General Assembly

Assembly sustains all of McAuliffe’s vetoes

The General Assembly failed Wednesday to override any of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s vetoes of legislation championed by Republicans, including bills to defund Planned Parenthood and let home-schoolers participate in public-school sports.

Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. That was doable in the House, where there are 66 Republicans and 34 Democrats. But it proved impossible in the Senate, where Democrats hold 19 of the 40 seats.

Virginia plants seeds for new hemp industry

When people think of hemp, marijuana often comes to mind – because the two plants are varieties of cannabis.

But hemp has a variety of uses, from making textiles and building materials to feeding livestock. The settlers at Jamestown grew hemp. So did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In the 1940s, Henry Ford reportedly built a car body of hemp fiber and ran it on hemp oil.

In the 1950s, however, the United States banned hemp because of its association with marijuana. That prohibition has remained in effect – until now.

Batting averages vary among Virginia legislators

As baseball season gets underway, here’s a question worth pondering: Who were the heavy hitters in the 2015 General Assembly?

For a lead-off hitter, your fantasy team might include Del. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg: He sponsored seven bills during the recent legislation session – and all of them passed. You can’t bat any better than 1.000.

On deck might be Del. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason, R-Lansdowne. Eleven of his 12 bills passed, for a batting average of 0.917. A fraction behind was Del. Edward T. Scott, R-Culpepper: He batted 0.889, passing eight of his nine bills.

Gov. McAuliffe’s amendments expand law enforcement access to drones

Law enforcement officials could use drones more freely if the General Assembly approves legislative amendments proposed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe surprised privacy advocates by amending language to facilitate law enforcement access to unmanned aircraft in SB 1301, introduced by Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, and HB 2125, sponsored by Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge. The original legislation was unanimously approved by the House and Senate.

The bills initially indicated that government agencies would need a search warrant to use drones for “law enforcement” activities. But McAuliffe changed “law enforcement” to “active criminal investigations.”

Governor criticized for allowing more surveillance

A Democratic senator, a prominent Republican and civil libertarians are blasting Gov. Terry McAuliffe for amending a bill that would protect Virginia citizens from high-tech government surveillance.

Senate Bill 965, introduced by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, aimed to protect citizens’ right to privacy. The bill would limit the ability of government agencies and their use of technology to collect and maintain personal information on individuals and organizations.

“Unless a criminal or administrative warrant has been issued, law-enforcement and regulatory agencies shall not use any surveillance technology to collect or maintain personal information where such data is of unknown relevance and is not intended for prompt evaluation and potential use respecting suspected criminal activity or terrorism by any individual or organization,” the bill stated.

New law takes aim at puppy mills

As part of a crackdown on puppy mills, it will soon be illegal to sell dogs and cats on the side of the road in Virginia. That’s the effect of legislation that Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law on Friday. Senate Bill 1001, which will take effect July 1, prohibits the sale of dogs and cats “on or in any roadside, public right-of-way, parkway, median, park, or recreation area; flea market or other outdoor market; or commercial parking lot.”

Sen. William Stanley Jr., R-Moneta, spearheaded the bill in the General Assembly. It passed unanimously in the Senate and was approved 82-15 in the House.

Matt Gray, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, fought for the bill, saying it was aimed at people who operate puppy mills or use other inhumane practices.

‘Conner’s Law’ provides support for disabled adults

Conner Cummings was diagnosed with autism at 18 months, a mental disability that probably will require support for his entire life.

His parents are divorced, and under existing Virginia law, that support likely would come solely from his mother, Sharon Cummings, who has custody of Conner.

That’s because state law allows non-custodial parents to avoid paying support for severely and permanently disabled children over age 18 if the custodial parent did not file for support before the child became a legal adult.

Governor creates center for mental health services

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed an executive directive to create a center that will foster collaboration among government agencies in providing behavioral health and justice services for people with mental illnesses or other problems.

McAuliffe announced the establishment of the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice during the final meeting of the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Mental Health Services and Crisis Response.

“Nearly a year ago, I asked this task force to continue its work and develop bold ideas to help the commonwealth address the gaps in our behavioral health system,” McAuliffe said Monday.

Legislative session a mixed bag for immigrants

About 20 state legislators and representatives of immigrant advocacy groups have formed the New Americans Caucus to address the needs of undocumented residents and other immigrants.

The caucus was organized during the recent session of the General Assembly, where lawmakers already meet in caucuses devoted to various political views, issues and geographic areas.

The New Americans Caucus heard from guest speakers such as an immigration lawyer and the head of the Department of Motor Vehicles to help educate members about matters concerning immigrants.

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