What Happened During the 2007 Va. General Assembly Session?

Track Legislation: A look at the Key Issues  |  Legislative Score Card

BACKGROUND PROSPECTS KEY PLAYERS WHAT HAPPENED
Transportation
As a one-time proposal, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) wants to spend an additional $500 million on transportation projects. In the long term, he says the state needs to raise about $1 billion in taxes and fees to help provide relief from traffic congestion. The Senate generally backs the Kaine tax plan, but House Republicans oppose raising taxes, instead favoring using debt to build road projects. The governor and Senate leaders say the state should not borrow unless there is a long-term revenue source to repay that debt.
Pressured by constituents to fix the traffic mess in areas such as Northern Virginia, lawmakers in both parties seem willing to consider the transportation funding issue in this election year. But the two sides are still far apart on how to do it. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland) leads a group of five senators, known as the "Gang of Five." They will negotiate with House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax) and other House leaders. Two days before the session closes, Kaine signaled he was unhappy with the way the transportation talks were going. The following day, Republicans unveiled a $2.5 billion transportation plan that was condemned by Kaine and local officials immediately. The plan passed on Saturday, Feb. 24. Kaine is vowing to fight the plan.
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Growth
House Republicans have proposed a package of laws that would shift responsibility for building and maintaining neighborhood roads to the local government officials who approve subdivisions.
The idea has generated opposition from county supervisors, who say the General Assembly has not given them the power to control growth. House Republicans say the proposals are a key part of their plans to reduce traffic congestion. Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) is a key proponent of growth controls. In the Senate, though, proposals are likely to get a chilly reaction from Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). Lawmakers gave fast-growing localities more tools to manage development. They created "urban development areas," where priorities would be placed on open space, walking trails and access to public transportation and commercial development. They also established "urban transportation service districts," in which localities would assume control over maintaining secondary roads and would assess impact fees for development outside the districts.
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minimum wage
Democratic legislative leaders want to boost the state's minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15 in 2008 and $7.25 by the end of 2009.
Virginia has never set its own minimum wage, choosing instead to use the federal rate. Although this is a Democratic proposal, some Republicans have introduced similar versions. Several Democrats have introduced the measure, which is being touted by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria). Callahan has introduced the measure in the past. Legislation to raise Virginia's minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.50 an hour was killed on a parliamentary maneuver.
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sex offender e-mail address registration
Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) is pushing for legislation that calls for sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses and instant messaging screen names so they can be blocked from popular online networking sites.
Not much opposition expected. If approved, Virginia would become the first state to partner with MySpace to try to prevent sex offenders from using the site, which hosts about 145 million profiles. McDonnell has made this his issue. House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) has focused on sex offenders in the past, as has Moran. Legislation passed in Senate and was rejected by lawmakers in the House. Delegates will consider a substitute bill in conference committee.
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Car Tax Relief
Republicans are proposing to eliminate the car tax, reinstating former governor James S. Gilmore III's 1998 personal property tax relief plan.
There are a lot of lawmakers in both parties who would like to see the car tax go away. But most Democrats and many Republicans believe that doing so is too expensive and would force tough decisions to cut services. This effort is being pushed by such conservative House members as Dels. Mark L. Cole (R-Fredericksburg) and L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William). A bill that would have abolished the car tax was left in the House Appropriations Committee.
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health and human services
Kaine has proposed several bills increasing money for long-term care for the elderly, meals on wheels, services for emotionally disturbed children, nursing education, programs fighting childhood obesity and vaccinations that help women prevent cervical cancer.
Kaine has said he wants to make health care one of the priorities of his administration. The issue resonates with many lawmakers, including Republicans. But the GOP is wary of new spending commitments. Secretary of Health and Human Resources Marilyn B. Tavenner will spearhead Kaine's effort. A bill that would require schoolgirls to receive a vaccine for the sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer sailed through the General Assembly. A bill that would require the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Health Commissioner to work together to combat childhood obesity was signed by the Governor.
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Boost education spending
Kaine wants to spend more money on a reading program for first- and second-graders, algebra tutoring for sixth-graders, pilot preschool programs for 4-year-olds, a 3 percent pay raise for teachers, need-based college financial aid and updating college buildings.
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have reacted negatively to Kaine's push for universal preschool and have signaled that they will resist even the pilot effort this year. Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester) is chairman of the Senate Education Committee and is likely to be an ally of Kaine's on much of his agenda despite having run against him in the governor's race. The Virginia House denied Kaine funds for proposed pre-kindergarten programs.
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Compiled by Michael D. Shear, Stephen C. Fehr and Laura Cochran

Score Card on Other Major Issues

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has 30 days to sign into law, veto or amend bills sent to him. Lawmakers will return April 4 to consider vetoes.

ISSUE WHERE IT'S AT
Abortion Senators killed House-passed bills that would have placed further restrictions on abortion.
Booster seats Lawmakers approved a proposal that would require children up to 8 years old and younger to be in booster seats while riding in a vehicle.
Chesapeake Bay cleanup Lawmakers agreed to a Kaine proposal to borrow $250.million to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake bay, which would help to put the state on track to meet its goal of reducing nutrient and nitrogen runoff originating from human and animal waste.
Cockfighting A measure that would have increased the penalty for participating in cockfighting was left in a House committee.
Death penalty Senators and delegates expanded capital punishment guidelines by proposing to make accomplices and killers of judges eligible for execution.
Education Lawmakers agreed to boost teacher pay by 3.percent, expand publicly funded preschool - although not as much as Kaine had proposed - and add money to help students struggling with reading.
Energy re-regulation Legislation backed by Dominion Resources and approved by the Senate and House would end utility deregulation by establishing a "hybrid" form of regulation. Critics have warned of higher rates.
Ethics Senators tried unsuccessfully to halt a proposal by the Virginia State Bar that would allow lawmakers to work at firms that employ people who lobby the General Assembly.
Gambling The Senate approved but the House rejected a plan to allow customers at Colonial Downs to wager on instant horse-racing video machines, which would have been the largest expansion of gambling in a decade.
Gun ban A bill promoted by Fairfax County to ban the carrying of guns into certain areas of police stations and other law enforcement buildings died.
Hospital patients' rights A measure championed by gay men and lesbians that would give hospital patients, not their relatives, explicit authority to choose their visitors was approved.
Illegal immigration The House approved a package of tough anti-illegal immigrant measures, but the Senate rejected them.
Payday lending Efforts to reform the payday lending industry failed. Lawmakers had considered creating a statewide database to track payday loans and limit borrowers to three loans at one time.
Red-light cameras Lawmakers approved a bill that would allow communities with 10,000 or more people to install cameras to catch drivers who run red lights, renewing a program that had been successful in Northern Virginia.
Redistricting A proposal to make the drawing of bound8ary lines of congressional and state legis8lative districts a nonpartisan exercise was tabled.
Slavery apology The General Assembly approved a resolution expressing "profound regret" for Virginia's role in the slave trade.
Smoking Restaurants would be required to post signs at entrances saying whether smoking is permitted under legislation approved by both houses.
State workers Virginia employees would get a 4 percent raise.
Teen drivers and cellphones Both houses approved a measure that would prohibit drivers ages 15, 16 and 17 from talking on their cellphones while driving.
Two-term governor A House committee killed a proposal that would have allowed future governors to serve two consecutive terms. Voting machines: Saying that electronic voting machines are susceptible to fraud and error, lawmakers would require election boards to replace them with machines that offer a paper trail, such as optical scanners.


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