The Virginia General Assembly’s 2018 session has reached its midpoint, with more than 1,000 bills passing between the House and Senate, including potential changes to health care, criminal justice and transportation.
By George Copeland Jr. and Irena Schunn for Capital News Service
Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr., R-James City, was pleased with what his party has accomplished this session.
“From measures that will make healthcare more accessible and affordable, to meaningful legislation to grow our economy, Republican senators have been unified in their commitment to improving the lives of all Virginians,” Norment said.
But more than 1,500 pieces of legislation on issues like marijuana decriminalization and gun violence have failed, having never made it out of committee.
Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Fairfax, criticized the GOP majority in the House for killing legislation such as his proposal to create a legal process to temporarily remove the firearms of someone who, according to family members or friends, is a risk to himself or others.
“These bills never received a subcommittee assignment, let alone a hearing,” Sullivan said.
Last Tuesday was “crossover day,” the deadline for bills to clear their house of origin:
● Of the 1,609 House bills, delegates passed 589, or 37 percent. They now will be considered by the Senate.
● Of the 994 Senate bills, senators approved 469, or 47 percent. They have been sent to the House for consideration.
Here is a rundown on the status of key legislation:
Bills that have ‘crossed over’ and are still alive
Immigration: HB 1257 would require Virginia to follow the immigration laws set by the federal government, potentially prohibiting so-called sanctuary cities. The measure was briefly defeated in the House on a tie vote. But then delegates reconsidered and voted 51-49 to send the bill to the Senate.
Education: HB 1419 would increase students’ recess time at school “to develop teamwork, social skills, and overall physical fitness.” HB 50 targets “lunch-shaming” by teachers — an unofficial practice in which students who can’t afford or owe money for school meals must do work or wear a special wristband or stamp.
African-American cemeteries: Several bills would allow qualifying groups to collect state funds for maintaining historically black cemeteries in Loudoun County (SB 163), Charlottesville (HB 360) and Portsmouth (SB 198 and HB 527). Last year, the General Assembly approved such funding for select Richmond cemeteries. Another proposal (HB 284) would cover every black cemetery in Virginia.
Medical Marijuana: HB 1251 would allow wider certification for medical marijuana usage, and increases the amount of medical marijuana dispensed by providers from a 30-day to 90-day supply.
Energy conservation: SB 894 would establish the Virginia Energy Efficiency Revolving Fund. It would give no-interest loans to public institutions for energy conservation and efficiency projects. Its passage comes after several bills focused on expanding solar energy and capping carbon dioxide emissions in the commonwealth failed in the House and Senate.
Transportation: HB 1539 and HB 1319 would create a reform commision for the Washington Metro and provide more money for mass transit in Northern Virginia. SB 583 would raise the motor vehicle fuels tax by 2.1 percent in the western part of Virginia to fund improvements on Interstate 81.
Economic development: HB 222 would offer tax breaks to companies that create jobs paying at least twice the minimum wage in certain localities. The localities are mostly rural areas in southern and western Virginia and along the Chesapeake Bay but also include Petersburg.
Criminal justice: HB 1550 and SB 105 aim to raise the threshold for grand larceny from $250 to $500. The new limit would keep people who steal amounts under it from being branded as felons. The current threshold, implemented in 1980, is one of the lowest in the country.
Health care: HB 338 could open the door to Medicaid expansion in Virginia — an issue championed by Democrats but historically opposed by Republicans. The bill, which outlines work requirements for Medicaid recipients, made it through the House in the final days before crossover.
Government transparency: SB 592 would prohibit the personal use of any campaign funds. Candidates guilty of converting campaign assets for personal use would be forced to repay the amount exploited to the State Board of Elections and could face additional fines.
Prisons: Under HB 83, correctional facilities would have to ensure that female inmates have free access to feminine hygiene products. The bill comes less than a year after Congress passed similar legislation for federal prisons.
Bills that have failed for this session
Bump stocks: A bill banning the use of bump stocks — mechanical devices that increase the rate of fire of rifles — failed in a House subcommittee. HB 41 was introduced in response to the 2017 shooting in Las Vegas, where 58 people died and over 500 were injured.
Childbearing: HB 67 would have prohibited any employer in Virginia from discharging an employee on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition, including lactation. The bill was killed by a House subcommittee. Existing law applies only to employers with five to 15 employees.
Tampon tax: Feminine hygiene products will continue to be taxed after HB 152 died in the House.
Marijuana decriminalization: SB 111, which aimed to allow simple possession, was rejected in a 6-9 vote by a Senate subcommittee. HB 974, which would have legalized the possession and distribution of medical marijuana, also failed.
Mental health: HB 252 would have required at least one mental health counselor for every 250 students in each high school in Virginia. HB 174 would have established protocols for police officers when communicating with individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities.
In a press release, Gov. Ralph Northam commended the General Assembly’s efforts, calling the 2018 session “the most productive period I have seen since I came to the General Assembly in 2008.”
“I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans in the legislature to continue this progress and meet the challenges our fellow Virginians have asked us to solve.”