By James Miessler and Diana DiGang, Capital News Service 04/21/2016 General AssemblyGeneral Assembly 2016
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.
After nearly an hour of debate, a legislative panel killed a bill that would have exempted law enforcement officers’ names and training records from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
A subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee tabled Senate Bill 552 for the General Assembly’s current session. State officials plan to study the issue as part of a review of the state’s FOIA law.
FOIA allows any citizen to gain access to government documents, including names and salaries of public employees. Currently, personal information such as health records, home addresses, Social Security numbers and bank account information is exempt.
A conference committee of House and Senate members is working to hash out the differences between the state budget proposals passed by the two chambers.
The committee’s decisions will affect government spending for the next two years. Neither proposed budget includes new taxes or tax increases. Both increase funding for K-12 education, higher education, economic development and health care – but without expanding Medicaid, which serves low-income residents.
“I am confident our conferees will do an outstanding job of advocating this plan when we meet with our House counterparts,” said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a member of the conference committee.
Most Virginians agree that the prison population costs too much money, according to a recent poll by the Charles Koch Institute, an educational public-policy organization, and Prison Fellowship, a Christian nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice reform.
On Wednesday, the two groups hosted a panel of experts to discuss the poll results and fiscally responsible ways to both reform the prison system and make communities safer.
“In Virginia, there are actions that can be taken in the short run to dramatically improve our current justice system,” said Vikrant Reddy, senior research fellow at the Koch Institute. “We can improve public safety, reduce costs and respect each individual’s dignity.”
Supporters of home-schooled students playing sports in public schools unleashed their secret weapon at the Virginia Capital on Wednesday – home-schoolers themselves.
Home-schooling advocates and their children gathered in the state Capitol to hear remarks from Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, and Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Lynchburg, the sponsors of legislation commonly called the “Tebow bill.”
Afterward, the home-schoolers and parents signed a large card urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to sign the legislation into law. The group presented the message to the front gate guard at the Governor’s Mansion.
Until two years ago, Virginia third-graders were required to take four Standards of Learning exams per year. Students were tested across all disciplines and asked to demonstrate skills taught not just in third grade, but going back to kindergarten. Only five states tested young elementary school students this much.
Now, Virginia third-graders are tested only in math and reading with less cumulative material from previous grade levels. Testing was reduced in other grade levels, too. From a high of 34 SOL tests, students in the commonwealth now must pass 29 such exams before receiving a high school diploma.
A bill proposed by Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News, would have taken this a step further. Senate Bill 203 sought to roll back SOL testing to the federally mandated minimum of 17 SOLs before graduation.
Wednesday marked the midpoint of the General Assembly’s session – colloquially referred to as “crossover day.” From this day forward, the House can consider only bills passed by the Senate, and the Senate can consider only legislation passed by the House.
That is why lawmakers were in a frenzy through Tuesday trying to get their bills through their chamber of origin. Now is a good time to take stock of what measures have “crossed over” and are still alive – and what proposals are dead for the session.
The House unanimously passed Henrico Del. Jennifer McClellan’s bill to allow simple assault against a family member to be dealt with outside of jail time.
Under existing law, assault and battery of a family member can have a more lax punishment than simple assault because of different code sections.
In Virginia, assault and battery is defined as intentional harmful contact. Assault is considered attempting or threatening to inflict bodily injury upon another, and battery is the actual contact. Therefore, if someone attempts to make contact but misses, he or she could still be found guilty of simple assault.
In a swipe at Planned Parenthood, the House on Tuesday passed a bill to prohibit the Virginia Department of Health from funding clinics that provide abortions except in the case of rape or incest or if the mother’s life is endangered.
Delegates voted 64-35 along party lines for House Bill 1090, which would cut off state funding for programs or facilities that offer abortions that would not be reimbursed under Medicaid, a federal-state program for low-income Americans. Republicans supported the measure; Democrats opposed it.
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CalendarOak Hall Baptist Church, 1877 Old Hanover Rd. in Sandston, will host Breakfast with Santa from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Enjoy pancakes and bacon for breakfast, followed by story time, pictures with Santa, games, a mission project and crafts. All are welcome. The event is free. For details, call 737-5812 or visit http://www.oakhallbc.org. Full text