February 10, 2015
he Virginia General Assembly churned through hundreds of bills Monday, dealing with new day care rules, ethics reforms and drone regulations as a key legislative deadline approached.
It was the first of a two-day vote marathon, and the Senate in particular has a lot left to do Tuesday. It is still putting the finishing touches on its versions of campus sexual assault reporting reforms, as well as a legislative ethics overhaul.
Senators will have to take multiple floor votes on those issues Tuesday to beat the assembly’s crossover deadline.
The House advanced its version of the ethics package Monday, including a $100 gift cap for legislators, but no subpoena-empowered committee to investigate possible violations.
The chamber also passed its package of campus sexual assault reforms, though it dropped a proposed requirement that colleges and universities put notations on transcripts when students are suspended because of, or drop out during, a campus investigation of sexual assault.
The Senate version of this transcript bill still needs multiple votes to pass that chamber, leaving the proposal’s fate uncertain.
Both chambers voted Monday to gather DNA samples from more people, adding a number of misdemeanor convictions to the list including stalking, indecent exposure and resisting arrest.
Both chambers also backed — at least on preliminary votes — increasing the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 73, something the General Assembly has resisted for years.
It was all part of an annual scramble at the General Assembly. Come Tuesday, legislation eligible for final passage during this General Assembly session will need to have passed one chamber or the other.
There are exceptions, not the least of which is the state budget, but that’s the general rule on crossover day. And because items need to clear three readings in a chamber before they cross over, most of the votes taken Monday will have to be repeated Tuesday.
The House made some moves Monday on tax credits, lowering the amount people can claim for keeping their land as open space — something Gov. Terry McAuliffe requested. The chamber also voted to change coal industry tax credits, but not to the extent McAuliffe or his fellow Democrats hoped.
House Republicans said the coal industry faces too many head winds to cut that state benefit now.
The Senate — taking time to discuss the Bible’s prodigal son — voted for a new tax break benefiting companies that shifted headquarters to foreign countries, but move back and invest in Virginia.
The Senate killed a proposal to boost Virginia Marine Resources Commission pier permit fees for the first time in four decades, even as the measure’s sponsor warned the state was draining its trust fund for keeping waterways clear.
The vote was close. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam used his power to break a tie vote to kill the proposed increase, which state Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, said would have been the first state bottom lands fee increase since 1973.
Day care reform
The House approved its version of day care reforms Monday, though it will take another vote Tuesday to finalize that approval.
A competing version has already passed the Senate. One key difference is that the Senate would require small home day care operators to count their own children in determining whether or not they meet a state threshold requiring licensure.
The House would not require operators to count their own children, but would lower that threshold from six children to five. The House has removed a provision that would have asked any person caring for children and getting paid in return to register with the state Department of Social Services.
The House took a preliminary vote Monday on legislation to require new child-proof caps on the liquid nicotine vials used to refill e-cigarettes. A Senate version is awaiting passage in that chamber.
The House voted for new rules for police license plate tracking programs, which use video of license plate numbers to build databases that can be used to track movement. Under House Bill 1673, law enforcement generally would have to dump the data they collect after seven days.
The House is also one vote away from approving new regulations for drones, which would end a moratorium on the use of small unmanned aircraft. Industry supporters have been pushing for this, saying Virginia could see an economic benefit by embracing the technology.
Already the industry has a foothold in Northern Virginia, and Virginia Tech has a moratorium exemption to run a drone research program in Hampton Roads.
House Bill 2125 would require law enforcement and state or local agencies to get a warrant before using a drone, with some exceptions, including search and rescue operations.
•State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Warm Springs, was braced for a fight over legislation to require new training for mental health workers assigned to deal with people in crisis. Despite protests from the state’s community services boards that the measure would impose big costs, Deeds’ proposal passed the Senate 28-9 with no debate.
•There was also little opposition to a proposal by state Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg, to increase the trigger for charging thefts as felonies, going from $200 in stolen goods to $500. It passed 30-8.
•The House approved a handful of education reforms Monday, including a dictate to the state Board of Education to come up with new accreditation standards that account for student growth at struggling schools.
•Locally, the House advanced House Bill 2025, which would forbid Hampton City Council members from running for re-election and mayor at the same time. Members whose re-election is off-cycle with the mayoral race would have to resign to run for mayor.
•The House also gave tentative approval to changes in the state’s small-, women- and minority-owned business programs, including a new rule that businesses that get these contracts couldn’t subcontract more than 60 percent of the work to businesses that don’t qualify.
•The House also voted to address a quirk in state law. House Bill 1645, from Del. Brenda Pogge, R-Norge, would clarify that people can drink alcohol on patios and in various other places at bed and breakfasts.
•The House also voted for legislation that would let couples choose whether their marriage licenses say “spouse” or “bride” and “groom.” After last year’s gay marriage court decision, clerks started using “spouse” as a default.
•The Senate voted down legislation meant to give people on welfare a second chance at benefits after being convicted of a first drug offense. That bill failed 18-20.
•The Senate approved legislation requiring run-off elections for the U.S. Senate, governor’s race and other statewide races if the initial winner receives less than 50 percent of the vote.
•The House voted to create a new felony: Enticing someone to a dwelling with the intent of committing a felony. House Bill 1493 is fairly broad, but the intent is to protect real estate agents in danger of being drawn to vacant houses and attacked.
•The House also voted to extend an existing sales tax break on vehicle purchases. Children could give their parents a car without paying sales taxes under House Bill 1279. Current law allows parents to avoid the tax when giving their children a car.•The House also voted unanimously to crack down on people who unlawfully remove oysters or other shellfish from oyster grounds. They would lose their tidal water fishing privileges for five years, and face a $10,000 civil penalty.
Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759; Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.
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