Meanwhile, in Richmond: this week in the Virginia legislature

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Virginia's Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo. Virginia's Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo.

It’s been a whirlwind of a week in the Virginia legislature, with the unexpected death of the controversial redistricting bill amended by the Senate last month and the banning of drones from the state for two years (our own Charlottesville led the way on this initiative, becoming the first American city to pass a two-year moratorium on drone activity). Here’s some more buzz coming out of Richmond this week:

Virginia’s redistricting mayhem

After much to-do about Virginia Senate Republicans’ sly redistricting move during Obama’s inauguration, the bill came to rest Wednesday when House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford, chose to kill it before allowing it to come back to the House floor. Look no further than here, here, and here to track the now-dead redistricting plan and what its implications would have been for Charlottesville.

According to the Washington Post, Howell might face pushback from angry Republicans who may refuse to vote for his transportation and other future legislation. 

Voter ID laws

Voter fraud and voter ID have been hot topics this week. Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling supported Democratic efforts to amend voter ID laws by casting the tie-breaking vote to push back the enactment of strict voter ID laws to 2014, ostensibly to allow for more time for the public to be educated about new requirements. Wednesday, HB 1337 passed in the VA House, eliminating several forms of identification that Virginia voters can use at the polls including “a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, or paycheck that shows the name and address of the voter and a voter’s social security card.” The vote is pending approval based on the cost of providing registered voters with photos if they do not already have a photo ID, according to the Times Dispatch

The House also passed three voter fraud bills sponsored by our very own Rob Bell, R-Albemarle County, according to a press release from Bell. One bill, HB 1765, requires that state police help weed out felons who are registering to vote and help the State Board of Election “identify felons that are already on the voter rolls.” His other bill, HB 1764, requires Virginia to collaborate with other states to fight against voter fraud by making sure that no one is registered in multiple states at once.

A third allows Virginia’s Attorney General to bypass the Virginia Board of Elections, local elections board, or local prosecutors by prosecuting election law violations independently—worth noting, considering he’s running for that very office.

McDonnell’s education plan

On Monday, the House of Delegates passed one of McDonnell’s more controversial education proposals, according to the Times Dispatch. The bill would implement a system of grading for our schools based on an A-through-F grading system. Failing schools would be put under the charge of the Opportunity Education Institute, a statewide school division created by the bill.

Under the plan, after schools are able to reach full accreditation, they can be handed back to their local board, but ultimately, the statewide school division makes that decision. The division would be given autonomy in deciding “what to do with the schools, including turning them into charter schools,” says the Times.

Drone patrol

Virginia could soon follow Charlottesville’s lead and be the first state to pass legislation in favor of drone regulation. The bill easily passed through the House and then the Senate Monday and Tuesday with votes of 83-16 and 36-2 respectively. Ah, bipartisanship!

According to U.S News, the bill puts a 2-year moratorium on state and local drone use except during special circumstances such as “In cases where there is a ‘major disaster’ or Amber Alert, a search and rescue operation using police drones may be used when ‘necessary to protect life, health, or property,’” says the U.S. News article.

Despite the bill’s easy passage in the legislature, Governor McDonnell spoke months ago in support of drones and may choose not to pass the bill. 
Drug testing dead in the water

A bill that would require drug testing of some Virginia welfare recipients failed in the Senate 20-19 on Monday. The bill would have required welfare applicants to go through a drug screening process, and, if they tested positive, to seek treatment or lose benefits for a year, according to an Associated Press story picked up by the Washington Post.

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