HARRISONBURG — Winter had six more weeks as of Thursday, and the Virginia General Assembly had 23 more days, the midway point of the 46-day 2017 regular session.
That means “crossover day,” when bills will die of old age if they fail to pass either the House of Delegates or the Senate, is right around the legislative corner, on Tuesday.
The budget is the one exception to the crossover rule, and with a $1.26 billion shortfall projected in Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s version of the budget, the 140 legislators might well need until Feb. 25’s schedule adjournment to balance expenses with revenues.
Halfway through the session, members of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area’s delegation to the General Assembly — all of them members of the Republican Party, which controls both chambers — have seen some success so far with non-budgetary legislation.
All six have had at least one bill approved by majorities of least one chamber.
Del. Steve Landes of Weyers Cave saw four of his sponsored bills get sent to the Senate, two each on his small business and education agendas.
He and his fellow delegates unanimously passed House Bills 1968 and 1969, which would make it easier for private enterprises to qualify for financial aid from the Small Business Financing Authority and Small Business Jobs Grant Fund Program, respectively.
And two Landes-sponsored bills that touch on the governance of state schools, HB 2341 and HB 1402, won by overwhelming majorities. The former requires that at least two of the nine members of the state Board of Education come from the business and industry sectors. The latter requires all governing boards of higher education institutions be residents of the state.
“These bills are part of my broader efforts to promote economic development, [and] provide the highest quality education for our children,” Landes said.
Del. Todd Gilbert of Woodstock won a unanimous vote on HB 51, which would beef up statutes in cases of assault and battery against a family or household member.
It would apply to offenders who agree to be placed on probation and have a deferred sentence. If the offender violates probation and must serve the sentence, he or she would not, under the legislation, be allowed to appeal the conviction.
House passage of Albemarle-based Del. Rob Bell’s HB 57, or “Tebow” bill, which would allow home-schooled students to participate in public school athletics, is now in the Senate Committee on Health and Education. If it makes it through the Senate, however, McAuliffe might well veto it as he did with similar legislation in 2015 and ’16.
Less heralded was the House passage, 68-30, of Bell’s HB 2343. It would require registered voters in Virginia who are found by the state Board of Elections to also be registered in another state to prove to local voter registrars that they live at their listed address in the commonwealth.
In the Senate, Sen. Emmett Hanger of Mount Solon saw several of his bills sent to the House, including Senate Bill 1040.
It would increase personal rights to privacy at the expense of tightening the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, already one of the country’s most restrictive.
The bill would allow people who provide personal “contact information,” such as street addresses, email addresses and phone numbers, to public bodies to be able to request that the information not be included in responses to FOIA requests.
Rockingham County Sen. Mark Obenshain’s SB 904, which passed unanimously in the Senate, would allow state Workers Compensation commissioners and deputy commissioners to carry concealed handguns throughout the commonwealth without permits.
That would allow them to carry guns in, among other places, courthouses.
“These officers are essentially judges in Workers Compensation cases and need to be able to defend themselves in courthouses,” much as judges do, against people who might take exception to their judgments, Obenshain said.
Both Obenshain and Del. Tony Wilt of Broadway introduced almost identical resolutions in their respective chambers. Wilt’s ended up passing both by voice vote.
It commended the James Madison University football team, which on Jan. 7 won the NCAA Division FCS National Championship game over Youngstown State University.