General Assembly

Political parties at odds over voter ID laws


Voter identification laws are a hot issue in Virginia and across the country. Republicans say such laws combat voter fraud, which they insist is widespread. Democrats say the laws discourage voting by minority and elderly citizens who may be less likely to have a photo ID.

The debate has played out in Virginia, where Republicans control the General Assembly and a Democrat is governor, with few signs of a compromise.

House committee to weigh Farrell’s workers’ compensation reform bill


A key House committee plans to review a bill by Henrico Del. Peter Farrell that he said would make workers’ compensation more fair and transparent.

The bill, HB378, would establish fee schedules for medical services. Farrell said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the bill’s future.

“For at least four or five years now, we’ve been trying to figure out how to come up with a more transparent reimbursement system in our workers’ compensation world in Virginia,” he said.

Senate passes McEachin’s toxic waste inventory bill


The Virginia Senate passed a bill by Henrico Sen. Donald McEachin to require the Department of Environmental Quality to create an inventory of toxic waste sites not managed by the EPA.

The legislation, SB 227, passed Friday 38-1. Sen. Richard Black, R-13, was the only vote against the bill. Despite multiple attempts, Black could not be reached for a comment.

The victory for McEachin comes the day after his environmental agenda took a devastating blow in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, of which he is a member.

Panel backs ‘religious freedom’ to reject same-sex marriage


Government officials who are authorized to perform marriages could refuse to marry same-sex couples under a bill approved Monday by the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee over the objections of LGBT advocates.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Virginia and other groups opposed Senate Bill 41, which also states that religious organizations and their employees may deny “services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges” for a marriage if it would “violate a sincerely held religious belief.”

Splitting along party lines, the committee voted 8-7 in favor of SB 41, which was sponsored by Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Galax.

Next phases underway in FBI headquarters relocation


Federal officials have begun the next phases in the possible relocation of the FBI’s headquarters to Virginia or Maryland.

Last week, the Obama Administration approved a $1.4 billion budget request as the next segment of funding for the new headquarters.

On Jan. 22, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced its next steps in selecting potential sites for the new facility. Two communities in Prince George’s County, Md., as well as Springfield, Va., are the three finalists for the headquarters.

Panel seeks to expand law against texting while driving


A legislative panel Monday approved a bill to expand Virginia’s law against texting while driving to other distracting activities, such as reading social media postings.

Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Transportation Committee voted 6-1 in favor of House Bill 461, which would make it illegal for a driver to “manually select multiple icons” on a cellphone or other handheld personal communication device.

The bill also would prohibit the driver from reading “any information displayed on the device”; the current law applies only to email and text messages.

‘Eli’s Law’ would publicize child abusers


A Hanover County mother, whose son suffered brain damage and other injuries when he was abused by a man in 2010, urged state lawmakers Monday to expand who must be listed on Virginia’s Sex Offender and Crimes against Minors Registry. A legislative subcommittee appeared receptive to the idea.

Courtney Maddox told the panel about her son Elijah’s harrowing ordeal: “My son suffered a brain injury, a stroke and was left paralyzed and with two broken legs” after he was abused by a family friend. The abuser was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. But under the state’s current laws, his name won’t be on the public registry when he is released.

That is why Maddox is pushing for House Bill 672, also known as Eli’s Law.

Elections Board removes GOP’s ‘loyalty oath’


State officials agreed Thursday to honor the Republican Party of Virginia’s request to remove a requirement that voters sign a “loyalty oath” before voting in the March 1 presidential primary. The State Board of Elections voted 2-0 to remove the requirement despite objections from the Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Much as we decry and dispute the original decision to implement an affirmation requirement, simply said, two wrongs don’t make a right,” Hope Amezquita, staff attorney and legislative counsel at ACLU-VA, told the board.

Attorney General targets patent trolls


Matthew Osenga, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and patent prosecution, said that in all his years of practicing law, he has had only one case in which somebody came to him fearing a lawsuit about a fraudulent patent claim. What happened? “We chose to not do anything, and nothing came of it,” Osenga said Monday from his office at the Richmond law firm of Goodman, Allen and Donnelly.

But some experts say fraudulent claims filed by so-called “patent trolls” are a major problem. That’s why Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring recently created a “Patent Troll Unit” to go after people who try to extort money by fraudulently claiming that someone has stolen their patent.

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