How the General Assembly Acted on Major Issues

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Virginia General Assembly was planning to adjourn last night but will return to Richmond next month to consider Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's amendments and vetoes. Lawmakers might also return for a special session on transportation. Here's what happened to legislation addressing some key issues.

¿ Abusive-driver fees: Lawmakers eliminated the fees targeting drivers convicted of serious offenses.

¿ Animal fighting: Lawmakers passed bills to increase penalties for those who organize or watch animal fights and to give authorities more enforcement powers.

¿ Budget: As part of the two-year, $77 billion spending plan, state employees would get 2 percent pay raises this fall and next, when teachers would get a 2 percent raise. Kaine was also ordered to cut about $35 million from state agencies and $100 million in aid to local governments.

¿ Child nutrition: The Senate passed legislation requiring state education officials to devise a plan to phase out trans fats in food sold in public schools, but the bill failed in the House.

¿ Driving test: Lawmakers approved a proposal that would restrict first-time applicants for driver's licenses to three written or behind-the-wheel driving tests in three months. After three failures, an applicant would be required to attend driving school.

¿ Education: Lawmakers agreed to spend $22 million more to expand subsidized pre-kindergarten; Kaine had pushed for double that amount.

¿ Growth: Lawmakers delayed for a year a decision on whether the state should overhaul the way developers help pay for roads, schools and other services.

¿ Gun control: Both houses killed a proposal to require gun sellers to conduct background checks on all buyers at gun shows. Kaine vetoed bills that would have allowed concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol and would have permitted anyone to put a gun in a locked glove compartment.

¿ Higher education: Lawmakers asked the state's 17 public colleges to cap tuition increases next year at 4 percent. The cap is nonbinding, but colleges that adhere to it will be able to share an additional $17.5 million in state aid.

¿ Homeowners associations: Lawmakers passed legislation aimed at increasing the accountability of companies that manage finances for condominium and homeowners associations. The legislation stemmed from the theft of $2 million from about 400 associations in Northern Virginia.

¿ Homestead tax exemption: A plan to give property tax relief to homeowners failed in the Senate, even though it had near-unanimous support last year.

¿ Mental health: The General Assembly agreed to spend $42 million on changes to the state's mental health system, which took on greater urgency this year because of the April 16 Virginia Tech massacre.

¿ Mortgage crisis: The General Assembly passed a bill Kaine proposed aimed at helping homeowners with risky subprime loans avoid foreclosure by giving them a grace period and encouraging credit counseling.

¿ Online predators: Lawmakers agreed to spend $1.5 million on a pair of law enforcement task forces, including one in Northern Virginia, that target online criminals who are involved in pornography and lure children into one-on-one meetings.

¿ Payday lending: Lawmakers voted to impose stiffer regulations on payday lenders. The industry said the regulations were the strictest in the nation.

¿ Redistricting: The Senate passed, but a House subcommittee rejected, an effort to remove partisan politics from the way legislative and congressional boundaries are drawn.

¿ Sexual and domestic abuse: A Kaine plan to toughen laws against sexual and domestic abuse and increase money on prevention programs was approved.

¿ Smoking in restaurants: The House defeated several proposals to prohibit smoking in restaurants, stores, offices and other public places.

¿ Teen drivers: The legislature voted to suspend for up to one year driver's licenses for underage drivers who drink, even if their blood alcohol level is below the legal limit.

¿ Texting while driving: The House delayed for a year a bill to ban reading and writing messages on cellphones, PDAs and BlackBerrys while driving.

¿ Uranium mining: Lawmakers killed a bill to authorize a study of whether uranium can be safely mined in Virginia. About 100 million pounds of uranium was found in Pittsylvania County.

-- Anita Kumar and Sandhya Somashekhar

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