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Editorial: More Fodder for Comedy?

2013 session of the Virginia General Assembly will tackle serious issues.

The 2013 30-day session of the Virginia General Assembly begins on Wednesday, Jan. 9.

We can only hope that the various legislative proposals do not provide as much fodder for comedy as last session. The Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia will offer live streaming video of the 2013 Legislative Sessions, and it is well worth tuning in once or twice.

The General Assembly typically considers between 2,000 and 3,000 bills during a session. It’s like drinking from a firehose. There will be proposals about revenue and lack thereof, transportation and education funding, bills proposing to allow concealed weapons in schools, bills to allow civil penalties against gun owners who fail to secure their guns, bills that would limit access to insurance coverage for contraception, bills to further limit abortion, bills about undocumented immigrants and other bills beyond imagination.

Every resident of Virginia is represented by one delegate and one state senator. You can find out who your representatives are, and look up what they actively propose and how they vote on the General Assembly website at http://virginiageneralassembly.gov.

Here is a sample of bills local legislators have prefiled as chief patron.

Del. Dave Albo (R-42), Seventh and eighth grade end-of-course mathematics Standards of Learning assessments; calculator use prohibited. Prohibits students in the seventh and eighth grades from using any calculator on any mathematics Standards of Learning assessment. The bill also provides that no eighth grade student who fails to receive a passing grade on the end-of-course mathematics assessment shall be placed in an Algebra I course, or a more advanced mathematics course, in the ninth grade.

Del. David Bulova, Landlord and tenant laws; Virginia Residential Property Disclosure Act; disclosure of methamphetamine laboratory; remedy for nondisclosure. Requires a landlord of a residential dwelling unit who has actual knowledge that the dwelling unit was previously used as a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory and has not been cleaned up in accordance with the guidelines established by the Department of Health to provide to a prospective tenant a written disclosure that so states. The bill provides when the disclosure shall be made by the landlord and the remedy for the tenant for nondisclosure. The bill also requires an owner of residential property when selling the property to make the same disclosure. The bill has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2014.

Del. Barbara Comstock (R-34): School calendar. Makes local school boards responsible for setting the school calendar and determining the opening of the school year and eliminates the post-Labor Day opening requirement and "good cause" scenarios for which the Board of Education may grant waivers of this requirement.

Del. Charniele L. Herring (D-46): Tax credit for small businesses hiring graduates of Virginia's public colleges. Establishes, beginning Jan. 1, 2013, an individual and corporate income tax credit for certain small businesses creating new full-time jobs that are filled by persons holding associate's or bachelor's degrees from public institutions of higher education in the commonwealth. The credit would equal $2,500 for each such new full-time job. The credit would be claimed for the taxable year at which time the new full-time job was continuously filled for at least 12 months. Any unused credit would be allowed to be carried over for five taxable years. The tax credit would sunset in 2015.

Del. Tim Hugo (R-40): Admission of students domiciled in Virginia at public institutions of higher education. Provides that the board of visitors or other governing body of each public institution of higher education, except for Virginia Military Institute, Norfolk State University, and Virginia State University, must establish rules and regulations requiring that by the start of the 2018-2019 academic year, at least 75 percent of students admitted and enrolled at the institution are domiciled in Virginia.

Del. Rob Krupicka (D-45): Customer access to restrooms; civil penalty. Requires a retail establishment that has a toilet facility for its employees to allow a customer who suffers from Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or other medical condition that requires immediate access to a toilet facility, to use that facility during normal business hours if certain conditions are met. The measure does not apply to certain filling stations or service stations or to banks or savings institutions. The operator of a retail establishment that violates this requirement is subject to a civil penalty of not more than $100. A violation does not subject the retail establishment to further liability to the customer.

Del. Tom Rust (R-86): In-state tuition; undocumented persons. Establishes that an undocumented person who is unlawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible for in-state tuition unless he (i) entered and began residing in the United States prior to his 16th birthday; (ii) has graduated from a public or private high school in the commonwealth . . . ; (iii) has registered as an entering student in a public institution of higher education in the commonwealth; (iv) has resided in the commonwealth for at least five years immediately preceding . . . ; (v) has provided an affidavit to the institution stating that he has filed an application to become a permanent resident of the United States . . . or will do so as soon as he is eligible, and that no grounds exist for the denial . . . ; and (vi) has submitted evidence that he or, in the case of a dependent student, at least one parent, guardian, or person standing in loco parentis, has filed, unless exempted by state law, Virginia income tax returns for at least one year prior to the date of enrollment.

Del. Vivian Watts (D-39): Safe deposit boxes. Requires the bank or other entity renting a safe deposit box to permit limited access to the box by the deceased lessee's spouse, next of kin, guardian, conservator, agent under a power of attorney, or agent in an advance medical directive, or by a court clerk, to look for a will or other testamentary instrument. Currently, the lessor of the safe deposit box has the option of allowing entry for such purpose.

Sen. George Barker (D-39): Possession of open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle; penalty. Provides that no person shall possess an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of a motor vehicle upon a public highway of the commonwealth in other than the manufacturer's unopened, original container. The bill punishes violators with a civil penalty of $25. (Barker also proposes license plates for Washington Nationals fans.)

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30): Nondiscrimination in state employment. Prohibits discrimination in state employment based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, or status as a special disabled veteran or other veteran covered by the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended. The bill defines "sexual orientation" as a person's actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, or gender identity or expression. The bill expressly provides that "sexual orientation" shall not include any person's attraction toward persons with whom sexual conduct would be illegal due to the age of the parties.

Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) Eligibility for TANF; drug-related felonies. Provides that a person who is otherwise eligible to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families assistance shall not be denied assistance solely because he has been convicted of a felony offense of possession of a controlled substance, provided that he complies with all obligations imposed by the court and the Department of Social Services, is actively engaged in or has completed substance abuse treatment, and participates in drug screenings.

Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) Elections; absentee voting. Provides that qualified voters may vote absentee in person without providing an excuse or reason for not being able to vote in person on election day. The bill retains the present statutory list of specific reasons entitling a voter to cast an absentee ballot for those persons who vote absentee by mail.

Sen. David Marsden (D-37): Use of firearm in commission of crime; civil liability. Provides that a person may be held civilly liable for injury to the person or property of another or for wrongful death resulting from the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime if it can be shown by clear and convincing evidence that the firearm came into the possession of the person who committed the crime because of the failure of the civil defendant to adequately secure the firearm from theft or unauthorized possession.

Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34): Fuels taxes; indexing of tax rates. Increases or decreases each year the rates of Virginia's fuels taxes using a fuel efficiency index. The bill defines the fuel efficiency index as the quotient that is obtained when using as the numerator the total annual vehicle miles traveled in the commonwealth for the relevant year and using as the denominator the total gallons of motor fuel consumed for highway use in the commonwealth for the relevant year, as published by the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Sen. Toddy Puller (D-36): Tax credit for hiring military veterans. Establishes beginning Jan. 1, 2013, but before Jan. 1, 2018, an individual and corporate income tax credit for taxpayers hiring returning or disabled military veterans into new jobs paying an annual salary of at least $50,000 (with other restrictions).