Online sports betting, decriminalized pot among final votes in Va. legislature

Virginia lawmakers took final votes Sunday to decriminalize marijuana possession, allow online sports betting and address discrimination.

Final votes on other proposals in the state House or Senate, if Gov. Ralph Northam signs them as expected, would allow local governments to opt-in on collective bargaining for their workers, let county governments implement other taxes to offset property tax rates, and implement a number of statewide transportation changes.

The transportation funding bill includes gas tax increases and other fee changes.

A road safety bill that would have required seat belt use by everyone in a car, allowed for a lower speed limit in business and residential areas, and established a panel to address issues of discriminatory traffic stops, failed in the Senate.

Lawmakers did approve bills requiring data collection on broader police interactions with the public, to require recordings of interviews when people are in custody, and to study the ongoing impacts of centuries of racism.

Local governments are set to get permission to move Confederate monuments, and a commission will look into replacing Virginia’s statue of Robert E. Lee at the U.S. Capitol with someone else.

The final version of bills allowing online or app-based sports betting allows a dozen or more companies to get involved with restrictions at the insistence of the House of Delegates that ban betting on Virginia college sports. In exchange for that ban, the proposed tax rate was lowered from 17.5% to 15%.

Separate votes will allow five casinos in the state and a further expansion of “historical horse racing” games that are essentially slot machine. This includes the more than 1,000 at the slots parlor coming to Dumfries.

Under the marijuana decriminalization bill, adults with up to one ounce of marijuana would only face a civil penalty of $25. The citation could be expunged. Lawmakers have approved a study that could lead to consideration next year of legalizing marijuana.

The General Assembly voted just before Saturday night’s midnight deadline for adjournment to extend the session to handle dozens of bills outstanding.

While lawmakers had already reached agreements on many of those bills to bring to the floor for votes, many others were still being worked out ahead of the new deadline of 6 p.m. Sunday.

It appeared Sunday afternoon that a plan to require paid sick leave for all workers at companies with more than 15 people could fail over budget concerns.

The General Assembly will come back Thursday to adopt a $135 billion, two-year state budget deal reached late Saturday night, then formally adjourn for the year.

The details of the budget agreement are expected to be available Monday, so extending the 60-day session to Thursday gives lawmakers time to review the plan that will be sent to the governor.
Northam has the authority to sign bills, veto them, or offer amendments to be considered at a one-day reconvened session Apr. 22.

Northam has through the first week of April to act on most bills.

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