Henrico County VA
General Assembly

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.

Budget amendment would boost guards’ pay


Joined by a group of prison guards, two legislators Tuesday called for a budget amendment to increase the salaries of correctional officers in Virginia.

Democratic Dels. Patrick Hope of Arlington and Kaye Kory of Falls Church said officers at the state’s correctional facilities deserve a pay increase and better working conditions. The lawmakers said their proposed amendment to the state budget would boost correctional officers’ salaries by 5 percent.

The last pay increase officers received was in 2007, Hope said at a press conference. He said he has seen firsthand what the officers must endure and the dangers they face dealing with potentially violent offenders.

Families testify for medical marijuana


Haley Smith, 14, suffers from a rare disorder called Dravet syndrome, similar to epilepsy. In the middle of a hearing being conducted by the Senate Committee for Education and Health, she suffered a mild seizure in her sleep. Her mother, Lisa Smith, stroked the girl’s forehead until it stopped.

Minutes later, Smith addressed legislators: “This is normal for me. This is Haley for me.” Smith went on to ask senators to provide relief to Haley and other Virginians suffering from various diseases -- by approving a law authorizing the medical use of marijuana.

Law would let Dominion hike electric bills


Dominion Virginia Power would be allowed to avoid state regulation for eight years while having the ability to raise consumers’ electric bills, if the General Assembly passes a bill before the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor.

The legislation would require Dominion to maintain its base rate for eight years beginning in 2013 – when the state last reviewed the company’s rates – until 2020. While the base rate would stay the same, the company would retain the authority to increase fuel surcharges and other “riders” that are added to customers’ utility bills.

Health secretary urges Medicaid expansion


Virginia’s secretary of health and human services, William A. Hazel, wants legislators to put aside their political differences and ensure that every resident of the commonwealth has access to affordable health care.

Hazel is urging the General Assembly to expand Medicaid, the health coverage program for low-income people, as states are encouraged to do under the federal Affordable Care Act. Hazel made his case again in a recent talk to students at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.

Although the Affordable Care Act made it easier and cheaper for many people to buy health insurance, Hazel said coverage gaps still exist.

Bill would ease prescription hassles


Doctors, hospitals and patients frequently face frustration and delays because health insurers require preauthorization before patients can obtain many prescription drugs. Different insurers use different preauthorization forms – and it’s done on paper, not electronically.

Two Republicans – Sen. Steve Newman of Lynchburg and Del. Greg Habeeb of Salem – have proposed legislation aimed at solving the problem. Senate Bill 1262 and House Bill 1942 would:

• Require health plans to use a common preauthorization form to be developed by the State Corporation Commission

2015 General Assembly Q&A

State legislators have returned to Richmond for a 45-day session of the General Assembly, during which they’re expected to make ethics reform a key issue, on the heels of former governor Bob McDonnell’s recent conviction and sentencing on corruption charges. Other issues expected to earn attention: daycare and SOL reform, Medicaid expansion and possible changes to legislative redistricting.

The Henrico Citizen invited each delegate and state senator whose district encompasses a portion of Henrico to provide their thoughts about the 2015 session. The answers of those who responded appear below.

Improve hate crime reporting, LGBT supporters say


With support from 10 state legislators, Equality Virginia, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Virginians, urged the General Assembly on Tuesday to pass laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. At a press conference, James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said many LGBT individuals face hardships.

“LGBT individuals can still be fired from their job – or not hired at all – based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Parrish said. “They can also be discriminated against as they seek a place to live.”

Panel OKs law to protect bicyclists


The House Transportation Committee approved a bill Tuesday to make it illegal for the operator of a motor vehicle to follow a bicycle or moped too closely.

The committee voted 20-2 in favor of House Bill 1342, sponsored by Del. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

Under current law, motorists are forbidden to tailgate other motorized vehicles. HB 1342 would prohibit motorists from following non-motorized vehicles – such as bicycles, scooters and electric-powered mobility devices – “more closely than is reasonable and prudent.”

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