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General Assembly

Governor approves bipartisan mental health bill


A month after being approved by the General Assembly, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed House Bill 206 into law at the beginning of April. The legislation requires each four-year public institution of higher education in the commonwealth of Virginia to create and feature on its website information dedicated solely to the mental health resources available to students at the institution.

The bill was drafted and proposed by a group of students from the University of Virginia, including Hannah Bondurant, a third-year student at the university.

“It’s an easy solution that hopefully will bridge treatment that is available and people actually getting help,” Bondurant told the Cavalier Daily.

Senator advocates easier absentee ballot process

A state legislator wants to make it easier for Virginians who can’t go to the polls on Election Day to obtain an absentee ballot.

Sen. John C. Miller, D-Newport News, has proposed that voters be able to request and receive an absentee ballot by email. They still would have to return the completed ballot by regular mail or by hand.

Currently, only voters who are in the military or are overseas can use email to request and receive an absentee ballot from Virginia election officials.

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.

‘This road brought to you by…’

As the state budget inches closer to passage by the General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Transportation is hoping to raise money by selling the naming rights for roads, bridges and highway stretches.

“We look for revenue generation opportunity where we can, and we try to be creative with it,” VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said.

She said it has been a struggle for VDOT to maintain Virginia’s infrastructure in light of the department’s financial troubles.

“Our resources and revenues have been dwindling over the years,” she said, noting that a 1986 gas tax increase was the most recent serious increase in revenue. “When we can find innovative ways to partner with the private sector and generate some revenue, we try to do that.”

Committee will craft state budget compromise

A legislative conference committee soon will begin deliberations to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the state budget, which would take effect July 1.

“We are cautiously optimistic that a solid, fiscally prudent budget will emerge from conference and be voted into law within the next few weeks,” House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, said Tuesday.

A number of sticking points could delay any agreement. They include road tolls in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, different provisions on Medicaid eligibility and the shuffling of money between education and transportation. The Republican-heavy conference committee could mean that a budget looking more like the House version will come out of the deliberations.

Schools still can’t open before Labor Day

At the start of the 2012 legislative session, momentum was building for the General Assembly to repeal Virginia’s so-called “Kings Dominion law,” which prohibits public schools from opening before Labor Day without special permission.

Legislators had filed 13 bills to rescind the law and let local school boards decide when classes would start. Even Gov. Bob McDonnell weighed in, saying the current restrictions should be lifted.

But by the session’s end, each of those bills had died. And so the law nicknamed after the theme park in Hanover County remains in place: Public schools cannot open before Labor Day unless they obtain a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education.

Drunken-driving foes applaud ignition interlock bills

Opponents of drunken driving are commending the Senate and House for approving bills that will require first-time DUI offenders in Virginia to install a Breathalyzer to prevent them from operating their vehicle while intoxicated.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the Senate’s presiding officer, signed off on Senate Bill 378 this week. House Speaker William J. Howell signed off on a companion measure, House Bill 279, last week. Both bills would require Virginia drivers to have an ignition interlock installed in their vehicle after their first DUI offense.

SB 378 and HB 279 now go to Gov. Bob McDonnell for his approval or veto. If signed by the governor, the legislation would become law on July 1.

Bars aren’t happy about social media ad ban

Why are bar and restaurant owners frowning when it comes to advertising “happy hour” specials?

Because in the age of Twitter and Facebook, Virginia law prohibits advertising drink specials using social media.
Drinking establishments can legally sell alcohol at lower prices until 9 p.m. The problem is, they aren’t allowed to advertise that fact in the media – not even on the Internet or with social media.

This year, legislation to end that ban looked like it was soaring through the Virginia General Assembly. But last month, the bill’s sponsor, Delegate David B. Albo, R-Springfield, decided to pull the plug on it for this session.

Humane societies have mixed success at Assembly

Virginia’s animal welfare groups have had both successes and setbacks this legislative session, and the past week reflected that mixed record for the fighters for the furry, the feathery and the leathery.

First, a House subcommittee tabled a top priority for the commonwealth's animal advocates: a bill allowing humane societies and animal shelters to trap, vaccinate and sterilize feral cats before releasing them back into the wild.

Senate Bill 359, sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, had the support of animal welfare groups throughout Virginia. On its “Every Life is Precious” blog, the Richmond SPCA said the measure “would save the lives of countless feral cats.”

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