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Assembly continues funding for PBS

Lawmakers uphold 66 of McDonnell's 86 amendments to state budget
The state Senate has ensured that Virginians will still ask that age-old question: “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?”

The Senate on Wednesday night overturned Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposal to eliminate state funding for public broadcasting over the next two years.

The Senate’s 27-13 vote doesn’t alter the 10 percent cut in funding for public broadcasting approved by the General Assembly during its regular session in February.

However, senators rebuffed McDonnell’s call to eliminate fully half of the money that public radio and television stations would receive during the coming fiscal year – and the remaining half the following year. The governor’s office said his plan would save taxpayers $4.2 million.

The House of Delegates upheld McDonnell’s budget amendment to phase out state funding for public broadcasting. However, the amendment dies if one chamber rejects it – as the Senate did.

The votes came during the General Assembly’s “reconvened session,” a one-day meeting to consider vetoes, changes to legislation and budget amendments made by the governor.

In all, the House and Senate upheld 66 of the governor’s 86 amendments to the budget. The other 20 were nixed.

Abortion Rights
The General Assembly also voted on one of the most controversial amendments – a provision that would block insurance coverage for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or life-threatening health concerns.

The Republican-controlled House easily passed McDonnell’s abortion-restricting measure on a 61-36 vote. But the issue was the subject of heated debate in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority.

Two Democratic senators voted with the Republican minority in favor of the restriction. The result was a tie vote that was broken by Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, allowing the restriction to pass.

Bolling also cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of McDonnell’s amendment to allocate $380,000 for an abstinence education fund.

Environmental Fines
Two of the governor’s four vetoes this year dealt with the environment – and the General Assembly upheld both of them.

One bill would have allowed the state Department of Environmental Quality to impose civil penalties of up to $30,000. The other bill would have authorized the State Water Control Board to impose a civil penalty of up to $1,000 on people who fail to report certain water withdrawal information.

Since the General Assembly sustained the governor’s vetoes, both bills are dead.

Autism Insurance
Both houses approved four of the five amendments that McDonnell made to a bill requiring governments and large employers to include autism services in their employee health insurance plans.

Legislators upheld McDonnell’s proposals to create a licensing board for autism therapists and to require prior authorization for services.

Lawmakers rejected McDonnell’s amendment that would have gutted the entire law if part is “invalidated by state or federal law or a court of competent jurisdiction”

For more than a decade, parents of autistic children in Virginia pushed for a state law requiring insurers to cover autism services.

The legislation will require health insurers to pay for a set of therapies, known as applied behavior analysis, for children age 2 to 6 with autism.

The new law will apply to businesses with more than 50 employees; it also will cover public employees. The statute won’t apply to individual or small group insurance policies. Under the law, annual benefits will be limited at $35,000.

Physical Education
The Senate upheld McDonnell’s veto of a bill that would have required 150 minutes of physical education in elementary and middle schools.

The measure was widely criticized as an unfunded burden on local school systems.

In a letter to the governor, several educators and school board associations wrote that “Many elementary schools throughout the Commonwealth do not have gymnasiums or other facilities sufficient to meet the requirements of this bill.”

U.Va. Renovations
Both the House and Senate voted to give the University of Virginia almost $2.7 million in state bond funds to repair its landmark Rotunda. The House voted 98-1 in favor of the measure. The Senate voted 40-1.

Medical Malpractice
Both the chambers of the General Assembly shot down McDonnell’s veto of a bill to raise the amount that can be awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits. The bill will raise the existing $2 million cap by $50,000 a year – until it reaches $3 million in the year 2031.

To overturn the governor’s veto, both houses must achieve a majority of two-thirds.


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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