Column: A 2015 Legislative Summary: Part I

Column: A 2015 Legislative Summary: Part I

This is an overview of legislative highlights from the 2015 General Assembly session. Last week, I discussed the budget and some of my bills.

Generally speaking, this session was less contentious than the prior five regular sessions in which I have served mainly because the majority caucuses refused to hold hearings on many of the most controversial bills even though many were introduced. Bills restricting birth control, limiting abortion, redefining fetuses as persons, limiting rights based on sexual orientation, marginalizing our newest residents and allowing guns in airports were denied hearings and votes.

Here are some highlights. Governor Terry McAuliffe could amend or veto these bills or parts of them. He must act by March 30. My votes are in parentheses for the bills that I had an opportunity to vote on (Y/N).

#1 – Firearms Expanded

The General Assembly passed legislation to make it easier for convicted stalkers, mentally ill people and convicted felons to obtain concealed weapon permits (CWP’s) for use in Virginia (N), to require local sheriffs to process background checks for machine gun purchases (N), to ban local governments from prohibiting loaded shotguns in vehicles for CWP holders (N), and to prohibit law enforcement of most other states from electronically verifying the validity of Virginia CWP’s (N).

Legislators rejected my legislation to prohibit people declared mentally incompetent from possessing ammunition (Y); Governor McAuliffe’s legislation banning people subject to protective orders from possessing firearms; bills to require universal background checks for firearm purchases, restore Virginia’s “one-gun-a-month” law, and legislation suspending CWP’s when holders accumulate child support arrearages. CWP holders currently owe at least $15 million in back child support.

#2 – Execution Secrecy Rejected

The Senate passed and the House killed legislation to authorize compounded drugs in executions and exempt the entire execution process from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (N).

#3 - Constitutional Amendments

The legislature passed a constitutional amendment exempting the spouses of slain first responders from real estate taxes (Y), to put Virginia’s “right to work” law into the Constitution (N), and to move charter school approval from local school boards to the state (N). The legislature must pass constitutional amendments again next year to be placed on the 2016 ballot for voter approval.

Legislators killed constitutional amendments to allow automatic restoration of voting rights for convicted felons, require nonpartisan redistricting, allow two-term Governors and repeal Virginia’s gay marriage ban. The legislature again did not ratification the Equal Rights Amendment.

#4 –Education Reforms

The General Assembly rejected legislation allowing a pre-Labor Day school start (Y); but we passed legislation making it easier to get a waiver from the post-Labor Day school start requirement which could help Fairfax County if the snow persists (Y).

The legislature approved legislation to provide more flexibility to school systems meeting Standards of Learning (SOL) tests (Y), to allow more bake sales (N) and to restrict seclusion and restraint of students (Y).

The legislature repealed the A thru F school grading system (Y) and Governor Bob McDonnell’s state takeover of local school system initiative (Y).

The legislature passed bills to allow local school systems to allow home-schooled students to play in public school sports (N) and a bill limiting fees that Virginia colleges can charge to support athletics (Y).

#5 – Transit Funded

We passed legislation to head off the so-called “transit cliff” approaching in three years, thus protecting state funding for transit projects like those on U.S. 1 (Y).

#6 – Utilities Deregulated (Again)

We passed legislation giving investor-owned utilities (e.g., Dominion Power) a five-year waiver on adjustments — up or down — to their rates by regulators (N) and requiring some solar investments. Stock analysts immediately upgraded Dominion to a “buy.”

#7 – Hannah Graham and Sexual Assault Legislation

We passed legislation liberalizing proof-of-venue requirements for criminal prosecutions and requiring DNA testing for certain misdemeanors (Y/N). We passed a bill requiring school transcript to indicate if students withdraw from school during rape investigations (Y) and we clarified sexual assault investigation rules (Y).

I will cover #8-20 in my column next week. Please email your feedback and suggestions It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.