General Assembly 2012
Beginning July 1, women getting mammograms will learn whether they have dense breast tissue that could hide cancer. This is due to recent legislation that addresses the test’s failure to detect certain cancers in women with dense breast tissue.
Under the new law, if radiologists conducting mammograms find dense breast tissue, they must send the patient a letter noting that fact – and that dense breast tissue can hide cancer. The letter will urge women to talk to their physicians about the matter.
The new “patient inform” law resulted from efforts by a breast cancer survivor, Cathryn Tatusko of Fairfax County, with support from an aptly named national awareness organization called Are You Dense.
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.”
Father’s rights advocates say they are down but not out after passage of a substitute bill originally aimed at giving both parents joint custody rights in divorce cases.
The legislation is House Bill 84, sponsored by Delegate David Albo, R-Springfield. Originally, it stated that in a divorce “in which custody or visitation is at issue, there shall be a rebuttable assumption that it is in the best interests of the child that the parents be awarded joint physical custody and that no parent’s share of physical custody shall be for a period of less than two-fifths of the child’s time.”
Fathers and their advocates strongly supported that wording.
A measure authorizing prosecutors to charge repeat juvenile offenders as adults for drug-related crimes passed the Senate on a 26-14 vote Thursday.
House Bill 718, sponsored by Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, would enable commonwealth’s attorneys to transfer jurisdiction of juveniles 14 or older to the circuit courts if the youth is charged with a third felony offense of distributing, selling or manufacturing an illegal substance.
“There’s a big concern in some areas of the state where kids are selling and they are getting the juvenile punishment ... and get right back out on the street,” Kilgore said.
Despite conflicting opinions, local Henrico legislators said they were content with the decision that Senate committee members made to postpone discussion of the “personhood” bill until the 2013 session.
The bill, HB 1, provided that unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges and immunities available to other citizens of Virginia. Members of the House passed the bill on Feb. 14 in a 66 to 32 vote.
“HB 1 has evolved and I’m not sure that we had all of the information in the beginning that became available in the House,” said Del. John O’Bannon, R-73, who voted in favor of the bill. “I am very comfortable with the decision to put it aside.”
The General Assembly has decided to postpone until next year consideration of a bill that would grant personhood rights to a human embryo from the moment of conception.
The Senate last week sent the measure, House Bill 1, back to a committee after Democrats and some Republicans said it could have unforeseen consequences.
Democratic officials and abortion rights groups saw the move as a victory.
Both chambers of the General Assembly started revising legislation forcing women to get a fetal ultrasound before an abortion after Gov. Bob McDonnell persuaded lawmakers not to require a vaginal probe as part of the procedure.
That change was reflected in the revised version of House Bill 462 that the Senate Education and Health Committee approved Thursday on an 8-7 party-line vote. This measure, sponsored by Delegate Kathy Byron, R-Lynchburg, will go before the full Senate next week.
McDonnell’s recommendation, requiring a “transabdominal” ultrasound but not a “transvaginal” one, also was adopted when the House voted 65-32 Wednesday to modify and approve Senate Bill 484.
Democrats hope the U.S. Justice Department will intervene if the Republican-controlled General Assembly passes laws imposing more stringent identification requirements on Virginia voters.
Two measures moving through the General Assembly – House Bill 9 and Senate Bill 1 – would prohibit prospective voters from casting official ballots if they can’t show proper identification. Republicans say the bills would help prevent fraud at the polls, but Democrats say the legislation would discourage elderly, minority and low-income people from voting.
Democrats acknowledge that they can’t stop the assembly from passing the bills or Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell from signing them into law. However, under the U.S. Voting Rights Act, the federal government must review such laws because Virginia has a history of racial discrimination in elections.
Midway through the legislative session, House Republicans say they’re still focused on jobs, education, government reform and public safety – and they dispute Democratic charges that they’re pushing a “social issues” agenda.
Members of the House Republican Caucus discussed their priorities after “crossover day,” the deadline for each legislative chamber to act on its own bills.
“Of 603 bills passed in the House, over 42 percent have dealt with issues of jobs, education, government reform and safety,” said House Speaker William Howell of Fredericksburg. “These are the four main points of the Republican Party.”
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