RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — As Virginia lawmakers near the end of a short legislative session marked by partisan debates over guns, abortion and other contentious issues, they are also running behind on efforts to come to an agreement on the state budget.
But they have found bipartisan consensus on a range of issues, including attempts to address pandemic-related learning loss, improve college safety and rein in intoxicating hemp products.
Lawmakers worked their way through some of those and other measures Friday, ahead of what had been scheduled to be a final day of work on Saturday. But with budget negotiations still not settled, legislative leaders say they could return late next week for a vote on a compromise spending plan.
Here is a look at some legislation of note recently sent to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk for his consideration.
The House and Senate both approved legislation expanding the Virginia Literacy Act to require local school boards to provide reading intervention services to students in kindergarten through Grade 8 who show substantial deficiencies through reading assessments. The legislation expands the law enacted during the 2022 regular legislative session to address pandemic learning loss. It required intervention services for students in kindergarten through Grade 3. Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Youngkin, said the governor supports increasing resources for reading and looks forward to reviewing the final legislation when it comes to his desk.
A bill that would have the state adopt the non-legally binding definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance passed with broad bipartisan support. The state would use the definition in training and education, and for tracking and reporting antisemitic incidents. The measure was a priority for Youngkin, who praised its passage in a statement Friday.
COLLEGE THREAT ASSESSMENTS
Both chambers approved legislation directing college threat assessment teams to quickly notify police if they make a preliminary determination that a person on campus poses a threat to others. The legislation was proposed in response to the fatal shooting of three students at the University of Virginia in November. The suspect in that case had been on the radar of the school’s threat-assessment team. The legislation requires public universities in Virginia to obtain criminal history information and health records on a person who is deemed a threat, and to notify law enforcement agencies in writing within 24 hours. Youngkin supports the bill, Porter said.
A bill that aims to ban intoxicating consumable hemp products, which have proliferated on shelves around the state and in some cases sickened unsuspecting children and adults, passed Friday after a heated debate in the Senate. The measure would cap the total amount of THC in consumable hemp products at 2 milligrams per package and 0.3% total THC. And it would require topical hemp products to have a bittering agent. Supporters said it was a way to address a pressing safety issue, something Youngkin has called a priority. Opponents argued it would further complicate the state’s cannabis laws. The bill would not move the state toward establishing a legal retail market for marijuana. The General Assembly legalized the possession of the drug in 2021 without setting up sales.
A dramatic increase in the theft of catalytic converters prompted lawmakers last year to increase the penalty for the crime, from a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a up to a year in jail, to a Class 6 felony, which carries up to 5 years in prison. This year, lawmakers aim to create a new Class 6 felony charge for selling or purchasing catalytic converters — exhaust emission-control devices — that have been illegally detached from a motor vehicle. Youngkin supports the measure, Porter said.
A measure from Republican Sen. Frank Ruff would end the option for motorists to drive uninsured if they pay a $500 fee when registering their vehicle. “For whatever reason many years ago, the General Assembly created a $500 fee as an alternative to buying insurance. I have no idea what their thought process was at the time, or what policy that serves,” Ruff said in a committee hearing. Ruff said he introduced the bill at the request of a logging industry trade group, which voiced concerns about collisions between its drivers and uninsured motorists. The bill has an effective date of July 1, 2024. Linda Ford, acting commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said during fiscal year 2022, there were 5,140 registrants who paid the fee out of a total of 5.8 million total vehicles registered. The Youngkin administration did not take a position on the bill, Ford said.
Nearly all of this session’s gun-related measures were defeated, with each chamber killing the other’s bills. But a measure from Democratic Del. Alfonso Lopez has won bipartisan support. It establishes a tax credit for individuals who buy certain firearm safety devices, like a gun safe or lock box. “This bill is not about requiring people to do anything. It’s not banning anything. It’s not taking anything away. This bill simply gives a tax credit to try and incentivize something that many law- abiding gun owners already do,” Lopez said in a subcommittee hearing. The bill says an individual will be allowed a credit of up to $300 for the cost of such a purchase. The provisions of the bill would end in 2027. Porter declined to say whether the governor supports it.
CRIME VICTIMS’ RIGHTS
A measure from Republican Sen. Mark Peake aims to give crime victims more notice about potential plea deals. The bill, which passed both chambers with broad support, would require attorneys for the commonwealth to inform victims in any felony criminal case of a proposed plea agreement and obtain the victim’s views about the disposition of the case. Peake said that currently, that type of consultation and notification only happens if victims request it. Peake said prosecutors would still have full discretion to determine how to proceed.
Source: AP News