Governor amends, vetoes numerous bills

Gov. Bob McDonnell on Tuesday recommended changing some of the requirements in legislation requiring voters to show identification on Election Day. His suggestions would make it somewhat easier for people who don’t have proper IDs to have their ballots counted.

McDonnell announced that he was recommending changes to 130 laws approved by the General Assembly and that he was vetoing seven bills. The assembly will reconvene next Wednesday to consider the governor’s actions.

Last month, lawmakers passed House Bill 9 and Senate Bill 1, requiring voters to present valid identification to cast a regular ballot. Otherwise, they would cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted only if the voter provides proper ID by the day after the election. Supporters said the bills would prevent voter fraud and ensure integrity of the voting process. Opponents likened the legislation to Jim Crow-style suppression of the minority vote.

“Ensuring the security, fairness and openness of our elections are cornerstones of a strong democracy. For people to have faith in their government, they must have faith in their elections. This legislation passed by the General Assembly attempts to increase the security of our elections by lessening the risk of voter fraud,” McDonnell said.

He added, “In reviewing this legislation, I want to preserve this goal of preventing illegal voting while promoting voter participation, and making sure we do not stand in the way of legitimate voting. I also want to ensure that this legislation complies with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

The governor proposed four changes to the legislation. Under his recommendations:

• Officials would compare the signature on a voter’s provisional ballot with the signature on file with the State Board of Elections. This means provisional voters would not have to present an ID to their registrar after the election, although that option would exist.

• Provisional voters would have more time to send or present ID to the local electoral board. McDonnell would give provisional voters until the Friday after the election to show ID or validate their signature.

• Community college identification cards would be an acceptable form of ID to cast an official ballot. (The bills specified an ID card from “any four-year institution of higher education.”)

McDonnell also proposed removing a provision in the legislation that says an election official can waive the voter ID requirements if he or she recognizes a voter who does not have valid identification. The governor cited concerns about the “subjectivity and lack of uniformity” in making such determinations.

Currently, Virginians who don’t have valid IDs can vote if they sign an affidavit swearing that they are registered voters.

“Under Virginia’s current voter ID law, approximately 0.25 percent to 0.30 percent of voters vote without identification and signing the affirmation,” McDonnell said. “Under this legislation, the number of people subject to the non-ID voting provisions will decrease with the addition of several acceptable IDs.”

Under existing law, acceptable forms of identification include a voter registration card, a Social Security card and a driver’s license. Under the legislation, a voter also could show a utility bill, bank statement, government check or paycheck.

The Republican governor also acted on bills on several other topics.

Education
As part of his “Opportunity to Learn” agenda, McDonnell signed SB 131 and amended a related measure, HB 321, giving tax credits to companies that provide scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools. His change would require scholarship foundations to allow an eligible student to attend any eligible private school.

The bills raise a contentious issue. Republicans believe such proposals can improve an underprivileged student’s education, but Democrats say they take away from the public school system.

Among his seven vetoes, McDonnell rejected SB 471, which would have required the State Board of Education to create physical education requirements for public schools.

Public employees’ retirement
McDonnell signed HB 1130 and made amendments to SB 497 and 498. SB 497 requires that local government employees pay a 5 percent contribution to the Virginia Retirement System, the public employee pension fund.

The governor proposed giving all local governments five years to phase in the 5 percent employee contribution requirement. SB 497 allowed only school boards to phase in the requirement.

McDonnell’s changes to SB 498 would make the sickness and disability coverage for local employees under the state’s new hybrid retirement plan mandatory, with an opt-out provision for localities that offer comparable disability coverage.

“Over the last few years, we have taken a number of important steps to help ensure that employees’ retirement is secure. This year, the General Assembly passed historic legislation to further improve the long-term solvency of the Virginia Retirement System,” McDonnell said.

Transportation
McDonnell amended two key pieces of his transportation agenda – the Comprehensive Port of Virginia Promotion and Reform Bill (HB 1183 and SB 578) and the Comprehensive Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority Promotion and Reform Bill (HB 813 and SB 284). Specifically, he recommended increasing from $7.5 million to $9.5 million the amount of annual funding for the Commonwealth Space Flight Fund. The fund would support efforts to develop Virginia’s commercial aerospace industry.
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