Today, The Roanoke Times previews the upcoming General Assembly session and what Gov. Bob McDonnell has on the line in the final full year of his administration. The 46-day session begins Wednesday.
There are major story lines that will draw media attention over the next two months. Will legislators lift Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining, perhaps opening the door for a mining operation in rural Pittsylvania County? After years of political gridlock, can McDonnell and the legislature come up with a plan to pump new, sustained revenue into transportation?
There will be debates over health care, gun control and abortion restrictions. With statewide elections and the horizon and all 100 House of Delegates seats on the ballot this fall, there will be politicians looking to pretty-up their campaign brochures. And if legislators finish their work on time — and that has become a big if in recent years — the session will end Feb. 23.
Roanoke and New River Valley legislators will have voices in those debates, and also will be fighting for their own legislation. As noted in today’s story, legislators who represent Roanoke and Roanoke County will be working to make sure those localities can continue to start school before Labor Day. Here’s a small sample of other local bills that will be tracked during the session:
Del. Joseph Yost, R-Blacksburg, and Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, have introduced bills (HB 1449 and SB 849)that would allow the state to grant mixed beverage licenses for two properties near Interstate 81 in Montgomery County. The bills could enable the county to attract restaurants at Exit 128 at Ironto and Exit 109 outside of Radford.
Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, is sponsoring a state constitutional amendment (SJ 287) that would allow for prayer in any public or private setting, including government property and public schools. The amendment also would require public schools to display the Bill of Rights of the U.S.Constitution. Stanley has represented Pittsylvania County’s Board of Supervisors after it was sued for opening its meetings with a prayer.
Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, is sponsoring a constitutional amendment (HJ 539) that would enable convicted felons who have completed all sentencing, probation and restitution requirements to have their voting rights restored without having to petition the governor. This proposal has long been championed by Democrats in the Legislative Black Caucus, but now has a Republican supporter in Habeeb.
Habeeb and Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, also are sponsoring constitutional amendments (HJ 537 and HJ 564) that would give the legislature the power to suspend or nullify administrative rules and regulations. A version of this amendment has been introduced multiple times since 2005, when former House Majority Leader (and now Congressman) Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, introduced it in response to day care regulations implemented by then-Gov. Mark Warner’s administration.
Habeeb also has introduced a bill (HB 1305) to clarify a provision of Virginia’s workers’ compensation law that is intended to benefit brain-injured workers. The General Assembly passed legislation in 2011 that would grant an injured worker who is “physically or mentally unable to testify” a presumption that his or her injuries are work related.
The law was inspired by the case of Roanoke County resident Mike Gentry, who was denied benefits for more than a year after falling from a roof while installing a satellite dish. Gentry’s head injury rendered him unable to remember the accident for five months, and, because no one saw his fall, his workers’ compensation claim was denied because of lack of evidence.
But last year, a deputy workers’ compensation commissioner denied the claim of a Southwest Virginia construction worker who suffered serious head injuries after falling from a roof in Lee County. The worker was able to testify at his hearing, but could not remember the details of the accident. Habeeb’s bil would make it clear that the law will apply to cases in which a worker can’t testify about the circumstances of his or her accident.
– Michael Sluss