All 140 General Assembly seats will be on the ballot in Virginia this year, in some cases intensifying the already strained relationship between Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and the Republican-controlled legislature.
Here is a look at some of the topics that probably will dominate the upcoming session:
Last month, McAuliffe proposed a package of gun-control measures that would revive the state’s one-a-month limit on handgun purchases and require that buyers at gun shows to undergo background checks. The governor also wants to keep guns away from people convicted of crimes related to domestic violence and revoke concealed-handgun permits for parents late on child-support payments.
After losing a bruising battle over his top campaign promise of expanding Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians last year, the governor again included the issue in the amended budget proposal he unveiled in December. At the same time, he seemed to acknowledge how little chance the proposal has of passing by failing to factor the financial savings into his overall spending plan.
Democrats will push for technical changes to state law to reflect the legalization of same-sex marriage — a principle McAuliffe has supported. But again, the issue is expected to be a nonstarter in the House of Delegates, where Republicans say the definition of marriage will not be truly be settled until the Supreme Court rules on the issue.
Despite heated rhetoric from both sides, there probably will be areas of agreement, possibly including ethics reform.
Last year the governor signed legislation that put a $250 cap on “tangible” gifts such as plaques and clothing, but left unlimited “intangible” gifts such as meals and trips. Buoyed by the September conviction of former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R), the House proposed a $100 across-the-board cap on all gifts. The proposal echoes the $100 cap McAuliffe imposed on himself and the executive branch in an executive order he issued upon taking office.
(For its part, an ethics study group that McAuliffe empaneled recommended eliminating the tangible vs. intangible distinction but favored a $250 limit.)
McAuliffe and lawmakers have both spoken in favor of economic development, workforce development and education reform, but the broad consensus could break down as they hammer out the details.
For example, last week the governor and the House unveiled separate education proposals that seek to make it easier for students to retake standardized tests if they are close to passing, and change the way schools are accredited year to year.
McAuliffe said he also wants to increase access to breakfast in public schools — an initiative that dovetails with first lady Dorothy McAuliffe’s nutrition platform.
In response to a Washington Post investigation and a deadly fire in the Richmond suburbs, McAuliffe has proposed increased regulation of day-care centers. Currently, religiously affiliated day-care centers do not have to be licensed by the state even if they receive public funds. McAuliffe wants to do away with the exception — a proposal that could raise the ire of conservatives fearing an erosion of religious freedom.
McAuliffe would also require home day-care center operators to include children who live in the home in the total number of children for whom they provide services. Finally, he wants unlicensed day homes to file notice and quarterly reports with the state, which is similar to a bill filed by Del. Robert D. Orrock Sr. (R-Caroline.)
Another topic likely to garner attention due to incendiary headlines is law enforcement notification of campus sexual assaults. Even after holes surfaced in Rolling Stone magazine’s reporting of an alleged rape at the University of Virginia, lawmakers say they plan to press on with mandatory reporting and related legislation.
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) filed a bill that would require campus and local police to notify the local commonwealth’s attorney within 48 hours of the start of an investigation into a felony criminal sexual assault on a college campus.
Unlike requirements that may deter victims from coming forward, Filler-Corn said her proposal would empower victims to decide how far their cases go. She has supported similar legislation since 2011.
Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Albemarle) said that he, Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) plan to propose a bill that would require immediate reporting of a violent felony, such as rape, and require university police to inform the local commonwealth’s attorney.