Henrico County VA

Dearth of vetoes reflects McDonnell’s success

At midnight Monday, the deadline passed for Gov. Bob McDonnell to veto or amend the nearly 900 bills that cleared the General Assembly this session.

So far, he has announced just one veto: of a bill requiring schools to provide at least 150 minutes of physical education per week. And McDonnell recommended mostly minor changes in 35 other bills. Legislators will reconvene in the Capitol on Wednesday [April 6] to vote on the governor’s actions.

The light agenda for the “reconvened session” may reflect McDonnell’s bipartisan success in dealing with lawmakers. During the assembly’s 2011 session, the first Republican governor in eight years worked cooperatively with the Democratic-led Senate as well as the GOP-controlled House.

McDonnell said that the 47-day session – running from Jan. 12 through Feb. 27 – was productive and that 92 percent of his legislative agenda passed.

“In just six productive weeks, the General Assembly has worked diligently to pass, in a strong bipartisan manner, legislation that will greatly improve Virginia’s transportation system, increase access to higher education, streamline and reform government, and help grow opportunities in our economy,” he said in a statement.

Since the session adjourned, McDonnell has been scrutinizing the legislation that emerged from the General Assembly.

He has signed into law the vast majority of bills. They range from House Bill 2040 and Senate Bill 1109, which will allow inmates to maintain Virginia’s 41 interstate-highway rest stops; to SB 924, which will impose stricter standards on clinics that perform first-trimester abortions.

McDonnell also signed into law the bills that make up his transportation plan, which will pump $4 billion into financing roads, bridges and rail projects across the commonwealth over the next three years. It will be Virginia’s largest infusion of cash for transportation in a generation.

Although most of his legislative agenda passed, the session wasn’t a complete success for McDonnell.

One of his most prominent issues, an attempt to privatize state-run liquor stores, was derailed. The governor proposed a couple of privatization bills; they died after lawmakers in both parties raised objections.

Delegate Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, says McDonnell may try to resurrect the ABC privatization issue during next year’s session. But to win over legislators, any plan would have to be substantially different from this year’s proposal, Surovell said.

“The governor would be better off taking this in small steps with pilot programs instead of a wholesale change,” Surovell said.

Governor Flexes Veto Pen on PE Bill
The only veto announced so far by Gov. Bob McDonnell takes aim at Senate Bill 996, which, beginning in fall 2014, would require public schools to provide at least 150 minutes of physical education per week in kindergarten through eighth grade.

McDonnell said school districts and teachers opposed the legislation. He called the bill an “unfunded mandate” imposed by the General Assembly on local governments.

“While I strongly agree that we must encourage exercise and physical activity, I oppose unfunded mandates, whether they come from Washington or Richmond. In the fight against childhood obesity and preventable disease, we all have a role to play,” McDonnell said.

“Government cannot just pass legislation and make this problem go away. Kids need to get off the couch and away from the computer and onto a soccer field or basketball court.”
SB 996 was sponsored by Sen. Ralph Northam, a Democrat from Norfolk. It incorporated proposals from two other Democrats – Sens. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth and John Miller of Newport News.

The Senate voted 37-2 for SB 996. But it had a harder time in the House – passing 55-40.

A Republican delegate, John O’Bannon of Henrico, sponsored a similar measure in the House. His proposal, House Bill 1644, cleared the House on a 65-31 vote. But O’Bannon withdrew his bill when it was under consideration by the Senate because Northam’s legislation was further along.

McDonnell, a Republican, said the bill’s objective is “laudable,” and he noted that his wife, Maureen McDonnell, “has made combating childhood obesity and inactivity, and promoting preventative healthcare, one of her chief issues as Virginia’s first lady.”

“However, we should not attempt to achieve important goals by disproportionately placing the burden of implementation on others,” the governor said.
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