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Column: State Senate Changes Are Affecting Legislation

Some of the bills that have been introduced and regularly died in the Senate in past years are now passing through committees and are likely to pass the Senate and House to become law with the change in Senate leadership resulting in the election of 20 Republican and 20 Democratic senators. The Republicans assumed leadership with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling being able to break tie votes except on the budget, selection of judges and Constitutional issues. For example, the law that allows an individual to purchase one handgun a month that passed in 1993 when Governor Douglas Wilder was Governor is now being repealed.

Gun/home defense bills - New legislation to repeal and allow more than one handgun purchase per month has passed the Senate Courts Committee. This along with two other bills referred to as the “castle doctrine bill” and “prevention of localities fingerprinting people seeking concealed gun permits” passed out of committee on a party line vote but will have to be voted on again on Monday because two senators who gave their proxy votes left the Capitol grounds. That is against Senate procedures. I don’t know if the votes will be any different then or not.

The “castle doctrine bill” may fail, as Common Law is stronger than any bills submitted including the two that have passed the Courts Committee or ones proposed. Already, Common Law in Virginia allows a person to defend yourself when someone forces the way into your home. In other words, you already have this right.

Legal abortion/birth control - Early in the Session members began introducing bills to restrict access to legal abortion. The Senate Education and Health Committee passed Sen. Jill Vogel’s bill to require pregnant women to have a sonogram and look at it before having a legal abortion. There are other bills yet to be voted on regarding restricting access to legal abortion. Del. Bob Marshall has introduced a House bill to recognize “personhood at the point of conception.” It is thought that if it passes, this could restrict access to birth control in Virginia. Mississippi voters defeated a similar “personhood bill” last year.

Veterans - I have introduced several bills that passed unanimously through committee and the Senate. SB 134 would allow a separate voting precinct for the Town of Quantico. Veterans’ bills SB 297 grants full voting privileges to ex officio veterans members on issues before the Board of Veterans Services and SB 540 clarifies the real estate tax exemption for disabled veterans. This clarification would allow residences held in trust to also be allowed the exemption. Eligible disabled veterans and surviving spouses affected by a trust will be repaid with interest retroactive to the effective date of Jan. 1, 2011.

Transportation/Transit - SB 138 would transfer the motor vehicle fuel sales tax administration and collection to the Department of Motor Vehicles. This bill was carried at the request of the Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC). SB 539, also requested by PRTC, authorizes forward energy pricing with the use of mechanisms for budget risks and will affect all transit organizations.

VRE - A few years back, I introduced legislation that passed to fine people boarding the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) using fraudulent tickets. Unfortunately, this problem is continuing to grow. SB 657 will increase the fine to $750 per second offense.

Gunston Hall - Last year, it came to my attention that some problems were developing at Gunston Hall Plantation. Evidently, the popular education director was fired. This was upsetting to the local community. Del. Dave Albo and I introduced a bill this year to clarify the governance of Gunston Hall Plantation that is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1932, Louis Hertle bequeathed the Plantation to the Commonwealth of Virginia upon his death. It was to remain a national memorial to George Mason, the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

Health Costs - One of my most important bills is SB 135 that creates the Virginia All Payer Claims Database. This will start to save money on health care costs and provide evidence-based improvements in access, quality, and cost once it is set up and running. Data will be made publicly available to health care consumers. Only a few states now have such a database but the need is being recognized nationwide. This is separate from the health care benefits exchange.

Please contact me on issues of concern by phone, email or regular mail at: Sen. Linda T. Puller, 1-804-698-7536, district36@Virginia.senate.gov, or P.O. Box 396, Richmond, Virginia 23218. Also, please check my website at www.toddy.org.

By Toddy Puller

State Senator (D-36)