due to disability, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Milk would only mean something from an animal under a bill that passed with some conditions on Thursday. If 11 other states pass the same thing by 2029, then it would be illegal to market things like “almond milk.”
Other animal-related bills just passed cover petting of elephants, tougher penalties for dog or cat owners who let their pet out despite a warning the pet may have rabies, changes to menhaden fishing rules, and a ban on transporting bait fish to sell out of state.